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Film / The Invisible Man (1933)

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"You'll run gently down and through the railings. Then you'll have a big thrill for a hundred yards or so till you hit a boulder. Then you'll do a somersault and probably break your arms. Then a grand finish up with a broken neck."
Jack Griffin

The Invisible Man is a 1933 Universal Horror film, directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains. It is based on the novel by H. G. Wells.

One snowy night, a mysterious stranger (Rains), his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles, comes to a sleepy English town and books himself a room at the local inn. The stranger is not interested in interacting with the locals, demanding to be left alone and isolating himself in his room, but he quickly becomes the talk of the town as it becomes evident that he conducts strange scientific experiments behind the closed doors. Eventually the stranger falls behind on his rent, and after one of his experiments makes a mess of the room, the innkeeper is finally fed up with his weird behavior and tries to kick him out, only to be beaten up and thrown out by the man instead. This altercation attracts the attention of the local police constable, who gathers some villagers as backup in an attempt to take the stranger into custody. Far from intimated by this, the stranger starts laughing maniacally at his would-be captors, and — taking off his goggles and bandages before the astonished eyes of the gathered men — reveals himself to be completely invisible underneath them.

From this point on, the story follows the invisible man's trail of destruction and terror across the land as he attempts to either find a cure for his condition or take over the country (whichever is more likely). He is eventually discovered to be a scientist named Griffin, who was engaging in some illicit experiments. His old girlfriend Flora is played by Gloria Stuart, 64 years before Stuart starred as the old Rose in Titanic. Henry Travers, best known for his role as Clarence Oddbody in It's a Wonderful Life, plays Dr. Cranley, Flora's father and Griffin's mentor.

A sequel, called The Invisible Man Returns and starring Vincent Price in the title role, was produced in 1940. That same year Universal would also release the more comedic film The Invisible Woman.

