9 February 2008 | lugonian
Experiment in Terror
THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE (Universal, 1944), a promising title, directed by Ford Beebe, suggested by "The Invisible Man" by H.G. Wells, returns Jon Hall, recently from THE INVISIBLE AGENT (1942), in another caper revolving around the no-sight and sound about a man out for avenge those who had done him wrong.
The story opens on the docks of London where Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) returns after five years of memory loss following a diamond field expedition in Africa. Moments later, a newspaper clipping reveals Griffin to be a homicidal maniac who had escaped from a Capetown Asylum. After acquiring new clothing and a shave, he locates Sir Jasper and Lady Irene Herrick (Lester Matthews and Gale Sondergaard), friends and former partners of the expedition who had left him for dead, to their luxurious mansion and founders of Herrick Mines Ltd., demanding the share of the fortune due him. While talking things over a few drinks, Griffin not only discovers their daughter, Julie (Evelyn Ankers), his former girlfriend, to be engaged to Mark Foster (Alan Curtis), a reporter for the Courier, but finds he's been drugged. Unable to function, Griffin is escorted out by their butler, Cleghorn (Halliwell Hobbes). Half crazed, Griffin is offered assistance by Herbert Higgins (Leon Errol), a drunkard. Afterwards, Griffin stumbles upon the home of Professor Drury (John Carradine), a scientist who has discovered the formula of invisibility. Witnessing his experiment where Drury's dog and other animals are heard but not seen, Griffin volunteers on becoming Drury's human subject. As an invisible man, Griffin gets his revenge, but in the process, does become what he is accused of being, a homicidal maniac.
With this being the third "invisible man" story of the 1940s, not counting the comedy outing of "The Invisible Woman" (1940) starring Virginia Bruce in the title role, this latest installment gives some indication that the writers were attempting an original concept to an already unoriginal scenario. With comedian Leon Errol assuming second billing, it's evident he's around for comedy relief. One scene finds him impressing his friends at the pub in a friendly game of darts by hitting a target every time, compliments of his invisible friend.
Evelyn Ankers, Universal's resident performer in the horror genre, who arrives 48 minutes into the story, is given little to do, compare to her secondary roles opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in "The Wolf Man" (1941); "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942) and "Son of Dracula" (1943), In fact, it's a wonder why Chaney never had the opportunity to assume the role as an invisible man, considering that he's played everything else in regards to Universal monsters. Gale Sondergaard and Lester Matthews do well as friendly thieves, while Leyland Hodgeson as Sir Frederick Travers, Doris Lloyd as Maud, and a dog named Grey Shadow lend some moral support.
An average production that contradicts its predecessors, the screenplay by Bertram Millhauser fails to mention Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) from THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), to be the true inventor of the invisible formula, thus giving credit to another scientist, Drury. Secondly, Robert Griffin doesn't appear to be related to any of the previous Griffins from the earlier "Invisible Man" stories. His only connection is that he becomes invisible, and the use of the traditional bandages and sunglasses over his head to be seen by others. It would have been logical had Carradine's character been a distant relative to Jack Griffin carrying on his experiment, and using his formula on a human subject, played by Hall, assuming another surname besides Griffin. Had it not been for these inconsistencies, THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE might have been hailed as a satisfactory entry. Overlooking that, it actually is. Jon Hall may not have the charisma of Rains nor the distinctive voice of Vincent Price, but he does have the distinction of being the only actor to twice play an invisible man on screen, aside the fact that he was playing two different characters bearing the name of Griffin.
Formerly available on video and currently on DVD as part of the "Invisble Man" collection, THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE did have occasional revivals on cable television's Sci-Fi Channel (1990s) and American Movie Classics (2001). Not quite the closing chapter nor the finish of John Fulton's special effects department, Universal concluded this science fiction series with the comedy of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951), which they most certainly did. (**1/2)