The Invisible Man (1933 film)

The Invisible Man is a 1933 American pre-Code science fiction horror film directed by James Whale. Based on H. G. Wells' 1897 science fiction novel The Invisible Man and produced by Universal Pictures, the film stars Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart. The film was written by R.C. Sherriff, along with Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges, though the latter duo's work was considered unsatisfactory and they were taken off the project.[3] As an adaptation of a book, the film has been described as a "nearly perfect translation of the spirit of the tale" upon which it is based.[4] The first film in Universal's Invisible Man film series, it spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs which used ideas of an "invisible man" that were largely unrelated to Wells' original story.

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man (1933 poster - Style B).jpg
Theatrical "Style B" release poster by Karoly Grosz[1]
Directed byJames Whale
Produced byCarl Laemmle Jr.
Screenplay byR. C. Sherriff
Philip Wylie
Preston Sturges
Based on
Music byHeinz Roemheld
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byTed J. Kent
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 13, 1933 (1933-11-13)
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States

Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) mostly only as a disembodied voice. Rains is only shown clearly for a brief time at the end of the film, spending most of his on-screen time covered by bandages. In 2008, The Invisible Man was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[5][6]


On a snowy night, a stranger, his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles, takes a room at The Lion's Head Inn in the English village of Iping in Sussex. The man demands that he be left alone. Later, the innkeeper, Mr. Hall, is sent by his wife to evict the stranger after the stranger has made a huge mess in his room while doing research and has fallen behind in his rent. Angered, the stranger throws Mr. Hall down the stairs. Confronted by a policeman and some local villagers, he removes his bandages and goggles, revealing that he is invisible. Laughing maniacally, he takes off his clothes, making himself completely undetectable, and drives off his tormenters before fleeing into the countryside.

The stranger is Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who discovered the secret of invisibility while conducting a series of tests involving an obscure drug called monocane. Flora Cranley, Griffin's fiancée and the daughter of Griffin's employer, Dr. Cranley, becomes distraught over Griffin's long absence. Cranley and his other assistant, Dr. Kemp, search Griffin's empty laboratory, finding only a single note in a cupboard. Cranley becomes concerned when he reads it. On the note is a list of chemicals, including monocane, which Cranley knows is extremely dangerous; an injection of it drove a dog mad in Germany. Griffin, it seems, is unaware of this. Cranley deduces that he may have learned about monocane in English books printed before the incident that describe only its bleaching power.

On the evening of his escape from the inn, Griffin turns up at Kemp's home. He forces Kemp to become his visible partner in a plot to dominate the world through a reign of terror, commencing with "a few murders here and there." They drive back to the inn to retrieve his notebooks on the invisibility process. Sneaking inside, Griffin finds a police inquiry underway, conducted by an official who believes that it is all a hoax. After securing his books, Griffin attacks and kills the officer.

Back home, Kemp calls first Cranley, asking for help, and then the police. Flora persuades her father to let her come along. In her presence, Griffin becomes more placid and calls her "darling." When he realizes that Kemp has betrayed him, his first reaction is to get Flora away from danger. After promising Kemp that at 10 o'clock the next night he will murder him, Griffin escapes and goes on a killing spree. He causes the derailment of a train, resulting in a hundred deaths, and throws two volunteer searchers off a cliff. The police offer a reward for anyone who can think of a way to catch him.

The chief detective in charge of the search uses Kemp as bait, feeling that Griffin will try to fulfill his promise, and devises various clever traps. At Kemp's insistence, the police disguise him in a police uniform and let him drive his car away from his house. Griffin, however, is hiding in the back seat of the car. He overpowers Kemp and ties him up in the front seat. Griffin then sends the car down a steep hill and over a cliff, where it explodes on impact.

Griffin seeks shelter from a snowstorm in a barn. A farmer hears snoring and sees the hay, in which Griffin is sleeping, moving. The man notifies the police. The police surround the building and set fire to the barn. When Griffin comes out, the chief detective sees his footprints in the snow and opens fire, mortally wounding him. Griffin is taken to the hospital where, on his deathbed, he admits to Flora that "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." As he dies, his body gradually becomes visible again.


Several notable character actors appear in minor roles, including Dwight Frye as a reporter, Walter Brennan as a man whose bicycle is stolen by Griffin, and John Carradine, acting at that time under the name Peter Richmond, as a Cockney informer.


