It’s not difficult to imagine that after chemically altering the fundamental fabric of one’s own body to turn invisible that complications would arise. Anger, hostility, and severe case sarcasm are the symptoms of Jack (Claude Rains) in James Whales’ mesmerizing The Invisible Man (1933).
Made only a couple of years after the breakout release of Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man continues Whales’ directorial adaptation of literature’s misunderstood and marginalized characters onto the big screen. Whales’ treatment of these misanthropic characters (as a homosexual he was considered outsider), is simultaneously heart-breaking and angering but, unlike our dear Frankenstein’s monster, Jack is a monster of his own making, a victim of his own greed for knowledge. Based on H.G. Wells’ science-fiction novella, the film serves (like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) as a cautionary tale of humans playing “god”.
Jack is obsessive in his work, eschewing friends and family to advance his scientific discoveries. When he “succeeds” (i.e. becomes invisible) he becomes trapped within his own success; invisible with no means of escape. He turns nasty and vindictive, apparently the things one is not allowed to be when others can visualize his appearance. But there is also humor in the things one can (or could) get away with when no one can see you. Jack’s taunting of the small countryside town is particularly amusing as is the fact that he has to be naked in order to remain unseen.
The Invisible Man is a cinematic delight, reveling in the magic and theatrical trickery found in early Melies’ films. Jack’s invisibility lends a fantastic excuse for solitary puffs of cigarette smoke, doors opening/closing on their own, chairs rocking without someone sitting in them. He becomes a ghost of his former shelf. Jack’s “disguise” is also overly dramatic, wrapped in scarves, glasses, and fancy pajamas he is the luxurious personification of evil.