“He took off his clothes. No wonder she fainted.” P.C. Tewksbury
And here we are in the forties, a time when Universal’s horror output – particularly their monsters, became more mainstream and less daring.
A lot of the artistic flair was missing without the likes of James Whale to liven things up and nudge the boundaries. The film sets though faultless, were similarly missing the starkness of the earlier run of films. The European Bauhaus influence had gone, and from a visual standpoint the films had certainly lost a distinctive look and feel. Also, earlier films that had outraged the delicate sensibilities of the public like The Raven, The Black Cat and Dracula’s daughter were certainly off the menu with the real horrors of war sweeping the globe.
The Invisible Man Returns is a direct sequel to The Invisible Man (1933), but of course we saw The Invisible Man aka Jack Griffin die, having been shot by the police. So, what goes on?
Well, yes, Griffin died – but he’s referenced early on in the film when we see his police report and there’s Claude Rains’ face on the mug shot. But he’s not the only member of the Griffin clan who’s been dabbling with the invisibility serum. Meet Jack’s brother Frank (John Sutton who’d previously played John Wyatt in Tower of London) Frank has a friend on death row, awaiting the gallows.
Geoffrey Radcliffe is the friend in question. He is the owner of a mining operation in Yorkshire. He has been found guilty of the murder of his brother, but has always protested his innocence. Geoffrey is played by Vincent Price in his first straight up horror role, fresh from his role as the foppish Duke of Clarence in (again) Tower of London. I might as well get all the Tower references out of the way, as his girlfriend Helen Manson is played by Nan Grey in what I believe is her last appearance in the Shocktober list having made an indelible impression both in Tower of London and Dracula’s Daughter.
Helen tries to persuade Geoffrey’s influential cousin Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) to get the Home Secretary to grant a reprieve or delay – to no avail.
As the hours tick down, Geoffrey received a final visit from Frank and promptly disappears from his cell. Of course, it doesn’t take Scotland Yard long to make the connection that the guy’s invisible – but try as they might to catch him, they can’t. Though to be fair, the only means they think they have at their disposal are blowing cigar smoke around to try and catch his outline and hoping it rains.
So, Geoffrey is now invisible and hiding out at a remote cottage with Helen, but it’s not long at all before he starts to display symptoms of rage and they’re discovered by a nosey constable and the dragnet is out again. Scandalously, to be invisible he needs to take his clothes off in font of the virtuous Helen. Oh, my.
Geoffrey’s mission is to clear his name, but as we saw in the first film, the invisibility serum brings with it insanity as an interesting side effect. This won’t be easy.
The film is nowhere as menacing or creepy as its predecessor even when Geoffrey attacks a prime suspect, the bullying foreman Willie Spears (Alan Napier, 25 years before he became Alfred the faithful butler to Adam West’s Batman) Napier’s hamming and his otherworldly fake Yorkshire accent is truly off the scale as he helplessly tries to defend himself against his unseen assailant. He runs through some bushes to escape, and his face gets badly cut and scratched. Question – what about poor Geoffrey? He’s bare-ass nekkid, apparently.
Anyway, the film sort of plods on with no real sense of atmosphere, just by the numbers until it’s revealed who the real murderer is – Richard Cobb did the deed and meets his own end dropped from a mining car along with a load of rocks – but not before making a full confession.
As for Geoffrey, he’s been shot and he’s lost a lot of blood – but the transfusion he receives kind of flushes the invisibility serum out of his system, and restores his visibility is a remarkably well executed scene where first the major arteries become visible, then, layer upon layer more of him is built up, until we see a very young looking Vincent Price.
Now he can be seen, he can be operated on and his life saved by Frank.
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