I bought this collection earlier this month and I was really looking forward to it because most of the films have been well-received by fans of classic horror. So now I’m the owner of 5 of the 6 Legacy Collections Universal has released. Maybe next year I’ll get that Creature from the Black Lagoon set…
The Invisible Man (1933)
I have vague memories of seeing this one as a kid but I didn’t remember anything about it (just like The Mummy). Claude Rains’s performance as Jack Griffin, Invisible Man is absolutely phenomenal. I had heard a lot about how well he used his voice in this movie and the reports are true. Rains’ Invisible Man is arrogant, mad and funny. For special effects alone this movie is worth watching. They were doing things in this film that had never been done before and helped pave the way for special effects. Great film. It may not offer the Gothic horror of Frankenstein or Dracula but whenever Rains is on the screen (or rather, when he isn’t) there is a chilling atmosphere because you don’t know what this insane guy is going to do next. You’re just waiting for him to snap. Directed by James Whale and according to the documentary on this DVD, he pushed for doing this movie in an attempt to dissuade Universal from insisting he do a follow-up to Frankenstein. Boris Karloff was the first choice for the role of Jack Griffin but backed out after a salary dispute. The role was then offered to Clive Owens, who was interested, but wanted to return home to England so he declined.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Set 9 years after the events of The Invisible Man, this movie focuses on the Vincent Price (YES!) character looking for revenge after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his brother and being sentenced to death. With the help of Dr. Frank Griffin (the original Invisible Man’s brother), Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Price) breaks out of jail using the invisibility serum and attempts to not only clear his name but is out for cold-blooded revenge as the serum begins to drive him mad just as it had for Jack Griffin. Just as Claude Rains had done a wonderful job in the first film, Vincent Price does much of the same here displaying madness & humor. But unlike the first film, which starts off with Jack Griffin already on the edge of madness, The Invisible Man Returns shows Radcliffe’s gradual transformation from an invisible man out for justice to an invisible man out for murder. I thought that was a nice touch and I enjoyed this movie just as much as the original.
The Invisible Woman (1940)
There are a few similarities between Universal’s Mummy franchise and their Invisible Man franchise. Both series’ original films performed well at the box office and with critics in the early 1930s yet neither had a sequel until 1940. Then, at some point, each series had TWO entries within the same year. The Mummy’s Ghost & The Mummy’s Curse both were released in1944 while The Invisible Man’s Revenge and The Invisible Woman came out in 1940. That’s where the similarities end. While the Mummy series varies in quality, they never did a genre jump like The Invisible Woman did. This movie sees Virginia Bruce playing a bubbly, slightly ditsy “working girl” (not that kind) who signs up for an experiment to become invisible just to get a little payback on her jerk of a boss. There are no sinister motives here because the movie is played for laughs, the girl just wants the boss to treat all the ladies with a little more respect and scares him into doing so. But that’s only the early part of the movie, the rest of the movie sees a gang of bumbling criminals trying to steal the machine. Yes, an invisibility machine. There’s no serum here to drive the user mad… the side effect here is alcohol can cause you *turn* invisible. so that they can go on an invisible crime spree. There’s no horror here, this is a silly slapstick 1940s comedy with a sci-fi twist and a bit of charm thanks to Virginia Bruce (whose character seems to flaunt the fact that she’s naked while invisible).
Invisible Agent (1942)
Ah yes, Invisible Agent as “suggested by” H.G. Wells. In truth, Universal had a contract with Wells and could basically do whatever kind of “invisible” movie they wanted to do so he had zero input here. While The Invisible Woman had no connection to the two previous films, Invisible Agent introduces yet another relative of the original Invisible Man Jack Griffin– his grandson Frank. What’s with having two Frank Griffins? Frank moved to America where he changed his name to escape the shame Jack brought upon the family name and has set up a print shop but still holds onto the family formula of invisibility. The Nazis & Japanese come looking for it (yes, this is a war propaganda film) and eventually Frank hands over the formula to the good ol’ U.S. of A and volunteers to spy on the Nazis for them so long as he’s the only one the formula is used on for fear of what the serum may do. For some reason, the serum doesn’t cause Frank to go mad at all so all that worrying was for nothing. The only side effect is that it causes him to become very sleepy at times. Seems like a missed opportunity because it would’ve been very interesting had Frank become paranoid, insane, murderous and arrogant (as the serum will make you) while on Nazi soil. Would he have gone on to massacre them all himself? Would he have tried to kill Hitler and take over setting up his own empire to rule the world? Perhaps played both sides to conquer all? Sadly, this is not explored but would have never been the point of this film in 1942. Nonetheless, this is a solid WWII-era spy thriller with a few comedic scenes (but I wouldn’t call it a comedy as I’ve seen other reviews do).
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Jon Hall returns for another stab at being invisible. It’s a bit confusing though because Hall played Frank Griffin (a relative of the original Invisible Man) in Invisible Agent but in this movie he is Robert Griffin and apparently has no connection to the Griffin family that’s been featured in three previous “invisible” movies. Hall is backed by Universal stock players Evelyn Ankers & John Carradine (both of whom must’ve been in every Universal Monster franchise by the mid-40s). In this movie, Hall is a crook who believes he was swindled out of his piece of a diamond and sets out for REVENGE. Along the way, he runs into a doctor (Carradine) who has been experimenting with invisibility on animals and the film moves from there. The movie was okay but the problem is that there aren’t really any likable characters here. I suppose the doctor is a decent fellow but he seems bent on becoming famous more than anything else while the rest of the main male characters come off as crooks or jerks.
After the maniacal & legendary performance of Claude Rains under the direction of James Whale this series really had nowhere to go but down, didn’t it? Still, I thought Vincent Price did a great job with his turn as the Invisible Man and Invisible Agent was a satisfying wartime spy thriller. I could give or take the silliness of The Invisible Woman but the final film is slightly below average. A fun franchise (and certainly better than whatever the Mummy movies had to offer) but the Invisible Man still doesn’t hold a candle to the Big Three of Universal Horror.