Director: Joe May
Writers: Lester Cole and Kurt Siodmak
Cast: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, John Sutton, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier, and Forrester Harvey
Composers: H.J. Salter and Frank Skinner
Release Date: 1/12/1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Having been wrongly convicted of his brother’s murder, Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) evades execution by using the invisibility formula of Doctor Frank Griffin (John Sutton)—the younger sibling of Jack Griffin, the first Invisible Man. After visiting his fiancée Helen Manson (Nan Grey), Radcliffe seeks to clear his name before the drug turns him into a raving lunatic.
An underrated chapter in Universal Studios’ The Invisible Man saga, The Invisible Man Returns forgoes the campy tone of its predecessor in favor of a more poignant approach to character development. While an atmospheric setting is all but absent, fans of classic monster movies should nonetheless consider that in this case, dramatic themes take precedence over the straightforward horror conventions typical of mad scientist fare.
As opposed to the Invisible Man portrayed by Claude Rains, Geoffrey Radcliffe experiments with monocane (or “duocane” as the invisibility potion is curiously renamed in this outing) for benevolent purposes alone. Radcliffe’s ethical superiority over Jack Griffin is reinforced, albeit subtly, by the sense of humility exemplified by Vincent Price; notably, Radcliffe appears more concerned with bringing Michael’s killer to justice than with his own desire to attain freedom, thereby encouraging viewers to feel compassion for the protagonist when his megalomaniacal tendencies begin to manifest—a sad but inevitable result of the drug’s corruptive influence.
By revealing the killer’s identity prematurely, The Invisible Man Returns fails to generate the suspenseful air that would be expected of a compelling murder mystery. An absence of tension is compounded by the insufferable pace at which Radcliffe interrogates a witness named Willie Spears (Alan Napier), thus eliminating any potential surprise that might have accompanied the solving of Michael’s murder.
As indicated earlier, Price should be commended for endowing his character with a graceful but determined manner that will evoke sympathy from audiences of a sensitive disposition; however, Radcliffe’s gradual descent into madness never parallels the degree of menace embodied by Griffin in the original film, a flaw that can perhaps be attributed to Price’s lack of acting experience at this point in time.
More effectively than James Whale’s The Invisible Man and H. G. Wells’ novel of the same title, The Invisible Man Returns serves to demonstrate that even the most upright of men will often resort to vile behavior if tempted with absolute power over others. That being said, Radcliffe never actually commits murder when presented with the opportunity to do so and therefore retains that human essence which underlies the most conflicted among Universal Studios’ classic monster ensemble, e.g. Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, Erik the Phantom, and (arguably) Frankenstein’s creature.
The Invisible Man Returns is a flawed but worthy sequel to the iconic masterpiece directed by Whale. For those who enjoy horror films with a delicate twist, this one will not disappoint.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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