"We'll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction."
James Whale was quite a talent. Horror fans should already know that, of course, but it's worth repeating until everyone, young and old, takes the time to explore his filmography and remember just how great a director he was. Arguably best known for Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein, he also gave cinema fans at least two other movies that many consider classics, one being The Old Dark House and the other being this, a movie adaptation of the H. G. Wells tale.
Claude Rains plays the titular character (although his face remains unseen for the majority of the movie, of course), a man who becomes invisible after using a serum that he doesn't realise will also drive him insane. Quickly becoming drunk on the power, he starts to terrorise the entire country, throttling some people, causing a train to crash, and generally being really quite spiteful and dangerous just because he can get away with it. There are some people who still think that he can be saved (Dr. Cranley, played by Henry Travers, and his daughter, played by Gloria Stuart) but the standard reaction is fear, a reaction which leads Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) to betray the invisible man, which is a huge mistake.
"Power, I said! Power to walk into the gold vaults of the nations, into the secrets of kings, into the Holy of Holies; power to make multitudes run squealing in terror at the touch of my little invisible finger. Even the moon's frightened of me, frightened to death!"
With a final screenplay by R. C. Sherriff, after the many treatments attempted by other writers, and that direction from Whale, this is a perfect blend of black comedy, wonderful special effects (that still hold up to this day), tense moments and some wanton violence.
Rains, despite really only being judged on a vocal performance for a lot of the runtime, is superb in the main role. He really does convey lunacy and menace with almost every line uttered, especially in the second half of the movie. Travers, Stuart and Harrigan are all decent, as is Holmes Herbert in his role as Chief Of Police.
The Invisible Man, like a number of the classics from the '30s and '40s, feels just as fresh and entertaining today as it did decades and decades ago. I hold my hands up as a fan of most films featuring invisibility (including the daffy and enjoyable Hollow Man), but this remains the very best of the lot. Easily.