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Womanizing the Genre

Despite its place in time, The Invisible Woman is something more than a teasing, playful titillation extravaganza. Virginia Bruce is allowed to take her male co-stars to task. She kicks her brutish boss, she maligns her villainous captors, and in a subversion of expectations, manages to save herself in the end.

This is a movie in search of a plot though. The title is effectively this movie, a B-tier idea, treated as such, and biding time between laughter. Released the same year as The Invisible Man Returns, this is either a total rebranding of the series or just a curious spin-off designed for exploitation. Probably the latter; it’s difficult to see this cutesy fairy tale as anything other than a corny lark.

Yet, Invisible Woman embraces that tag. Seconds past the opening credits, Charles Ruggles is taking a prat fall down some stairs. Ruggles is a sarcastic joy in this movie, at least when he’s on his feet. He plays a butler to a down-and-out playboy (John Howard) whose womanizing is playing catch up. That’s what Invisible Woman latches onto – men realizing the trouble they’re in when faced with a strong-willed woman.

It’s all feisty and perky, aware of the preposterous set-up

One woman is credited with the screenplay, Gertrude Purcell, along with two men. It’s not a film without a touch of ‘40s era sexism by way of those males; Virginia Bruce is portrayed as ditzy and all too frequently succumbing to booze. She’s not much of a character, more a charming bit of air (literally, given her condition). Even Barrymore’s scientist, when he learns his experiment is a female, says, “You mean skirts and things?” After two invisible dudes, apparently this series is still realizing that women exist.

Of course Invisible Woman plays on sexuality. The idea of a nude (but invisible) Bruce is mentioned with Howard making cartoon wide-eyes. Bruce begins to come back to visibility legs first. Later, to prove her condition, she begins to slowly dress herself in front of a fire, a sort of reverse strip tease. It’s all feisty and perky though, aware of the preposterous set-up, taking it all in at face value. Invisible Woman is a zippy part of Universal’s sci-fi/horror cannon too, sticking around only as long as necessary.

Oh, and there is a plot. Three bumbling thieves seek to steal the invisibility machine for their crime boss. It’s dorky stuff, so much so one of the crooks is played by Shemp Howard, years before he was called to join the Three Stooges. Generally, Invisible Woman is little other than a hokey romance, but at least one willing to give the title character a shot beyond victimhood, which in a Universal monsters film (sort of) is something to celebrate.


Universal gives this easy going charmer a grand Blu-ray presentation. There’s plenty to like, beginning with a notable and cleanly resolved grain structure. Behind that, excellent, natural sharpness, impeded only by visual effects (as expected) and fading transitions (also expected). While primarily shot on soundstages in indoor settings, a handful of exteriors stand out for their definition of leafy plants.

With no signs of age short of the B&W cinematography, Invisible Woman impresses with its condition. Every frame is intact and if there’s a scratch, it passes by unnoticed. However Invisible Woman sat in Universal’s vault, that’s how everything needs stored.

There’s nice gray scale at work, giving depth and dimension to a generally bright transfer. High contrast reaches the necessary peak with a pleasing drop into shadows. Invisible Woman doesn’t deal in darkness, so maintaining density poses a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, this transfer earns passing marks.


Ignore the grubby sounding overture at the start. That wilted quality soon passes. Soon the chipper score by Frank Skinner takes off with clear bass and cheery highs.

Universal’s DTS-HD mono mix even processes dialog without a hint of degradation. Hollow sounding lines have their origin on set. A few dubbed in lines offer a notable difference as a result.


Paired on the same disc with Invisible Man Returns, the duo carry no bonuses.

The Invisible Woman
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


Better than the title might suggest, this (slightly) pro-woman comic fable has fun with the idea of an invisible woman in the right ways.

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