KLAATU YOU (3)
January 15, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THE INVISIBLE MAN | d. JAMES WHALE | 1933
There’s a question sometimes asked in job interviews — would you rather have the power of flight or invisibility? — and there’s apparently a correct answer: flight is outgoing and triumphant while the desire to be invisible makes a retiring, secretive pervert. But come on! Who wouldn’t want to stroll through North Korea or peep at Mecca’s meteorite or whisper strange things to the Queen? And all, by necessity, in the buff! Anyone who chooses flight is a fibber and a suck-up.
I adore The Invisible Man, ticklish thrill-dream of the quiet. Its director, James Whale, came from the same provincial town as me and, for much the same reasons, struggled to fit the industrial landscape and bolted. His escape led to Hollywood where he made, famously, Frankenstein (1931), his take on H.G. Wells’ novel being a way to delay making a sequel. As much as I’d like to identify with Whale’s Henry Frankenstein, I relate far better to Dr. Griffin — or “the invisible one” as he’s named in the titles — as, I suspect, did Whale.
A break between Frankensteins it may have been, but Whale loved R.C. Sherriff’s screenplay: “nothing on God’s earth will make you put it down till you’ve finished it,” he told Carl Laemmle Jr, and it is indeed a wonderful script. One cannot forget such stylish lines as “Even the moon is frightened of me! Frightened to death!” and “We’ll start with a few murders. Great men. Small men. Just to show we’re not choosy.”
It is a technically good film too, an element of production that rarely excites me. I’d struggle to care how “technically accomplished” a similar blockbuster would be today (one assumes competence when hearing of monstrous budgets and standing armies of computer animators) but Whale’s technique to make Griffin invisible delights me: black velvet shot against an identical backdrop before placing him into the action using double exposure, his clothes plausibly filled but head and hands vanished. It’s inspiring in its clever, potting shed-like resourcefulness. When Griffin’s bandages are first unwrapped, he resembles a mummified skull, death itself. It’s spooky even by modern standards: we might have seen worse now but something about its stark reality thrills.
Our antihero, if not insane to begin with, is driven so by the liberty afforded by his anonymity. The film is quite nasty at times: a pair of trousers skipping along, merrily singing “nuts in may” before brutally battering a copper; a baby carriage upended. There’s a joke-shop unpleasantness to it, but one loves it all: the police to whom he puts paid are unreal skittles for toppling, all with the same Keystone non-face beneath soup-strainers and bobby helmets, so we’re afforded an empathy vacation while we’re dragged along, helpless and at speed, by Whale’s and Griffin’s ghostly hands. We may as well surrender and have fun. The film is a Hollywood gem, one of Whale’s most inspired moments, and a treat for us softies who perhaps, at times, in environments unchosen, felt just a little too… visible.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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