Director James Whale (left) and technicians on set of The Invisible Man starring Claude Rains (Universal, 1933)

Claude Rains was not the studio's first choice to play the lead role in The Invisible Man. Boris Karloff was originally supposed to play the part but withdrew after producer Carl Laemmle Jr. tried too many times to cut Karloff's contractual salary.[3] To replace Karloff, Chester Morris, Paul Lukas and Colin Clive were considered for the part.[3][7] It was James Whale, who was assigned to direct the film to replace Cyril Gardner,[7] who wanted Claude Rains to play Griffin – Rains was his first choice.[8] Problems in developing the script held up the project for some time; in June 1932 the film was called off temporarily.[7]

The Invisible Man was in production from June to August 1933[9] at Universal Studios.[10] Filming was interrupted near the end by a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, which damaged an exterior set.[7]

The film was released on November 13, 1933[11][12] and was marketed with the taglines "Catch me if you can!" and "H.G. Wells' Fantastic Sensation".[13]

Differences from novelEdit

Although the basic framework of the story and the characters' names are largely the same as in the novel, there are several great differences, elements of the film having been also adapted from Wylie's earlier 1931 novel The Murderer Invisible, also following an Invisible Man. Each takes place around the same time it was released: the novel in the 1890s, and the film in 1933. In the novel, Griffin (the Invisible Man) remains almost a totally mysterious person, with no fiancée or friends; in the film (as in The Murderer Invisible) he is engaged to a beautiful woman and has the support of her father and his associate. In the novel, Griffin is already insane before he makes himself invisible and he is entirely motivated by a lust for power. In the film, Griffin is a more sympathetic character motivated by his ambition to make a scientific breakthrough in order to become a worthy husband to Flora and his madness (as in The Murderer Invisible) is a side effect of the invisibility serum. Dr. Kemp survives in the novel; his life is saved by those who ultimately kill Griffin. In the film, Dr. Kemp is terrified throughout, and pays with his life for betraying Griffin.

Special effectsEdit

The film is known for its visual effects devised by John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams, whose work is often credited for the success of the film.[3] When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process. Claude Rains was claustrophobic and it was hard for him to breathe through the suit. Consequently, the work was especially difficult, and a double, who was somewhat shorter than Rains, was sometimes used.[14][15]

The effect of Rains seeming to disappear was created by making a head and body cast of the actor, from which a mask was made. The mask was then photographed against a specially prepared background, and the film was treated in the laboratory to complete the effect.[7]

However, there is a lapse at the end of the film when the invisible Rains walks through the snow and the outlined indentations as he walks appear as the imprints of shoes instead of his naked feet as it should have been.

Reaction, awards and honorsEdit

Pre-release "teaser" poster by Karoly Grosz.[16]

The movie was popular at the box office, and was Universal's most successful horror film since Frankenstein.[2]

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote, "The story makes such superb cinematic material that one wonders that Hollywood did not film it sooner. Now that it has been done, it is a remarkable achievement."[17] The film also appeared on The New York Times' year-end list as one of the Ten Best Films of 1933.[18] Variety called the film "something new and refreshing in film frighteners" that "will more than satisfy audiences," but suggested that some of the laughs in the picture might not have been intentional.[19]

Film Daily wrote, "It will satisfy all those who like the bizarre and the outlandish in their film entertainment."[20] John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film a "bright little oddity"[21] that "never was properly appreciated."[22]

Despite the critical acclaim, H. G. Wells, the author of the original source text, said at a dinner in its honor that "while he liked the picture he had one grave fault to find with it. It had taken his brilliant scientist and changed him into a lunatic, a liberty he could not condone." Whale replied that the film was addressed to the "rationally minded motion picture audience," because "in the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible anyway."[7] (In the original novel, the scientist was amoral from the start and did not hesitate to rob his own father [who consequently commits suicide] to get the money to buy certain drugs for the invisibility process. In the movie, an essential color-removing drug in the process had the unavoidable side-effect of unbalancing his mind.) Despite his misgivings, Wells did praise the performance of Una O'Connor as the shrieking Mrs. Hall.[23]

Whale, who had previously directed Frankenstein as well as the first version of Waterloo Bridge, received a Special Recommendation from the 1934 Venice Film Festival in recognition of his work on The Invisible Man.[24] Rains' film career took off after The Invisible Man, which was his first American film appearance. The film was nominated for the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills and AFI's 10 Top 10 (science fiction film), while the character was nominated as a villain for the AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains list. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 94% based on 51 reviews.[25]

