The Monster Mash: The Invisible Woman

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“Wanted: A human willing to become invisible. No remuneration.”

How would you follow-up a science fiction horror film and a science fiction horror crime movie? Whatever your answer was, I doubt you said ‘screwball comedy.’ But that’s what Universal did just 11 months after The Invisible Man Returns (1940). It’s a mixed result.

Wealthy ladies’ man Dick Russell (John Howard) is low on money after being sued yet again by another girlfriend. This comes as bad news for the quirky Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore), an elderly inventor who has been funded by Russell for years.

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John Barrymore as Professor Gibbs.

Russell has become doubtful that the so-far unsuccessful Professor Gibbs will be able to create anything of value. But Gibbs is close to a breakthrough in his latest experiment: making someone temporarily invisible.

Gibbs places an ad in the paper requesting a test subject. Unexpectedly, a woman, Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), enthusiastically answers. The experiment is successful.

Hi-jinks ensue when Kitty, a struggling department store model, uses her new-found invisibility to cause trouble for her abusive boss (played by Charles Lane).

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An incompetent gangster (played by Shemp Howard) who has his head stuck in a glass bowl.

A group of three gangsters (that include the Three Stooges’s Shemp Howard) are looking to steal the invisibility machine. They hope to use it to get their crime boss out of Mexico without getting caught by the coppers.

Meanwhile, Gibbs is trying desperately to convince Russell of his recent triumphs. In comedic fashion, things keep going wrong, such as Kitty running off before Gibbs can show her to Russell or Russell going out of town at a crucial moment.

Chances are if you’re looking to pop this into the old DVD player, you’re probably coming to it for the comedy or the invisibility effects. The former is very hit or miss, erring more on the miss side, but a few good zingers get through. Here are a few of the good, the bad, and the okay:

The Bad

1. Russell: “Well, now where are you?”

Kitty: “At the end of the cigarette.”

2. George (Russell’s butler played by Charles Ruggles): “Invisible women! These days you can’t believe your own eyes, even if you don’t see anything.”

The Okay

1. Russell: “Call the airport. We’re leaving.”

George (Russell’s butler): “Oh, airport!”

Russell: “No, on the phone.”

2. Gibbs: “If more women were invisible, life would be much less complicated.”

Russell: “And much less interesting.”

The Good

1. Prof. Gibbs: [pointing to stuffed head] “Did you shoot that elk?”

George: “No, I think it was born there.”

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George, a stuffed animal head, and the invisible Kitty in a promotional photo.

2. Bill (one of the dumb gangsters played by Edward Brophy): “Come on lady, be a gentleman about this!”

We’re meant to grow to love Russell and Kitty as a pair because of their comedic banter. Well, in a film with a sharper and smarter wit, that might’ve worked, but It Happened One Night (1934) this is not.

Most of the joke-ridden dialogue falls flat and feels forced and desperate. No other chemistry between the two being present, the romance isn’t genuine. We see no reason why these two would want to get together nor did we feel the urge for them.

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The invisible Kitty (who is wearing a lampshade on her head to aid in visual communication) trades quips with Russell.

Bruce also isn’t the most enduring of female leads. She’s a good person but is annoying sometimes, especially when she is invisible and taunting people.

John Barrymore is fun and endearing as Professor Gibbs. His eccentric shtick, though, gets old by the finale when Barrymore slips into overacting.

Universal effects man John P. Fulton hits a bit of a wall with his continuing work in invisibility. The invisibility effects aren’t bad in The Invisible Woman, but there’s nothing new or impressive this time around. Maybe it’s a sign that the invisibility gimmick is wearing a little thin.

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The Invisible Woman is a harmless film, and its only crime is being only adequate. If you’re a screwball comedy or Invisible Man series completist, check it out. Otherwise, it’s safe to skip this one.

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