Seeing The Invisible Man chapter 3: The Invisible Woman (1940)


The Invisible Woman may be more comedy than horror, but it’s technically still part of the Invisible Man series, and has a woman’s touch.

Plenty of things set The Invisible Woman apart from the original Invisible Man films. For starters, this film has almost no horror elements, even though it is a Universal Studios sequel to The Invisible Man and The Invisible Man Returns.

Also, instead of a mere invisibility serum, this film has an invisibility device. Additionally, there’s no sign that invisibility will likely turn someone into a madman (or in this case, a mad woman). Instead, this film’s test subject, Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), retains her likable nature throughout.

The most we can say about her is that she gets back at her boss, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane). However, at no point is there a sense that he’ll be outright murdered, or especially torn apart limb from limb. Basically, she just plays tricks on him in her invisible form. In that sense, The Invisible Woman is almost a sci-fi precursor to 9 to 5.

However, oddly enough, this movie doesn’t take things as far as Dolly Parton and crew. Mr. Growley is a jerk, and the actor portraying him does a good job. However, there’s actually less fear here than that film mustered up!

The Invisible Woman – Shemp Howard – Courtesy of IMDb

The Actual Bad Guys

Rather than focusing solely on Mr. Growley (which is what I might have done, had I written this), The Invisible Woman brings in some bumbling gangsters. They set out to steal the invisibility device created by Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore).

The actors tend to be more comedic than menacing. Their leader, Blackie Cole (Oscar Homolka), seems to lack focus on what he’s doing, although he’s still committed to making his plans. Of course, when you rely on someone like Frankie (Shemp Howard) to get the job done, you know you’re probably in trouble. Yes, that’s right.

This movie features one of The Three Stooges, as if to emphasize the comedy. Now, I know it’s hip to trash talk The Three Stooges (and virtually everything else), but I think this film benefits from whatever comedy it can give.

While Virginia Bruce is at least kind of funny at times, I think it’s safe to say this film will be no one’s favorite comedy of all time, and certainly not their favorite of the Invisible Man films. The most I will say is that, honestly, it does what you would expect.

It goes where you think it will go, and eventually it ends with a perfectly safe conclusion. It’s pure, straightforward, Hollywood writing that leaves little to interpretation, or to chance. Sometimes that’s okay quality-wise, if it’s reasonably well done, and that’s basically the case here.

My Own Theory?

I hate to go in such a basic direction with this, but I assume they wanted a Universal Monster movie that would appeal more to average, “mainstream” women. I’m not sure to what degree it worked, but this definitely doesn’t seem to be geared as much toward a stereotypical male audience.

Hollywood probably didn’t think of women as horror fans, so they required a rom-com element, adding Richard Russell (John Howard) as a love interest for Kitty. There’s even the “will they, won’t they?” tension that’s so common in romantic comedies.

While the previous Invisible Man films only hinted at romance, this one sort of hinges on it after a while. It’s not a bad movie altogether, but it’s only horror in the vaguest sense, and that’s surely by intention of design.

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Potential scares are replaced by lighthearted tricks, and there aren’t even that many of those. You’ll probably want to watch this if you’re completely going through the series, but the original film is still superior and more impactful.

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