“What a man earns, he gets. Nature has a strange way of paying him back in his own coin.”
Wikipedia classifies The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) as a science fiction horror film. In that regard, it fails. I would rather take my lead from the title and call this a revenge flick. With that in mind…the movie still doesn’t work – despite the wonderful special effects that continue to break new ground.
Psychopath Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) escapes from a mental institution and pays a visit to Lady Irene Herrick (Gale Sondergaard) and Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews). The trio discovered some diamond mines during an African safari a number of years prior, but after an accident in the wild, Griffin was thought dead and received none of the profits from the venture.
Griffin is back, demanding his share. The Herricks lost all of the mines due to bad investments, however, and don’t have the money to give Griffin. Griffin won’t accept any of the Herricks’ lower offers and they won’t accept his counter proposal of marrying him off to their daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers). For one, Julie is already set to marry a journalist played by Alan Curtis.
Griffin quickly becomes hysterical, claiming the Herricks left him to die on purpose. The Herricks drug Griffin and kick him out of the house, keeping his written proof of the old contract between the three. Griffin is seeking revenge and agrees to be injected with a invisibility formula of an unconventional scientist, Dr. Peter Drury (John Carradine).
For reasons that confuse me, screenwriter Bertram Millhauser decided to make neither the Herricks nor Griffin likeable. One of the first things we learn about Griffin is that he murdered some people while escaping from the mental institution, and we learn that he’s perfectly fine with killing Irene and Jasper if he has to.
Gale Sondergaard, on the other hand, plays Irene as a half-crazed woman who seems ready to cheat Griffin out of every penny of his share. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had ended up trying to kill him, too. She doesn’t, but that’s the vibe I get from Sondergaard. Along with drugging Griffin, it makes the Herricks out to be a rather backstabbing bunch.
You could say this was done intentionally. None of our characters are supposed to be in the right, which adds complex layers onto them. But Revenge’s final lines make out like we were supposed to be on the Herricks’ side all along. Then why were we following Griffin the entire film? And why did you give me so many reasons to dislike the Herricks?
Its plain uneven scripting made no better by the obviously weak story not plentiful enough to fill a 78 minute movie. The Invisible Man’s Revenge stoops to padding itself out with a pointless subplot involving Griffin helping someone win some money at local pub darts match. (Yeah, the guy was sort of helping Griffin out, but the subplot is so unneeded and eats up valuable time.)
There’s no point in giving Robert the last name Griffin, by the way. Nothing is ever said about the other members of the Griffin family, the events of the other films, or of Jack Griffin’s own invisibility experiments. Robert could have been called anything.
Despite the many annoyances and pointless pieces of the script, John P. Fulton’s effects save the day again. There are some really obvious (much more obvious than the previous pictures) wires seen during a couple scenes. A moment where Griffin dips his hand in some water, his hand outlined while submerged, amazes me too thoroughly, though, for me be too annoyed by any special effect shortcomings.
Another positive I have to give the film is that it does move along at a brisk, even pace and I did care whether Griffin succeeded or not. I do wish he and the other characters had been better developed, though. I felt like I barely knew them.
Like the other movies in the Invisible Man series (with the exception of the first), Revenge doesn’t work all the time, but I enjoy it trying something new. This series has been that of experimentation. Muddled experiments that have had plenty of bad moments, but also a not insubstantial amount of greatness, too.