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The Invisible Man: Classic Monster Collection

Make no mistake — while James Whale's 1933 The Invisible Man may play like late-night TV horror fare nowadays, in its time it was the real deal, the special-effects extravaganza of the year. In fact, the film was so advanced for its time that Universal secured the rights to the novel from H.G. Wells before they even knew if the story was filmable. Several ideas on how to capture the more difficult scenes were considered, including a lot of practical wire effects, but Universal's special-effects chief John Fulton (nicknamed "The Doctor" on the lot) came up with the film's clever traveling-matte shots — it was this technology that defined "movie magic" in its day, and similar process shots are still used in current movies, if to better effect. Claude Rains stars in The Invisible Man as Jack Griffin, an English scientist who has inexplicably become transparent — he also isn't completely right in the head. Starting cleverly en medias res, the story commences as Griffin, swathed head to foot in clothing, bandages, and goggles, takes refuge in an English public house, renting a room and setting up various chemical experiments, declaring to himself that "There must be a way back." Through cutaway scenes to his worried colleagues, we learn that Griffin is a brilliant scientist, but his lust for knowledge, and the use of questionable narcotics, have brought about his current physical and mental states. And as is the case in so many mad-scientists flicks, he also has a fianceé who does nothing but fret abut her wayward beau (Gloria Stuart, who famously returned to the screen in James Cameron's 1997 Titanic). Of course, a mad scientist is worthless if he hasn't been intoxicated by unlimited power, and after the village locals harass their mysterious visitor beyond the breaking point, Griffin worries less about finding and antidote and more about ruling the world, starting first with silly pranks but eventually arriving at a grandiose scheme of global domination, provided he can convince his colleague Kemp (William Harrigan) to join him. Whale, best known for the Universal horrors Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, doesn't hesitate to inject some of his tell-tale camp touches in Wells' somber story, in particular one moment when Griffin chases a frightened woman down a country road wearing only a pair of pants (and singing "Here we go gathering nuts in May"). Most obvious is his inclusion of favorite supporting lady Una O'Connor, who screams and stomps about as the shrill public-house landlady, stealing every scene she has (with Whale's blessings). But the best acting in The Invisible Man belongs to Rains, a virtual unknown starring in his first U.S. production. While he would go on to appear in such classics as Casablanca and Notorious, he was not a well-regarded actor in his younger days, and Whale reportedly cast him for his vocal chops alone. These many years later, Rains still is one of the most distinctive, mellifluous vocal talents in the pantheon of movie history. Universal's The Invisible Man: Classic Monster Collection features a good transfer from an acceptable black-and-white source print (which is showing some scratches and fading, and clearly is overdue for a restoration, either print or digital) with the audio in the original mono (DD 2.0). Features include the insightful 35-minute documentary "Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed" hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer, a feature-length commentary with Behlmer, a gallery of stills and promotional materials with the original score, production notes, cast-and-crew bios and filmographies, and Web links.

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