Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Horror Comedy Movie Review: The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman

Starring: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Charles Ruggles, Oskar Homolka, Margaret Hamilton, and Shemp Howard

Directed by: A. Edward Sutherland

Written by: Curt Siodmak, Joe May, Robert Lees, Frederick I. Rinaldo, and Gertrude Purcell

Production Company: Universal Pictures

Release Date: December 27, 1940

Charlie Ruggles can't see the Invisible Woman, but he smells something amiss.Released 11 months after its predecessor, The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman takes a camp look at the idea of turning invisible by making the subject a woman.

Professor Gibbs is a loony scientist working to perfect an invisibility machine, but having been working on this one invention for years, Gibbs's patron Richard is about to make his financial support disappear. In desperation, Professor Gibbs runs an add looking for someone willing to under go his experimental process for free. His respondant is model Kitty Carroll.

What follows is a series of misses as Gibbs tries to prove to Richard that he can turn people invisible and then the verbal sparring of a strong-willed invisible woman with the playboy Richard known for his womanizing. To add to their problems, gangster Blackie Cole wants the professor's machine to turn him invisible so that he can return home without fear of being arrested. When his goons steal the machine but don't know how to work it, Professor Gibbs gets kidnapped along with Kitty, with whom Richard has begun to fall in love.

John Barrymore tells us that he caught an Invisible Woman THIS big!The comedy is slapstick mixed with witty sarcasm and while not laugh out loud funny, it is amusing and entertaining. Pratfalls are common through out and the presence of the fourth of the Three Stooges, Shemp Howard, confirms the film's focus on comedy. The plot is nonsensical and fits the B-Movie mold, albeit at the time United Pictures put a fair amount of money into the film. Kitty getting stuck invisible from consuming alcohol and an invisible machine that when not used correctly leads to high pitched voices are some examples of the random, silly antics you'll find here.
Margaret Hamilton laments the loss of her flying monkeys.
But what about the horror? Well, like many horror comedies, you can recognize the horrific elements that are deadened by the comedy. Keeping in mind that horror films of the 30s and 40s were all about atmosphere and mood, not gore or jumps, you can see some of the same elements here. Richard's butler George reminds us that an invisible person would be frightening all be it with comedic excess. A scene where invisible Kitty confronts her boss is reminiscent of similar confrontations in the previous two films, but where the end result was death for the subject, Kitty's boss just gets a stern lecture on being a good boss and getting a kick in the pants.

The very visible Virginia Bruce.Kitty is played by Virginia Bruce. Despite being invisible through most of the film, Bruce is able to portray her sexiness without her body. I'm not sure on the technical aspects of the movie, but either she or the special effects men did a great job on the scene where invisible Kitty slides on some hoes. When you consider that Virginia Bruce, as Kitty, spends the majority of the film naked, it turns the film into quite a dirty little film, especially when some of the male characters are groping to find the young lady.

John Barrymore plays the absent minded Professor Gibbs to comedic glory. Though near to the end of his career, Barrymore shows why he was a film legend in his day.
John Howard as Richard wonders why you would want to make a beautiful woman invisible.
John Howard brings us flippant playboy Richard Russell. He plays the dashing and somewhat dispicable ladies man well and is able to balence his comedic scenes with the sillier roles of Professor Gibbs and George well.

George is played with sarcastic glee by Charlie Ruggles. Despite his sarcasm, or perhaps because of it, Ruggles's character George is easily the second most likeable character next to John Barrymore as Professor Gibbs.

Gangster Blackie Cole was portrayed by Oskar Homolka. Unfortunately, Cole wasn't very well written and Homolka's sobbing gangster is more annoying than funny.

Oskar Homolka wonders why he's the leader of these hoods and he's the only one without a hat.As for cameos, not only will you find Shemp Howard as one of Blackie Cole's stooges, you'll also see Margaret Hamilton, better know for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

This movie is really better suited for fans of old black and white slapstick comedies and can be a light-hearted break from the gore and scares from our typical movies.

Where Else Can They Be Seen?

Virginia Bruce says I can drink all I want without anyone knowing cause I am invishible. What?Virginia Bruce - In 1932, Bruce appeared in Kongo, a remake of West of Zanzibar that tries to outdo the Lon Chaney original in morbidity. From a wheelchair a handicapped white man rules an area of Africa as a living god. He rules the local natives through superstition and stage magic and he rules the few white people through sadism, keeping them virtual prisoners. He lives for the day he can avenge himself horribly on the man who stole his wife and crushed his spine. Strong and macabre stuff in a nearly forgotten horror film.

John Barrymore - In 1920 Barrymore played the title characters in the silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.

Shemp Howard having flashbacks to trying to fill in Curly's spot in the Three Stooges.John Howard - Howard dealt with crazed doctors again in the 1941 thriller The Mad Doctor starring Basil Rathbone. A crazed physician marries a wealthy women and, with the help of his demented assistant, murders them for their money.

Charlie Ruggles - Charlie takes a little more serious spin in horror in the 1933 Murders in the Zoo. Eric Gorman returns with his wife Evelyn from a trip to the Orient collecting zoo animals, having killed a member of his expedition who happened one day to kiss Mrs. Gorman. On board ship Evelyn meets Roger Hewitt, who falls in love with her. After delivering his animals to the zoo, Gorman plots a way to dispose of Hewitt using one of his latest specimens, then continues using the zoo's non-human residents to do his beastly work.


kelloggs said...

I have a stack of these black and white horror/comedies on my dvd player. I guess I haven't watched them because I assumed there was a reason they were 10/10$. I should though.
I think it's great they used Shemp to solidify the comedy aspect. If I ever stumble across this one I'll definitely give it a chance.

Bodog said...

I find you have to be in the right mood for one of those old horror comedies. But then I'm a fan of the old rubbery monster movies of the era and there's a bit of camp to them I'm not sure was intended. Attack of the Giant Leeches is a masterpiece in my book

kelloggs said...

Have you ever seen The Tingler? I caught it on TCM when I was 10. That and The Three Faces of Eve ignited my love for black and whites.

Bodog said...

I've wanted to see The Tingler for a long time and just haven't encountered it. I mean, first, we're talking Vincent Price. The fact that theaters actually set it up so that the seats vibrated when someone screamed...I'm sold!

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