Women are entitled to invisibility too
The third in the Universal invisible trilogy, The Invisible Woman (1940) becomes a cavalcade of pratfalls, in more ways than one. This movie begins with a man getting hit in the face by a door, so that tells you the level of quality we’re talking about here. Even an aging John Barrymore in the role of an eccentric scientist doesn’t help, which is unfortunate, because he has a reputation as a great star. The film also has nothing to do with the story by HG Wells or any of the previous sequels, so it becomes a film struggling to be a comedy.
The first twenty minutes of this film has nothing to do with an invisible woman, but instead focuses on John Barrymore’s experiments as Professor Gibbs. Barrymore is literally in every scene up until the introduction of Virginia Bruce, who becomes his latest test subject. She dreams of sneakily teaching her boss a lesson as an invisible woman so she volunteers for the Professor’s experiment, which makes no sense to me. I guess she’s not rational or she’s really vindictive or something.
I will say that the Claude Rains original Invisible Man is an okay movie. It’s not my favorite, but it at least has some clever scenes and something dramatic to offer, mostly because Rains puts on a good performance. He’s definately too good for this movie. Probably the peak of his career was in Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon in 1939, in a supporting role.
Speaking of supporting roles, the rest of the cast is pretty bad. One of the stooges, Shemp, makes a guest appearance as a thug and tries to steal the invisible formula. It is not memorable. The only supporting role of note in the film is Mrs. Jackson, who is played by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939. There are a handful of other veteran actors and actresses in the film, but none of them can help this movie.
I think the real problem is that it has no focused tone. It starts out as a physical comedy, but never really has any good comedy moments. John Barrymore yells most of his lines as he attempts to be comedic, then he tries to be scientific. Most of the jokes are practical humor, with someone ending up embarrassed or confused. Many people in the movie can’t hear temporarily or misinterpret words or actions. They throw in a couple of foreign speaking people with accents just to stress the humor of their words. It’s kinda silly. And not in a good way.
Many of the effects are pretty good, but show mistakes and errors. Some of the Invisible Woman shows through when she’s supposed to be unseen. Virginia Bruce doesn’t have to do much in this film, although I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I guess her performance is alright, but she just doesn’t do much.
The only scene in this film that is close to amusing is when Barrymore as Gibbs and the Invisible Woman pay a visit to Dick Russell, played by John Howard. Barrymore has to make up excuses as to why there are strange noises in the room, which is really caused by the Invisible Woman. However, that act was done before in previous films, so it’s not original. Anyway, the movie becomes a romantic comedy as Dick Russell falls in love with a woman he can’t see, which makes no sense.
The only good thing is that this movie is short enough that it doesn’t become too annoying. It tries too hard to be funny and has plenty of people falling down. I’m trying not to sound too snobby here, but this movie just didn’t work for me. Hey, I like some physical comedy, but they throw together science, romance, physical humor, and childish dialogue and none of it works. A little of this and a little of that doesn’t make a tightly focused movie.