#24 in my ranking of the Classic Universal Monster movies.
I think the Universal Monster franchise has reached a new low in The Invisible Man’s Revenge. There have been lazy films, but this might be the most simply inept film put out by Universal about one of its monsters. Taking some of the laziest setups and then mangling it director Ford Beebe and his writer Bertram Millhauser craft a meandering, pointless tale of revenge that just kind of lurches from one half-formed idea to another. The disappointing thing is that I rewrote this movie in my head as I was watching it, rearranging and rewriting scenes so that they made more narrative sense, and it wasn’t a huge lift.
Robert Griffin (Jon Hall), who is apparently completely unrelated to the Griffins who have dominated most of this franchise even Invisible Agent where Hall played the grandson to the original Griffin, arrives on an English dock after having stowed away from Cape Town after years abroad and with convenient amnesia that made him forget everything about why he was in Africa to begin with. He had been there guiding an expedition to find a diamond mine, funded by Sir Jasper (Lester Matthews) and his wife Lady Irene (Gale Sondergaard). Griffin got hit on the back of the head near the end of the expedition, losing his memory, and then being kept in an insane asylum for years. When he gets back to England, he’s determined to get what’s his.
How Griffin plays out his first scene with Jasper is one of the big early problems with this film. Griffin is justifiably angry at what happened to him and Jasper’s claims to poverty, but he’s outright vengeful from the start. He’s immediately jumping towards blackmail. He’s unsympathetic this way. Jasper drugs him and sends him to drown in a river, which he survives when he’s found by local drunk Herbert (Leon Errol) who gives him a place to rest. Griffin goes off, though, and ends up at the doorstep of Dr. Peter Drury (John Carradine) who has been experimenting with invisibility and convinces Griffin to be his next subject, which, of course, Griffin accepts, gets invisible and then disappears to begin to exact his vengeance.
This whole opening is just wrong. Griffin is too malevolent from the start. The arrival at Dr. Drury’s door is too convenient. Griffin’s acceptance of invisibility is too easy. Rewrite this so that Griffin shows up at Jasper’s door with an open heart, not ready to accept that his friend tried to kill him but willing to give the man a chance. Jasper, out of fear, tries to kill Griffin again, and dumps Griffin in the river. Dr. Drury finds the floating body and decides that a nearly dead man that no one knows is the perfect experimental subject for his invisibility experiment. Griffin wakes up invisible, but he remains a good man, unknowingly having the inherent madness of the drug affecting him, first in small ways, as he tries to figure out what he can do from there. There, Griffin is a sympathetic character made invisible and wronged by two men.
Another subplot of the film as it plays out is Jasper’s daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers), an attractive young woman that Griffin had designs upon before the expedition, but she barely knew him. She’s engaged to marry someone else, the journalist Mark (Alan Curtis). Part of Griffin’s demands is that Julie love him and become his wife. Really, Griffin is awful from the beginning. Anyway, invisible, we get to watch Griffin use Herbert for…reasons. He gives Herbert the now typical speech in an Invisible Man movie about acquiring power, and he sets Herbert on those first steps by…taking him to the local pub and having him do trick dart shots. Herbert wins five pounds. He’s well on his way to ruling the world, for sure. It also serves nothing of the plot. It’s an obvious excuse for special effects and nothing else. It stops the movie cold. Well, I suppose it’s slightly amusing, I guess.
Things get unnecessarily convoluted when Dr. Drury figures out that complete transfusion of blood will make the invisible person visible again (he tests it on his dog). Griffin finds out, and starts to use this to his advantage, becoming visible to try and claim his rights over Jasper and Julie. It’s an idea actually born from Invisible Agent, but it’s poorly used here and inconsistent (the dog never goes invisible again where Griffin goes invisible after a certain amount of time after each transfusion).
Imagine a rewrite where the good man Griffin is steadily growing mad, Julie was his love before the expedition and she wants to help him now that he’s back and obviously not dead, and Griffin has to kill people to be visible for his lady love, perhaps even in a situation where he needs to take her fiancé for his blood (this does happen, but Julie doesn’t care about Griffin so it doesn’t really have any kind of emotional dimension to it as it actually plays out).
Really, this movie would have been really easy to fix. It didn’t need a page 1 rewrite, throwing out everything, but it did need a fairly large overhaul that would have preserved setting, situation, and characters while rewriting a lot of dialogue to cast characters in different lights and allow an actual progression of character-based actions that leads to a conclusion and emotional catharsis. It really wouldn’t have been that hard. The pieces are all here, but they’re just really poorly used. That’s where I come to say that The Invisible Man’s Revenge is inept.
Most of the Universal Horror franchise has shown how the studio system was resilient and could make good things in an assembly line-like organization. However, this shows how the studio system could simply fail. This is the same cast that has been working through the last few films, and Ford Beebe had been attached to the whole franchise for a little while, acting as producer on several other, better films, but here they never get around the fixing the script. Universal had a whole host of contract writers (think Sunset Boulevard) that did uncredited work on screenplays all the time, and not one could make this better? This is dreary and awful filmmaking, taking the most interesting and malleable concept in the monster universe and simply fumbling the handling of it.
That being said, the special effects continue to be quite good with some new additions (like the moment Griffin throws water on his face to partially reveal himself to Lady Irene), and the acting is fine, though how you could cast John Carradine in an Invisible Man movie and not cast him as the Invisible Man himself considering his voice is beyond me. Jon Hall is fine in the role, though.
4 thoughts on “The Invisible Man’s Revenge”
It’s the fate of pretty much every franchise. The quality goes down while the name recognition remains high enough to justify more product.
The film will open well enough is the new version of it’ll run long enough.
Hollywood has always been full of talentless hacks trying to milk money from their properties and customers. It’s just depressing to see the studio system fail so thoroughly.
The studio system was supposed to be strong enough to resist falling to these depths. It wasn’t strong enough, obviously.