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Thursday, 19 January 2017

THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE (1944)

The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) brought back Jon Hall as an altogether heavier and more morally-challenged member of the Griffin family in a restoration of the series’ horror plotting and imagery. This time Curt Siodmak’s influence would no longer be felt on the writing, giving way to a journeyman script by Bertram Millhauser who wrote for Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes film adventures. Producer and director this time was Ford Beebe who at least had experience of keeping a B-movie going at pace from helming serials such as Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1939).

As it unfolds, there are many satisfying callbacks to the first films in this sequel, beginning with its relocation back to England.  Hall’s Bob Griffin has no stated relationship with his predecessors but has enough troubles in his back story to fit the family tree. After stowing away aboard a ship docking in London, a tailor he buys new clothes from finds a newspaper cutting revealing he escaped from a South African mental hospital, killing three employees. This is only showing us the tip of the iceberg.
Bob heads to the lordly manor house of a prosperous couple who were his old business partners in a diamond mine: Sir Jasper (Lester Matthews) and Lady Irene Herrick, another memorable part of hidden furtive depths for Gale Sondergaard after The Cat and the Canary (1939). It emerges that Bob is entitled to a half-share of the fortune they all made from the mine. He was never able to collect his reward owing to a mysterious blow to the head in the jungle that caused the next five years to be a blank before he found himself institutionalised and broke out of the asylum. Hall deftly switches from sympathetic lead to heavy villainy as he begins to suspect they have deliberately cheated him:

“You’ll ruin us!”
“Who cares!”

 While Sir Jasper mouths regretful platitudes about stock losses rendering them cash-poor, Sondergaard assures Bob that “You’ll get all that’s coming to you”. We can never quite pin down the actress’s evasive skill in seeming to demonstrate altruism whilst suggesting she’s thinking something entirely different – a quality of value to her as a horror genre player. “You see how one drink has affected his warped mind”, she wonders to her husband as Bob keels over – leading us to ask what assistance Lady Irene may have given to his symptoms. The news for Bob gets worse as the agreement he has carried all these years is stolen by the Herricks and his groggy body is kicked out of the house.

Another welcome revisiting of the establishing Invisible Man movies is in the reintroduction here of flavoursome cockney supporting actor performances led by Leon Errol as Bob’s Good Samaritan in a flat cap Herbert Higgins. Errol was well known for his comedy shorts at Columbia and RKO and comedy work opposite Lupe Velez in the latter studio’s Mexican Spitfire film series. He provides light relief and energetic bluster as an inveterate chiseller always looking for an angle. The legal brief he comes up with to attempt blackmail of the Herricks falls flat, leaving his survival instincts to blather his way out of any association as Bob flees.

This connects us with the other notable character in the piece, that favourite horror staple – the mad scientist. We are fortunate that it is allows us to see one of John Carradine’s early outings in the genre (before his Count Dracula in 1944’s House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula in 1945). Carradine had begun in the industry working for Cecil B. DeMille as a set designer and then voice actor across a number of the widescreen maestro’s epic projects before becoming a mainstay of John Ford’s regular company in films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) that suited his cadaverous gravity. His Dr Drury is part of the alumni of misunderstood insane geniuses whose inventions would be feared if ever revealed. Upon registering the shabby, wild Bob at his door he remarks: “You are a fugitive?” with the starry eyes of enlightened self-interest.

Bob willingly volunteers to become Drury’s first human test subject after seeing the effects of his pioneering invisibility serum on the doctor’s menagerie of unseen dogs and a parrot – imperceptibly wired by returning special effects supremo John P. Fulton and his team. “I have outstripped the immortals of science. Now I am immortal!” Drury crows, just in case you doubted his medical madman credentials. Our anti-hero’s steely edge once more overcomes his decency though when the operation is a success. Stay around to become a lecture circuit freak for the doctor’s fame? No sir, he storms out on a re-tooled vengeance mission without so much as a thank you, blithely disregarding the price he will pay for his new super-power of never being rendered visible again.

In threatening the Herricks again now with the benefit of being unseen, Hall echoes the alternating extremes of vocal teasing and menace that the more refined voices of Claude Rains and Vincent Price displayed so well. Whilst he doesn’t have their gifts, he undeniably possesses a more masculine threat level when roused than his predecessors. You wouldn’t want to mess with him even if you could see him. Invisible, he’s a waking nightmare of barely-contained wrath for a pair of nouveau-riche swindlers, albeit with some sketchy ideas on retribution. No court is going to accept the scared Sir Jasper’s written confession of guilt at floating knife-point.

Later we are treated to a whole gallery of spirited, salt of the earth working-class folk in an amusing pub scene where Bob and Herbert aim to con the locals out of five quid in a darts match with the aid of a little supernatural arrow assistance. The dart throws become increasingly outrageous, circling Herbert’s head before hitting the bull and even appearing to be concertina-propelled to the awestruck regulars.

The light-heartedness soon palls when Bob spies Dr Drury restoring the visibility of one of his dogs via a blood transfusion. He knocks out Drury and fatally uses him as the means to duplicate the effect. From here, he bullies his way into the Herrick household, masquerading as Martin Field to escape the authorities so he can glower at their daughter Julie, once his fiancé and now about to marry newshound Mark Foster (Alan Curtis). Once again, Hall displays a potent and ugly command over the family now under his thumb. However, as his ogrish tyranny strengthens, suddenly his appearance starts to fade, his greying, moustached face resembling a ghostly Douglas Fairbanks. This is one of two bids by the writer to give the audience more physical detail of Bob than the mostly off-screen voicing of the previous actors (the second being the submerging of his hand and face in a fish-tank to good and novel effect).

If the director thought this facial recognition would earn Bob more sympathy from the viewer, he is mistaken. For our protagonist, other people are no more than firewood for his furnace. He thinks nothing of knocking Mark out to serve as another transfusion victim before Leyland Hodgson’s Chief Constable Travers can save him in the nick of time. Bob is killed by Drury’s dog and we are left with some slightly dubious sermonising that condemns him simply as a crazed criminal without motive: “Nature has a strange way of paying him back…in his own coin”. While the plot machinations in The Invisible Man’s Revenge fail to generate the same compassion for Bob’s situation as Rains or Price in the central role (their homicidal swathes were underpinned by vestiges of pain and humanity), the paying back of the Herricks for their ill-gotten gains escapes any censure at all.


The unjust ‘crime does pay’ denouement aside, there were two more (dis)appearances by the character – in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) featuring Vincent Price’s distinctive voice reprising the role, and then in 1951’s Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man with the part taken by Arthur Franz.

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