A remake was produced as a standalone film in conjunction with Blumhouse, and was directed by Leigh Whannell (Upgrade). In this version of the story, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is the protagonist, while the title character (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is the antagonist. The remake was released in 2020.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The subplot with Griffin's girlfriend Flora was created just for the film.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Kemp has been altered from a decent, courageous man who serves as Griffin's nemesis to a cowardly jerk who hits on Griffin's girlfriend and spends most of the film in a state of blind panic.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: When Griffin, wrapped up in bandages and wearing sunglasses on a winter's night, first walks into the pub.
  • Ax-Crazy: Griffin, as a result of the invisibility drug, and only getting worse as the film goes on.
  • Badass Boast: Griffin gives one shortly after his unveiling:
    "An invisible man can rule the world. No one will see him come, no one will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and wreck, and kill!"
  • Badass Normal: Among the Universal Monsters lineup. Griffin is a completely ordinary human man with human weaknesses and no supernatural powers and has the highest body count of all the monsters.
  • Bandaged Face: Griffin's disguise.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Constable Jaffers and the townsfolk who accompany him had no idea what they were doing when they confronted Griffin.
  • Canon Foreigner: Flora and her father Dr. Cranley have no counterparts in Wells' novel.
  • Composite Character: Dr. Kemp shares many of the characteristics and story roles as Thomas Marvel.
  • Chemistry Can Do Anything: The cause of Griffin's invisibility is a vaguely-described chemical process, using a plant extract from India.
  • Chroma Key: An interesting early example. For any scene of him partially dressed, Claude Rains wore a black velvet body suit and stood in front of a black background, to produce footage that was matted into the background.
  • Conspicuous Gloves: The 1933 film is set in winter, so gloves don't really look that odd until Griffin goes indoors and doesn't take them off, or later on when he's wearing them with pajamas and a robe. The Vincent Price sequel (1940's The Invisible Man Returns) is set in warmer weather, so it looks a bit stranger for him to wear them in most instances. The title character of The Invisible Woman (also released in 1940) can get by with it more considering the social customs of the period included women wearing gloves (and hats, for that matter), so it doesn't stand out so much.
  • Death by Adaptation: Dr. Kemp, who survived in the novel, goes flying off of a cliff in a car here.
  • Decomposite Character: The novel's character Colonel Adye is split into a variety of different police official characters, specifically a nameless police chief, chief detective and a guy named Inspector Lane. All of whom survive, unlike Adye who gets shot in the book.
  • Destination Defenestration: Subverted. After baiting Constable Jaffers into a trap nearby an open window, Griffin instead strangles him.
  • Determinator: Griffin goes 15 miles, on foot, through the snow, naked to get to Kemp's house. When he finally gets there, he wants to sit down, and says he'll want food and sleep, but first he wants to go back to the inn he was staying at and get his notes. So they hop in the car and he prepares to go get naked in the snow again. (While they're driving, he at least has a blanket.) Not to mention the fact that he spent five years working all night every night on his invisibility serum. Apparently for Griffin, sleep is for the dead.
  • Dies Differently In The Adaptation: The Invisible Man's demise in the novel comes at the hands of an angry mob who beat him to death. Here, he dies much more cleanly, if in a more protracted fashion, with bullet wounds to the lungs that take him out of commission and eventually take his life.
  • Dirty Coward: Kemp. Griffin even calls him one as his escape attempt fails, right before Griffin sends his car over a cliff.
  • Dying as Yourself: Griffin's sanity returns as he dies, and he also becomes visible again.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Kemp's car explodes when it goes over a cliff.
  • Everybody Has Standards: Flora may be alone and without her boyfriend Griffin. But when Kemp tries to tempt her with the notion that he loves her more than her absent boyfriend, she is disgusted at him for what he's trying to do.
  • Evil Laugh: Claude Rains cackles with the best of them.
  • Foreshadowing: Towards the climax, one of the police officers tells the chief that sooner or later, Griffin's got to sleep, and perhaps they may catch him asleep. Guess what happens one scene later.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The titular insane criminal was originally a scientist who made his living by studying food preservatives.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Griffin has a bunch of lab glassware on a table in his room at the inn — enough to make Mrs. Hall complain that her guest has "turned my best sitting room into a chemist's shop" — including a retort that seems to serve no purpose. The only piece of equipment he's ever seen doing anything with is a beaker he mixes something in.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Griffin gets extremely angry and violent the moment something doesn't go as he likes.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: The film has a disturbing moment where someone that Dr. Griffin has tried to utilize runs screaming into a small town: "The invisible man is coming!"
  • Hates Everyone Equally: After he goes off the deep end, Griffin schemes to murder rich and poor men alike to show the public that he makes "no distinction" in his choice of victims.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Late in the film, Griffin confides in Flora that he always felt self-conscious about how he had so little to his name while her father and Kemp were so much better off despite them being his peers. This shame had Griffin turn himself into his own test subject in haste for the glory, fortune, and pride that would come with becoming a trailblazer in science, even though Flora had always loved him for who he was.
  • Invisible Stomach, Visible Food: The film doesn't actually show the trope, but Griffin mentions that any food he eats will be visible inside him until digested.
  • Invisible Streaker: Griffin puts on clothes only when he wants to be seen, and even complains about how uncomfortable it is to run around nude in the English winter.
  • Invisibility: Yes.
  • Irony: There's a scene where the nation has been alerted to the Invisible Man's presence. Everybody is scrambling, locking their doors and shutting their windows. ...And we cut to Griffin, sleeping soundly in the guest room, not a care in the world.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Though she's the catalyst for the Invisible Man going off the deep end, the Innkeeper's wife isn't wrong to say Griffin can't stay around if he's behind on his payment. It's one thing to put up with a rude guest like him. It's another thing when that rude guest can't pay anymore.
  • Large Ham: Griffin, so very much.
  • Laughing Mad: When Griffin reveals his invisibility to the villagers of Iping, he adds some laughter to it to truly shock them.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: When the police try to capture Griffin at Kemp's house, he gives one of them a kick on the rear.
  • Mood Whiplash: A comedic scene where the Invisible Man chases the Iping villagers out of the pub ends with him suddenly murdering the police inspector by bashing his head in with a stool. Then he starts playing seemingly harmless pranks before derailing a passenger train.
  • Motive Decay: Griffin initially has the understandable goal of finding a cure for his condition so he can return to normal. Then his search for the cure is motivated so that he and Kemp can take turns terrorizing the world as the Invisible Man. The decay mutates into its ultimate form when Griffin rants to Flora that once he's cured, he plans to sell both technologies to the highest bidder and make a fortune while his customer terrorizes the world with an army created from his genius.
  • Outside Ride: Griffin follows his target this way. Made easier by the fact that, well, he's invisible. Ignore the fact that he's also naked in the middle of winter hanging onto the side of a speeding car...
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Griffin uses himself as the test subject of his experiments.
  • Psycho Serum: Monocane, a drug used in Griffin's invisibility process, although it isn't until the sequel that insanity is officially confirmed as a side effect.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Kemp. Griffin even lampshades it.
  • Runaway Train: Griffin has the highest amount of deaths caused out of all the Universal Monsters, primarily due to a shocking train wreck he causes that sends the train off a cliff and kills a hundred people.
  • Setting Update: Set in the 1930s.
  • Screaming Woman: Any excuse and Mrs. Hall is screaming like crazy.
  • Stock Footage: The car and train crashes - both extremely well-executed model shots - were reused in a number of other Universal productions.
  • This Was His True Form: Griffin becomes visible again upon his death.
  • Tuneless Song of Madness: Griffin loves singing while causing chaos, in one instance chasing a terrified woman down a country lane while warbling "Here We Go Gathering Nuts In May," and in another, stealing cash from a bank and nearly sparking a riot by throwing it at passers-by, gleefully belting out "Pop Goes The Weasel" as the crowd scrambles for the money.
  • Undying Loyalty: Dr. Cranley is the type who, when interrogated by the Police as to whether or not Griffin is the Invisible Man, will simply say he's out of town to cover for him. And this with the understanding that despite his crimes, he's simply being affected by the invisibility formula messing with his mind. As opposed to Kemp, who so easily rats out Griffin as the culprit, Cranley displays more loyalty in one scene than most men do their entire lives.
  • We Can Rule Together: Griffin’s grandiose plans for his “reign of terror” involve bullying Kemp into becoming his number two.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Monocaine, the essential ingredient of the invisibility serum, causes the insanity if introduced into animals, as it had been done to a dog in the past.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: When Constable Jaffers sees a naked Griffin opening the window, he assumes that Griffin is trying to escape through the window. Instead, Griffin was baiting Jaffers, and attacks him once he gets close.