The Invisible Man Returns

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(7/10) In a nutshell: The horror icon Vincent Price takes over the empty shirt and trousers of Claude Rains in The Invisble Man Returns (1940). Univeral was still making good sequels to their horror films, although this one does clearly fall into B-movie category. But this is a good B-movie, well acted, well filmed and well received, but a harmless Hollywood sequel nonetheless.

The Invisible Man Returns. 1940, USA. Directed by Joe May. Written by Kurt Siodmak, Joe May, Lester Cole. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man. Starring: Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey, John Sutton, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier, Forrester Harvey. Visual effects: John P. Fulton. Produced by Ken Goldsmith for Universal. Tomatometer: 80 %. IMDb score: 6.5

The bandaged head is back! Now in the profile of Vincent Price.

The bandaged head is back! Now in the profile of Vincent Price.

When Universal bought the rights for the novel The Invisible Man from author H.G. Wells for their first film (1933, review), they made a contract for several films. But it would pass seven years before the studio re-opened the Invisible Man files again in 1940. By now Frankenstein had had both a Bride and a Son, and Dracula had a Daughter, so it was no more than fitting that The Invisible Man should have a Return, and later the same year The Mummy also got a Hand. Of course undead beings like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and The Mummy were easy enough to reanimate, but things were slightly more complicated with the invisible man, Jack Griffin, who was very much an ordinary man. So despite the fact that Claude Rains had made such an impact with his role seven years earlier, it was decided that a new invisible man was needed, as Griffin had very clearly died at the end of the previous film. And rather than bring in a Lugosi or a Karloff, Universal decided to do what they did with The Invisible Man – that is to cast a relatively unknown actor with a fantastic voice, and reveal his face in the last scene. This actor turned out to be a young Vincent Price in his first major role, and once again the casting agents at Universal had scored gold. Continue reading

Things to Come

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Screenwriter H.G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy. The most expensive film ever made in Britain in 1936, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and miniatures, great effects, high quality filming and a team of great actors. But ultimately the movie trips on its clay feet, which is the impossibly stiff script, lacking in emotion and real dialogue. Wells is using his biggest sledgehammer to pound in his message, and prevents the audience from doing any thinking for themselves.

Things to Come. 1936, UK. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written H.G. Wells, based on his own novel The Shape of Things to Come. Starring: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke. Music: Arthur Bliss. Produced by Alexander Korda for London Film Productions. Tomatometer: 92 %. IMDb score: 6.8

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

Things to Come was Great Britain’s most impressively epic science fiction film to date – without even a close rival – when it came out in 1936. It had a budget of about 350 000 pounds, equal to about 21 millions today; an absolutely astounding amount of money to put on a film back in that day. And thus it would remain all the way to 1968 when Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in London. Penned by the 70-year old sci-fi master H.G. Wells from his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, it was however more an ideological treatise and a futuristic prophesy than a dramatic film. Although time has conjured up a good deal of latter-day apologetics who hail Wells’ vision and – rightly so – praise the production design, the simple truth of the matter stands: Wells was an awful screenwriter. Continue reading

The Invisible Man

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(8/10) In a nutshell: Lead actor Claude Rains does a tremendous job of not being seen in Universal’s classic 1933 horror sci-fi. The special effects are bind-boggling for their day. Una O’Connor screams and the rest of the cast are able, although their characterisations are written down on the back of a matchbook.

The Invisible Man. 1933, USA. Directed by James Whale. Written by R.C. Sherriff. Uncredited writers: James Whale, Preston Sturges, John Weld, Philip Wylie. Based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Starring: Claude Rains, Una O’Connor, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 7.7

The invisible man makes his entrance.

The invisible man makes his entrance.

The early thirties were indeed a time of magic for Universal Studios. In just three years they were able to conjure up four of cinema’s most beloved, successful and influential monsters. After Dracula and Frankenstein (1931, review) came The Mummy (1932), and in 1933 it was time for The Invisble Man to – not – reveal himself. Seated in the director’s chair was once again Briton James Whale (Frankenstein), but this time the monster wasn’t played by either Bela Lugosi (Dracula), nor Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy), but by the relatively unknown British actor Claude Rains – and once again Universal’s casting proved itself a stroke of genius.  Continue reading

Island of Lost Souls

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(9/10) In a nutshell: Island of Lost Souls (1932) is probably the most refined of the sci-fi horror films of the thirties, and probably the best acted. The H.G. Wells tale about a mad doctor trying to create humans out of animals by surgical means is still thoroughly creepy today.

