Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Invisible Man

Although I didn't really have the time, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see James Whale's Invisible Man at Doc Films tonight. I'd previously only seen Whale's Frankenstein movies, and while Bride of Frankenstein might be the filmmaker's ultimate blend of comedy and classical horror, The Invisible Man is grotesque and unabashedly slapstick, with a remarkably advanced camp sensibility. It's as if Whale knew that his laughs would outlive his scares, and planned accordingly. Or, perhaps more likely, he was just making himself laugh.

Really, The Invisible Man hardly qualifies as a horror movie, especially since most of the violence is utterly ridiculous, with Rains childishly taunting his victims while they fall all over themselves. It's hard to think of the episode where the invisible man steals a policeman's pants as anything but hilarious. A horrible train wreck half way through the movie seems curiously out of place, tossed in to the film to justify the manpower that would be expended on catching the invisible man in the second half - but Whale executes the crash so unrealistically and with such precise comic timing that I couldn't help but chuckle. Most of the actors don't seem to be fully in on the joke, although even the more wooden and clueless among are obviously enjoying themselves (with one or two very notable exceptions in the prosthetic ingenue Gloria Stuart and the cowardly William Harrigan). Claude Rains as "The Invisible One" (as per the credits) is all covered up and can't play for sympathy like Karloff in the Frankenstein movies, keeping the film firmly within the realm of farce. There's one actress who knows exactly what kind of movie James Whale was making, and that's character actress Una O'Connor. Running the tavern/inn where Claude Rains holes up to seek an antidote, she's the first to discover Rains's horrible secret - a discovery that sets off a series of periodic shrieks of shock, disbelief, fear, discomfort... really anything that might merit a reaction of any kind. Whale is so enamored of her rather hilarious scream that he had her do it over and over and over again, occasionally with almost no provocation whatsoever. Maybe my favorite thing about the film is that, without really dipping into irony, Whale isn't above utilizing the weaknesses of his script or his actors for laughs (just look at his casting of Henry Travers - Clarence the angel from It's a Wonderful Life - as respected scientist Dr. Cranley if you have any doubt as to Whale's intentions). As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that a fully competent cast would have weighed it down. As it is, I haven't had more fun in a movie theater in ages.

The big reveal:

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