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The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

Invisible Man Returns, The (Universal 1940)

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Universal Studios released The Invisible Man Returns on January 12, 1940 (USA).

It is the third horror film in the “second wave of horror films” by the studio. Son of Frankenstein, released on January 13, 1939 was the first with Tower of London as the second release on November 17, 1939.

In all, Universal cranked out four sequels for the Invisible Man franchise between 1940 and 1944. Following The Invisible Man Returns came The Invisible Woman (a comedy), released on December 27, 1940 starring Virginia Bruce and John Barrymore.

The studio then adapted the character to do battle with the Nazis, in Invisible Agent released on August 7, 1942. The film featured a excellent cast including Ilona Massey, Peter Lorre, J. Edward Bromberg and Jon Hall. The series stumbled to the finish line with The Invisible Man’s Revenge on June 9, 1944. Even a cast including Evelyn Ankers, John Carradine, Alan Curtis, Gale Sondergaard, Lester Matthews and Jon Hall was unable to salvage it from mediocrity despite some striking visual effects.

The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

A tender moment between Nan Grey and Vincent Price in The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

The Invisible Man Returns serves as not only the best sequel in the batch, but the film is on par with the 1933 James Whale original. Veteran director Joe May would be at the helm and he assembled an outstanding cast and crew for the project. The musical director was Charles Previn and composers Hans Salter and Frank Skinner present a memorable score. Cinematographer Milton Krasner instills a touch of the new (1940), while still evoking the atmospheric qualities of the horror films made in the 1930s by Universal. The story was written by Joe May and Curt Siodmak, with the screenplay written by Lester Cole and Siodmak. Once again, the special photographic effects were handled by John Fulton.

The film opens on the eve of the execution of Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) who has been framed for the murder of his brother Michael by Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who now oversees operations of the Radcliffe Family Mining Company. Cobb is in love with Sir Geoffrey’s intended Miss Helen Manson (Nan Grey). With Radcliffe out of the way Cobb hopes to complete his plan of conquest by winning the love of Helen. Willie Spears (Alan Napier) knows the truth about Michael’s murder and has been given a promotion within the company by Cobb in exchange for his silence. The company physician is none other than Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) – brother of Jack Griffin, the original invisible man. In a slight miscue, he is referred to as John instead of Jack.

As hope of a reprieve for Geoffrey dwindles, Griffin visits Radcliffe in his cell. Griffin leaves and Radcliffe has disappeared. Geoffrey later meets with Helen on the outskirts of town. Cobb visits Griffin, believing Frank knows where Radcliffe and Helen are. Scotland Yard Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) puts two and two together and also visits Griffin with the file on his late brother. In another slight miscue, Sampson refers to the drug as duocane instead of monocane.

The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

Vincent Price delivers some home-made justice to Cedric Hardwicke in The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

And thus begins the race with Geoffrey searching for the real murderer, while Griffin searches for an antidote before Radcliffe goes insane. Meanwhile, Sampson searches for Radcliffe. Sir Geoffrey finds the weak link in Willie Spears and after obtaining the truth, kidnaps Richard Cobb. Radcliffe brings Cobb to the home of Spears. Willie Spears hangs precariously from a rope while standing on a chair. Spears confesses in front of Cobb and Richard silences him once and for all by kicking the chair out from under him. Spears is hanged and Cobb escapes.

A chase follows leading to the collieries. Radcliffe catches Cobb atop a coal car but is shot by Sampson. By now, the coal car has reached the top of the track. The lever trips open the side of the car and dumps the coal and Cobb into the pit. As he lies dying, Cobb confesses to the murder of Michael. Meanwhile, Sir Geoffrey has escaped.

As he walks through the countryside, Radcliffe takes the clothes from a scarecrow. Slowly dying, Radcliffe makes his way to the collieries and Frank Griffin. A transfusion is needed and Griffin gets plenty of volunteers from the workers. The transfusion is successful and Sampson asks Griffin about the prognosis and is told that Geoffrey will most surely die from internal bleeding. In exasperation the doctor states: “If only I could operate! How can I when I can’t see him?” Griffin asks Sampson for permission to use an antidote stating:

“There’s a very small chance it will work and a far greater one that it will kill him. If I don’t try it, he has no chance whatsoever.”

Sampson agrees. As Griffin gets prepared, Helen calls him over to Geoffrey’s bed. Through the use of animation, some of the finest special effects to be seen in the series are showcased as the whole circulatory system of Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe slowly appears, followed by muscle, skin, and finally revealing the face (and body) of Vincent Price. Griffin realizes that:

“The new blood itself, was the antidote!”

The Invisible Man Returns is a admirable sequel to the original. Had the series ended with this film—it would have done so on a high note as it is surely one of the best of Universal’s second wave of horror.

The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

Theatrical release poster for The Invisible Man Returns (Universal 1940)

Article by Anthony Caranci.

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