Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The Invisible Woman, released the same year as The Invisible Man Returns, leaves the horror genre behind and goes full-on slapstick comedy.
Here’s what happens: In need of a new get-rich-quick scheme, wealthy playboy Dick Russell wants to use an invisibility machine created by his friend Professor Gibbs. They recruit department store model Kitty to be their test subject, only for Kitty to use her newfound invisibility to seek revenge on her jerk boss. Meanwhile, a gangster has learned of the device, and plots to steal it.
Monster! There’s a real smash-the-patriarchy vibe to a lot of the humor, which was nice. The Invisible Woman uses her invisibility to get back at the men who wronged her and then make her life her own.
Also a monster! The villain is Blackie, a Mexican criminal who wants to use the invisibility power to sneak his way back to Mexico. He and his henchmen are bumbling villains, though, complete with future stooge Shemp Howard among them.
Our hero: Also contemporary, the laid-back wisecracking millionaire hero will certainly remind today’s viewers of Tony Stark, facial hair and all. Some of his best scenes are him trying to flirt with the Invisible Woman not knowing what she looks like, which puts him out of his comfort zone.
Hapless humans: Professor Gibbs acts as sidekick throughout the movie, doing the “befuddled inventor” trope. And yes, that is Margaret Hamilton, a.k.a. the Witch from The Wizard of Oz, as the snarky housekeeper.
Thrills: The only time the movie comes close to its horror roots is when the Invisible Woman confronts her boss, Mr. Growley. She sneaks up on him all ghostlike, chanting “Growley, Growley, Growley” for an eerie effect.
Laughs: This is big, broad comedy, with wisecracks, pratfalls, and general overall clownishness. The movie also has a lot of cheeky fun with the fact that the Invisible Woman must remove her clothes to be truly unseen. All the men are nervous and befuddled by this, the Invisible Woman doesn’t care and goes ahead and runs around in the buff all she wants.
What’s all this, then? While The Invisible Woman is official Universal Monsters canon, this one has no mention of Griffith’s formula from the first movie, which gets a shout-out in the other sequels. I suppose we can assume that the formula is in use as part of Gibbs’ machine, but that’s not in the text.
Thoughts upon this viewing: We’re a long, long way from James Whale here, but this movie has its charms nonetheless. The comedy is goofy and the effects are a step down in quality, but the movie is so quaint I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
Next: Bark at the moon.
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