Home mediaEdit

In the 1990s, MCA/Universal Home Video released The Invisible Man on VHS as part of the "Universal Monsters Classic Collection".[26]

In 2000, Universal released The Invisible Man on VHS and DVD as part of the "Classic Monster Collection", a series of releases of Universal Classic Monsters films.[27][28][29] In 2004, Universal released The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection on DVD as part of the "Universal Legacy Collection".[30][31] This two-disc release includes The Invisible Man, along with The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man's Revenge, as well as a short documentary—Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed—hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer.[30][31]

In 2012, The Invisible Man was released on Blu-ray as part of the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set, which includes a total of nine films from the Universal Classic Monsters series.[32][33] The film received a standalone Blu-ray release in 2013.[34][35] In 2014, Universal released The Invisible Man: Complete Legacy Collection on DVD.[36] This set contains six films: The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, The Invisible Man's Revenge, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.[36] In 2016, The Invisible Man received a Walmart-exclusive Blu-ray release featuring a glow-in-the-dark cover.[37] In September 2017, the film received a Best Buy-exclusive steelbook Blu-ray release with cover artwork by Alex Ross.[38]

In August 2018, the six-film Complete Legacy Collection was released on Blu-ray.[39][40] That same month, The Invisible Man and its sequels were included in the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray box set.[41][42] This box set also received a DVD release.[43] In October 2018, the film was included as part of a limited edition Best Buy-exclusive Blu-ray set titled Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection, which features artwork by Alex Ross.[44]


Due to the success of the first film, a sequel title The Invisible Man Returns was released in 1940, starring different actors and following different characters. The film stars Vincent Price as a new Invisible Man, while John Sutton plays the brother of Claude Rains's character from the 1933 film.


