An Invisible Man to Rule Them All

Think, man, think! Image: TCM

Well, if you’re going to make a movie about an invisible man, you’d better hire an actor with a captivating voice.

Universal Studios made the right choice in 1933 when they (reluctantly) hired a British actor named Claude Rains for the title role in the sci-fi horror film, The Invisible Man.

The film, based on the H.G. Wells novel, explores the deteriorating mental condition of a man who makes an astonishing scientific discovery: How to Become Invisible.

It takes place in a small English village, where Rains arrives in the first few minutes of the film. He’s a solitary traveller, sporting a thick coat, mummy-style bandages and dark sunglasses, to conceal his Plight.

He rents lodgings at the local pub, owned and operated by Una O’Connor and her husband (Forrester Harvey). At first, O’Connor takes pity on Rains – she thinks his bandages are the result of a horrible accident – and kindly overlooks his rudeness and violent temper.

But Rains is a lousy tenant. He’s turned her room into a mini-laboratory, and he spills chemicals on her carpets. Not only that, he’s two weeks behind in his rent.

O’Connor persuades Harvey to evict Rains. Rains responds by pushing the man down the stairs.

Things only get worse from here.

Gloria Stuart begs Rains to seek help. Image: Film Forum

Rains’ invisible man is a violent, unpredictable character. The longer he remains invisible, the more unstable he becomes. We never know what will Set Him Off.

His impulsive behaviour is coupled with a ballooning ego; he believes he can/should Rule The World. (And maybe he could rule the world. Really, what chance would we have against an invisible person?)

In true despotic style, Rains believes he can put the world “right”, but it would mean bloodshed. “We’ll begin with a reign of terror,” he muses. “A few murders – murders of great men, murders of little men, to show them we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two.”

Terrifying the villagers. Image: Memphis Flyer

Claude Rains, the actor, is truly remarkable. He’s created a complex, faceless character using only his well-modulated baritone voice. There’s never any confusion about what his character is thinking.

For example, when he first appears in the village, he’s pushy and abrupt, but his words are also tinged with sadness.

Later, when he visits his friend and colleague (William Harrigan), he’s cordial. “How are you, my friend?” he asks, and means it. He details his Invisibility Findings to Harrigan – scientist to scientist – such as his eating habits and his (supposedly) increased intelligence.

Yet. When he starts to doubt Harrigan’s loyalty, his voice adopts a taunting menace. This makes us nervous.

We see a glimpse of his old personality when he reunites with his girlfriend (Gloria Stuart). His tone is affectionate, he calls her “darling”, he teases her about her “funny little hat”.

But. Rains erupts when Stuart naively suggests her father can help. “Your father? Clever? Haha! He’s got the brain of a worm, a maggot, beside mine,” he crows. “Don’t you see what this means? Power, power! To rule! To make the world grovel at my feet.”

Caught in an unguarded moment. Image: m.diary.ru

Claude Rains was 44 years old when he made The Invisible Man. He had already enjoyed success on the London Stage and as an acting teacher at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. (Get this: Two of his students were John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.) He was offered a screen test at Universal Studios in 1932, when he was working for the Theatre Guild in New York.

For the title role in The Invisible Man, Universal wanted Boris Karloff. When Karloff turned it down, Director James Whale looked for someone with a more “intellectual” voice. According to IMDB, “He selected Claude Rains after accidentally hearing Rains’ screen test being played in another room.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. His talent is equal to the extraordinary special effects, which are still impressive today.

If you’ve not seen Claude Rains in The Invisible Man, there’s no judgment here. You know what to do.

Notes

  • To learn more about John P. Fulton’s special effects in this film, click HERE.
  • This post is part of the CLAUDE RAINS BLOGATHON hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

The Invisible Man: starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan. Directed by James Whale. Written by R.C. Sherriff. Universal Pictures, 1933, B&W, 71 mins.

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40 comments

  1. Due to illness and a few other things, I’ve been something of an invisible man myself lately in the blogging world, but I’m now back to semi-normal and looking forward to following your posts again. As for Claude Rains and The Invisible Man, I saw this years ago and think your review is spot on. Good show!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen this one and have to agree about Claude Rains. He did so much with his voice in this role.

    I had no idea that he taught acting to Gielgud and Olivier. Wow! To paraphrase Bogey in Casablanca, I am a little more impressed with him. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Ruth,

    This is a fine, informative article. You gave a good overview of the film and Claude Rains’s performance in it, as well as some interesting background information about him. I have also read about his early life and his career on the stage. He must have been a very good teacher, since he taught “the Great” Laurence Olivier!

    Thank you for participating in my blogathon and advertising it on your website. I truly appreciate your support, and I will add you to the roster right away.

    Thanks again!

    Joyfully,

    Rebekah Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are so right…Rains is remarkable in this film. I also think it may be James Whale’s best film (sorry BRIDE OF F) and Universal’s finest in a long line of quality horror pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Possibly the greatest vocal and body language performance ever put on film. We never see Claude’s face until the end, but he holds our attention, dominates every scene he is in, and conveys the growing insanity of his character so convincingly through his voice and body language. Such a good film. It is one of my favourites from the Universal Monster Movies.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yet another film to add to my TBW list. Thank you! I (obviously) haven’t seen this so can’t say but totally know what you mean about not being able to imagine anyone else in a role. I love learning behind-the-scenes snippets like this. Sounds like Rains nailed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well done review that gets across how special this movie and performance are. I feel like this one is a bit of a stepchild next to Dracula and the two Whale Frankensteins, but it deserves more attention and respect (and love, of course!)—while it was the voice that made Rains’ first starring appearance a starmaker, what he endured physically to be “invisible,” being covered in black velvet beneath the costumes so he could be “disappeared” from the matching film, is its own little horror story. Given how hot it was under the lights just in normal costume, the thought of being covered head to toe in black velvet is pretty alarming! But total pro that he was, Rains did it. And like Karloff did with Frankenstein’s monster, Rains brought such artistry and dimension to Jack. Anyway, terrific review, and thanks for reminding me that it’s time to watch this one again!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is my favorite “Universal monster” movie – although it’s up for debate if this is an Universal monster movie. I love Claude Rains’s voice in anything, but it is put for special use in this film. Which makes me wonder: could The Invisible Man be made as a silent movie with the same impact? I’m not so sure now…
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

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