Like many of the Universal Monster films, their 1932 The Invisible Man had a very definitive and fatal ending for the title character, who was shot dead in the snow by the police, but with the success of Son of Frankenstein the studio execs quickly looked around to see what other titles could be mined for a sequel despite how they ended. And so, regardless of the fact that Claude Rains was dead at the end of the previous film, it was clear that the invisible formula would live on.
Despite the title suggesting that somehow Claude Rains survived his tragic death in The Invisible Man, this is not the return of Jack Griffin, instead, this sequel deals with mining owner Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) who is being unjustly accused of murdering his brother and his one hope of escaping death row is in the hands of his friend Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), the brother of the original invisible man, who is able to turn Geoffrey invisible and this allows the poor convict to escape prison. While on the run Geoffrey is aided by his fiancée Helen Manson (Nan Grey) but it’s a race against time because while Griffin searches for an antidote poor Geoffrey starts to succumb to the formula’s devastating side effect of turning the recipient mad.
While the idea that Frank Griffin was able to replicate his brother’s invisibility formula in a matter of months is a bit thin, there is no reference to him finding his late brother’s notes so I guess he’s just scientifically gifted, but this movie isn’t about him as the title character is that of Geoffrey Radcliffe who, while on the run from the police, happens to discover that his cousin Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who now runs the mining company because with one brother dead and the other is on Death Row he gets the top spot, is the actual murderer. Vincent Price handles the descent into madness well in this first foray into horror, his ominous voice is perfect for this kind of role, but the one character in this film I found most entertaining was Scotland Yard Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) who immediately figures out how Geoffrey escaped prison and Griffin’s involvement.
Cecil Kellaway’s Scotland Yard inspector is quick thinking and clever, as well as being quite a humorous character, which is something you’d expect to find in an Agatha Christie story and not so much in a science fiction horror movie, yet he’s clearly the meat and potatoes to Vincent Price’s madman on the run and it’s kind of a shame that this character didn’t become the Hercule Poirot of Universal Monsters franchise because I’d loved to have seen him tracking down Dracula and the Wolf Man as well. This is not to say that Vincent Price doesn’t hold his own and his work here is more than on par with what Claude Rains brought to the original, the only downside is that while he does go a “little mad” he isn’t allowed to become the mass murderer his predecessor had become and thus as an invisible man he’s a bit limited in scope, this was clearly instituted so we could have a less tragic ending.
• As was the case with Claude Rains in the 1932 original film, actor Vincent Price is not seen “visible” until the end of the movie.
• Cecil Kellaway madly puffing away on his cigar, creating clouds of smoke in an attempt to discover if the Invisible Man was in the room, is one of the many clever moments found in this sequel.
• Actor Alan Napier plays a drunken mining superintendent in this film and his performance here will shock and please fans who only know of his work in the Adam West Batman series.
• That our main characters think that a cure for invisibility would also cure the side effects of madness falls in the category of wishful thinking, damage to the brain isn’t something that can easily be undone.
• Vincent Price would return to the role of The Invisible Man with a cameo at the conclusion of the comedy classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
• Like many movies dealing with invisible people, when someone invisible eats the food just vanishes once it enters the invisible person’s mouth, instead of remaining visible until digested, so far only John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man has handled this issue properly.
Capably directed by Joe May, who accomplished a lot under a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule, The Return of the Invisible Man is a solid sequel that not only has Oscar-worthy visual effects but a cast of great actors in even the most minor of roles, as mentioned, Alan Napier is a delight in this and Cecil Kellaway does his best to steal every scene. Even if the connection to the original film was a bit thin the execution almost makes up for that lacking and the overall end product is quite solid. It should be noted that it would take years before the name “Vincent Price” would become synonymous with horror and thus this early entry of his makes it a must-watch for both fans of Price and the Universal Monsters.
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Movie Rank - 7/10
Universal’s The Return of the Invisible Man is a good sequel and if it lacks the dark sense of humour that made the James Whale original so great the banger of a cast on display here more than makes up for that deficit.