Island of Lost Souls. 1932, USA. Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Written by Philip Wylie & Waldemar Young. Based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke. Cinematography: Karl Struss. Make-up: Charles Gemora, Wally Westmore. Produced for Paramount. Tomatometer: 96 %. IMDb score: 7.6

Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau being attacked by his creations.

Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau being attacked by his creations.

”Not to walk on all fours! That is the law! Are we not men?” chants Bela Lugosi in heavy manimal make-up in as scene from the 1932 film Island of Lost Souls, that has since become a classic. Although it is often clumped together with the Universal horror pictures of the time, like Frankenstein (review) and Dracula (both 1931), it was in fact made by Paramount, who also made Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931, review). In both these Paramount horrors, you can see a sort of refinement and style that was lacking from the Universal pictures, Bride of Frankenstein (1935, review) perhaps being the exception. Continue reading

Metropolis

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(10/10) In a nutshell: The plot may be slightly simplistic and the political message naive, but the thematic and visual influence of Austrian director Fritz Lang’s exciting 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is rivalled by few in science fiction and in film in general. A great, entertaining, sprawling epic in a future tower of Babylon.

Metropolis. 1927, Germany. Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang. Starring: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlig, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Cinematography: Karl Freund. Produced by Erich Pommer for UFA. Tomatometer: 99 % IMDb score: 8.3 (#106) Metascore: 98/100.

The hugely influential Maschinenmensch robot and some early, beautifully rendered special effects.

The hugely influential Maschinenmensch robot and some early, beautifully rendered special effects.

Few films have been so much written about and analysed as Austrian director Fritz Lang’s stupendous epic Metropolis. Not only is this dystopian sci-fi classic with political and religious undertones one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time. It is also one of the films that has had the biggest influence, not only on the movies, but on art, literature and even architecture and design, in history. Despite all this, Fritz Lang himself disowned the film nearly from the day it was released. Continue reading

A Trip to Mars

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(5/10) In a nutshell: A scientist floats to Mars and is captured by Martians in this early American short film. Not a masterpiece, but a well made and intriguing little film.

A Trip to Mars. USA, 1910. Silent short. Directed by Ashley Miller. Loosely based on H.G. Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon. Produced by the Edison Company. IMDb Score: 6.2 Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

A famous shot from the film, of the Martian creating a snowball around the scientist.

A famous shot from the film, of the Martian creating a snowball around the scientist.

Along with the Edison’s 10 minute rendition of Frankenstein (review), A Trip to Mars was one of USA’s first science fiction films, and perhaps the first all-out sci-fi. It was also one of the very first films about a trip to Mars – in any country. Both these films were released in 1910, and both were produced by Thomas Edison’s powerful conglomerate. Before this film there had apparently been made a version of Jules Verne’s book 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Seas in 1905, but that appears to have been lost. Continue reading

A Trip to the Moon

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(10/10) In a nutshell: This 1902 film about a trip to the moon and an encounter with aliens is in many senses the first of its kind, notable for its large budget, entertaining and fantastical story, state of the art special effects and lavish, moving sets. A true benchmark not only for sci-fi films, but for the medium of film as a whole. 

A Trip to the Moon (1902) Director: Georges Méliès. Starring: Georges Méliès, Bleuette Bernon. Producer: Georges Méliès. France. Tomatometer: 100%. IMDb score: 8.2. 

The legendary image of the rocket hitting the face in the moon (actually Georges Méliès' face).

The legendary image of the rocket hitting the face in the moon (actually Georges Méliès’ face).

In many ways French stage magician-turned-film maker George Méliès’ 1902 film A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) marks the beginning of sci-fi as a film genre. It was the first film of a considerable length (14 minutes) dealing with sci-fi elements – it was in fact one of the longest fictional films to have been released at the time of its making in 1902. It was also a beautiful blend of all the special effects wizardry Méliès had developed during his 6 years of film making. It sports one of the most legendary images of science fiction film making to date – that of a moon rocket hitting the (human) face of the moon square in the eye. Continue reading