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Sunday 19 March 2023

Burl reviews The Invisible Man Returns! (1940)


With a tap on your shoulder and you turn and no one’s there, it’s Burl, reviewing a tender slice of Universal horror for you! It’s another picture about that paragon of imperception, that clearest of creatures, the least visible of villains, the ethereal evildoer himself, the invisible man! Here, in point of fact, we have the first sequel to the great 1933 James Whale spookshow The Invisible Man, and what else could it be called but The Invisible Man Returns!

But it’s not the same invisible man, because Jack Griffin was cut down by police gunfire in the ’33 picture! This time, it seems a fellow called Geoffrey Radcliffe has been accused of murdering his brother, but only the Yard thinks he’s guilty - everyone else knows he's too nice a guy to have done the deed! So he’s in prison and sentenced to hang, but luckily he’s bosom chums with Dr. Frank Griffin, who's the brother of Jack and privy to the invisibility serum formula! In his cell, hours before his sentence is to be carried out, Radcliffe uses a syringe provided by Griffin to render himself invisible, escapes the gaol, and sets about trying to find the real killer – ha ha, just like OJ did, but this time there really is one!  

Radcliffe is played (invisibly, until the very end) by good old Vincent Price, whose face was also obscured in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but whose sonorous voice is nearly as effective here as it was when he narrated The Devil’s Triangle! John Sutton from Booloo and Return of the Fly is Dr. Frank, who, as the story starts, is trying to find an antidote as quickly as possible, because he’s certain the potion will drive Geoffrey mad just as it did Jack seven years previously!

Sir Cedric Hardwick, who appeared in some Hitchcock pictures and whose voice adorns the original War of the Worlds, is top-billed here, and he plays a fellow who’s evidently an executive at the coal mine owned by the Radcliffe brothers! Meanwhile, Nan Grey from Tower of London (which John Sutton was also in, ha ha) plays Helen Manson, Geoffrey’s fiancée, who of course believes in his innocence and is helping Frank with Geoffrey’s escape, but now has to stand by helplessly as her betrothed becomes more and more devoted to maniacal laughs and paranoia!

Cecil Kellaway, who was in The Under-Pup with Nan Grey, and who later showed up in pictures as diverse as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Spinout, and Getting Straight, plays the dogged Scotland Yard inspector on the case, constantly puffing on a cigar in hopes of, ha ha, smoking out the invisible man! And Alfred himself, Alan Napier, whom we’ll recall from The Premature Burial, is the terrified, scarf-wearing Willie Spears, a gangly but pathetic figure who witnessed the real culprit but, terrified, said nothing and allowed Radcliffe to take the blame! For this he suffers the prolonged wrath of the invisible man!

Most of these people also showed up in The House of the Seven Gables, which, like this picture, was directed by the Teutonic megaphone-shouter Joe May! And I must say that while this doesn’t immediately strike one as a magnificently directed picture, I do think May brought some really nice stylistic touches to it! The script is nothing to write home about, but the cast is strong and there are some quite fantastic trick effects depicting the manipulations of the invisible man! And, ha ha, I also liked that for once there's a happy ending for the walking transparency! It’s a minor picture with some major aspects, like the terrific coal-cart scene! It’s not a patch on its predecessor, which is a movie I really like, but still, I give The Invisible Man Returns two and a half guinea pig harnesses!

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