Seeing The Invisible Man chapter 2: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)


In The Invisible Man Returns, Vincent Price’s character is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Can invisibility help him escape to clear his name?

In the first Invisible Man, we learned much about the invisibility drug, including that those who use it will likely grow power mad and violently insane. In Joe May’s The Invisible Man Returns, this premise comes into play again, although this invisible man — Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) — isn’t quite as menacing as the original one, Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains). In fact, Radcliffe has the distinct advantage of being aware of the insanity symptom, being transformed by Jack Griffin’s brother, Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton).

Why is Radcliffe transformed? To escape imprisonment after being framed for murdering his own brother. This, of course, gives him extra incentive to struggle against the delusions of world-conquering grandeur. If he goes mad, how will he avenge his brother’s death?

To help in these efforts, a love interest by the name of Helen Manson (Nan Grey) stands by him through thick and thin.  While the story doesn’t center on her, there’s a sense that Radcliffe cares deeply about keeping her out of harm’s way.

What Do I think? The Genre Question

So, what do I think of this movie? It’s pretty decent. It lacks the dark, occasionally mean tone of the original, however, which makes it almost less inherently like a horror film. Although The Invisible Man is considered an original Universal Monster, I honestly have a hard time calling this movie a straight-up horror film.

In fact, this is almost more of a science fiction-heavy murder mystery, only without much mystery. While this may sound like a harsh critique, I would simply say The Invisible Man Returns focuses largely on Radcliffe avoiding capture. In the process, one almost forgets he is trying to find the real killer.

The question of will he/won’t he go insane creates some dramatic tension.  There’s indeed a hint of slipping sanity, but I’d say the character delivers more pathos than thrills or shocks. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, as it’s a pretty decent followup.  In fact, I’d say this is another example of a sequel coming close to matching its original.

In a way, Radcliffe reminds me of the classic self-aware Wolf Man, who wants to be restrained lest he cause unknown harm.  At the same time, the more devilish viewer probably wants to see the man become unhinged.  After all, that’s what makes it a compelling movie, right?

It’s also similar to The Incredible Hulk.  No one only wants to see Bruce Banner, right?  Also, as one might imagine, much of the story showcases innovative visual effects — with very few appearing outdated. On that note, I’d cite this as an example of a film that thrives on effects, acting and story in equal measure.

Praise for the Lack of Effects(?)

Sometimes the film simply doesn’t need effects, because the main character is invisible. It’s a glorious cheat (so to speak), and gives the viewer a chance to employ imagination. Clever, right?

An obvious instance of this is when Radcliffe first escapes from his cell. All he has to do is remove his clothes and wander away! It is basically a non-action scene, which has a sort of built-in element of humor. Like the first film, you have the weird task of a nude, invisible dude running around creating occasional havoc!

The Conjuring 3 starts shooting in Hotlanta in June. dark. Next

I also like the scene where Dr. Frank Griffin experiments on an invisible gerbil, looking for a cure for invisibility before the clock runs out. It’s a weird blend of humor, sadness and dramatic tension. The Invisible Man Returns also wins points for being one of the first films in which Vincent Price appears (although, technically, he barely appears in it at all!).  Price is also relatively low-key in much of the film, aside from when he’s exacting revenge.

What are your thoughts on The Invisible Man Returns? Let us know in the comments!