In February 2016, it was announced that Johnny Depp would star in the remake with Ed Solomon writing the film's script, while Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan would be the producers.[45][46] The film was planned as part of Universal Pictures' modern-day reboot of Universal Monsters, called Dark Universe. The series of films, which began with The Mummy (2017), was to be followed by Bride of Frankenstein in 2019. Franchise producer Alex Kurtzman stated that fans should expect at least one film per year in the shared film universe.[47] However, on November 8, 2017, Kurtzman and Morgan moved on to other projects, leaving the future of the Dark Universe in doubt.[48] In January 2019, Universal announced that it would completely scrap the Dark Universe and make filmmaker-driven films based on the classic monsters starting with a remake of The Invisible Man to be written and directed by Leigh Whannell and produced by Jason Blum, but it would not star Johnny Depp as previously reported. Later, Variety reported that Elisabeth Moss was in talks to star as Cecilia Kass.[49][50] Storm Reid, Aldis Hodge, and Harriet Dyer joined the cast in the following months.[51][52][53] In July 2019, Deadline reported that Oliver Jackson-Cohen was cast as the titular character.[54] The Invisible Man was released on February 28, 2020 to positive reviews.[55]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ ———; ———, eds. (2003). Science Fiction Poster Art. London: Aurum Press Limited. pp. 70–71. ISBN 1-85410-946-4.
  2. ^ a b Gregory Mank, "Production Background", The Invisible Man, Bear Manor Media, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Kjolseth, Pablo (March 28, 2009). "Articles for The Invisible Man (1933)". Archived from the original on March 28, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  4. ^ Westfahl, Gary, ed. (2009). The Science of Fiction and the Fiction of Science: Collected Essays on SF Storytelling and the Gnostic Imagination. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy. McFarland & Company. p. 41. ISBN 978-0786437221.
  5. ^ "2008 Entries to National Film Registry." Archived 2014-08-10 at the Wayback Machine Library of Congress, December 30, 2008; accessed January 14, 2016.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Notes for The Invisible Man (1933)". Archived from the original on March 28, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  8. ^ Tom Weaver,, Michael Brunas, John Brunas Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. p. 79 Archived 2014-12-27 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ IMDB Business data Archived 2015-11-07 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Filming locations for The Invisible Man Archived 2015-11-07 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed July 25, 2015.
  11. ^ TCM Overview Archived 2009-03-28 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ IMDB Release dates Archived 2015-11-07 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ IMDB The Invisible Man taglines Archived 2015-11-07 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed July 25, 2015.
  14. ^ The Invisible Man on IMDb
  15. ^ David J. Skal. Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed!, Universal Home Entertainment, 2000.
  16. ^ Nourmand, Tony; Marsh, Graham, eds. (2004). Horror Poster Art. London: Aurum Press Limited. p. 132. ISBN 1-84513-010-3.
  17. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (November 18, 1933). "Movie Review - The Invisible Man". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 2, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  18. ^ Allmovie Awards Archived 2006-04-26 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. November 21, 1933. p. 14. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016.
  20. ^ "The Invisible Man". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folkm Inc.: 4 November 18, 1933.
  21. ^ Mosher, John (May 23, 1936). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 69.
  22. ^ Mosher, John (August 28, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 54.
  23. ^ Gatiss, Mark. James Whale: A Biography or the Would-Be Gentlemen, Cassell (1995); ISBN 0-304-32861-8
  24. ^ The Invisible Man awards section Archived 2009-03-09 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed July 25, 2015.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "The Invisible Man (Universal Monsters Classic Collection) [VHS]". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  27. ^ The Invisible Man (Classic Monster Collection) [VHS]. ASIN 6300185281.
  28. ^ The Invisible Man (Classic Monster Collection) [DVD]. ISBN 0783240961.
  29. ^ Arrington, Chuck (November 7, 2000). "The Invisible Man-1933". DVD Talk. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  30. ^ a b "The Invisible Man - The Legacy Collection (The Invisible Man / Invisible Man Returns / Invisible Agent / Invisible Woman / Invisible Man's Revenge) [DVD]". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Erickson, Glenn (January 12, 2005). "The Invisible Man - The Legacy Collection". DVD Talk. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  32. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray]". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  33. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  34. ^ "The Invisible Man (1933) [Blu-ray]". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  35. ^ "The Invisible Man Blu-ray". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  36. ^ a b "The Invisible Man: Complete Legacy Collection [DVD]". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  37. ^ Squires, John (September 13, 2016). "Walmart Releases Universal Monsters Classics With Glow-In-Dark Covers!". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  38. ^ Squires, John (June 27, 2017). "Best Buy Getting Universal Monsters Steelbooks With Stunning Alex Ross Art". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  39. ^ "The Invisible Man: Complete Legacy Collection [Blu-ray]". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  40. ^ "The Invisible Man: Complete Legacy Collection Blu-ray". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  41. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection [Blu-ray]". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  42. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  43. ^ "Classic Monsters (Complete 30-Film Collection) [DVD]". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  44. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  45. ^ Kit, Borys (February 9, 2016). "Johnny Depp to Star in Universal's 'Invisible Man' Reboot". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 11, 2016.
  46. ^ Fleming, Mike, Jr. (February 9, 2016). "Johnny Depp To Star In 'The Invisible Man' At Universal". Deadline. Archived from the original on February 11, 2016.
  47. ^ "Alex Kurtzman says monster movie fans should get one Dark Universe film a year". 6 June 2017. Archived from the original on 10 November 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  48. ^ Kit, Borys; Couch, Aaron (November 8, 2017). "Universal's "Monsterverse" in Peril as Top Producers Exit (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on November 8, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  49. ^ Kroll, Justin (January 24, 2019). "'Invisible Man' Finds Director, Sets New Course for Universal's Monster Legacy (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  50. ^ Kroll, Justin (March 1, 2019). "Elisabeth Moss Circling Universal's 'Invisible Man' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  51. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 10, 2019). "Universal-Blumhouse's 'The Invisible Man' Adds 'A Wrinkle In Time' Star Storm Reid".
  52. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 19, 2019). "Blumhouse & Universal's 'The Invisible Man' Adds 'Straight Outta Compton' & 'Clemency' Actor Aldis Hodge".
  53. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 20, 2019). "Harriet Dyer, Star Of NBC's 'The InBetween', Joins Blumhouse-Universal's 'The Invisible Man'".
  54. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 12, 2019). "Blumhouse & Universal Find Their 'Invisible Man' In Oliver Jackson-Cohen". Deadline. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  55. ^ Hipes, Patrick (August 22, 2019). "Blumhouse's 'The Invisible Man' Will Emerge Two Weeks Earlier – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 22, 2019.

External linksEdit