Off the Cliff
Invisible Man marked the first “fun” Universal monster movie, and arguably, the first ever horror/comedy. Like its protagonist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), it’s wonderfully erratic, bouncing between mania, folk heroism, and mockery.
Director James Whale envisioned the world differently, an eccentric thinker whose iconic works favored surrealism and oddities. Under his care, the HG Wells’ novel speaks to lingering social paranoia, the ineffectiveness of authorities, fear of foreign cultures, and via the always perfect Una O’Connor, pokes fun at the small village simpletons who frequent these movies.
While fitted to the usual Universal anti-science mantra, Invisible Man applies this through a more deft hand. Griffin is afflicted with invisibility at the outset; his reasons for inventing the successful formula waver along with his mental status. He chose progress above all, inadvertently altering the planet’s power structure by creating the possibility of unseen super soldiers. In that, he sees wealth, if only after madness takes hold. People around Griffin fear what they can’t see; Griffin fears being seen. That dichotomy sparks both the comedy and terror.
It’s a wonder how stable Griffin remains if left alone in this story’s alternate take. Trying to isolate in a tavern’s spare room, people keep interfering. They wonder and gossip. Like Whale’s other works, Invisible Man feels personal in retrospect, knowing Whale’s sexuality and the judgment to follow were this ever exposed. Privacy was essential. Whether it’s the panic of being lost in his own body that drives him mad or those who feel they deserve a look into his life isn’t particularly clear, although Griffin’s anger rises early in his search for a cure.
There is a slight empathy to Griffin. Invisible Man doesn’t inherently blame him for trying to discover world-altering science. When he robs a bank during his final rampage, rather than keep the money, he dumps it onto the street for others. But he also derails a train without reason, and murders those who betrayed his trust. Invisible Man, more than other creatures in Universal’s first run horror cycle, expertly balances and adds nuance to the title character. Dracula undoubtedly represented villainy, Frankenstein’s monster a misunderstood tragedy, and with Griffin, there’s a specialized elegance in how the character is approached as a real person, suffering from a grandiose mistake. Humor helps in accepting and understanding his actions until he turns into a threat.
Print damage is more on the severe side compared to Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s clear aggressive measures were made to reduce the vertical scratches running through the film. Given the light, minimal grain structure, some processing was applied to clean things up. Grain (possibly added after clean-up) also tends to “stick” and follow motion, although the quality loss is minimal. A scene around 22-minutes, as the doctor’s discuss the flower, is an anomaly that looks drawn from a different print all together.
A pure 4K master delivers fidelity otherwise. Sharpness (where the cinematography allows) looks exceptionally on point. Detail flourishes, even with suspect mastering. Lapses do happen, and in spots, it’s possible to detect a partially frozen grain structure. That saps high frequency information, and makes the resolution gains over the Blu-ray minimal. Slight waxiness in medium shots occurs. It’s a borderline effort.
HDR grading gives Invisible Man kick thanks to an elegant gray scale, although gray tones poorly separate in spots because of the smoothing. Stellar black levels hit pure black on the regular. Lights bounce off glass beakers to give the brightness a potent peak. Dimension is superb and rich throughout.
Mixed slightly lower than usual (especially the score), a minor static comes and goes. Overall fidelity is precise even if the highest treble wobbles a touch. Una O’Connor’s screeches pose a test the DTS-HD track doesn’t pass, but that’s minor. Being of the early sound era, Invisible Man comes through the speakers better than expected.
Slim on bonuses, Rudy Behlmer’s commentary is the thickest item here. Now You See Him is a fun 35-minute documentary on the film and the awe-inspiring visual effects. Unforgettable Characters is a Universal 100 bonus, and some posters roll through for 4:30 as a video montage.
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The Invisible Man
James Whale’s direction flawlessly balances The Invisible Man’s horror and comedy, while not forgetting what makes the character compelling.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 44 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: