Synopsis: Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) travels from America with his wife and young son to take possession of his late father’s estate. He is met at the train station by the citizens of Frankenstein village, only to find that his ancestral name is hated by all who live there. Wolf, believing that his father’s work was unjustly maligned by superstitious yokels, tries to convince the people that his intentions are good, but to no avail.At the family estate he is visited by the local chief of police (Lionel Atwill), who warns him to lay low, since the locals are convinced that no good can come from another scientist named Frankenstein carrying out more weird experiments during raging thunderstorms.
Frankenstein opines that over time the locals no doubt exaggerated the stories of his father’s “monster”; but the chief politely disagrees. The stories, he says, are all true. He points out his own wooden arm, saying that when he was a boy, the rampaging monster tore his arm out by the roots. Later, Frankenstein is inspecting his estate when he discovers an odd character skulking near the ruins of his father’s laboratory. This, we learn, was the late doctor’s assistant Ygor (Bela Lugosi). Ygor had been hanged for a number of crimes including grave robbing, but survived; his neck did not heal properly and his head is tilted at an odd angle. He tells Frankenstein that the monster had been his friend and that he wants to see it restored to life. He takes Wolf to a chamber where the monster still reposes in a kind of suspended animation. Excited by this discovery, Wolf is determined to vindicate his father’s work by bringing the creature back to life…
The Invisible Man
Synopsis: A stranger walks along a country road into the small English village of Iping. The man wears a coat and hat to protect himself from the late winter snow, but he also wears tinted goggles and his head is wrapped in bandages.He enters an inn and rents a room. There he works feverishly on some sort of medical experiment. Meanwhile, Dr. Cranley (William Travers) , his daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart) and his assistant Kemp (William Harrigan) are trying to understand what has become of Dr. Cranley’s underling, Jack Griffin. Griffin had been experimenting on his own with a dangerous chemical called monocaine, a substance which, when injected into animals, bleaches them white — and drives them mad. Back at the inn, a crazed and paranoid Griffin causes havoc whenever he is disturbed, and he is soon ordered to vacate the premises.
Refusing to do so, a group of townsfolk and the local police attempt to evict him. Griffin begins removing the bandages on his head — revealing himself (or perhaps not revealing himself) to be an invisible man. Causing considerable property damage and bodily harm, he removes the rest of his clothing and flees the scene. At first, the people of Iping are held up as laughingstocks by the police and the media; but soon enough the reports of an invisible man on a rampage are confirmed. That evening Kemp is visited at home by Griffin, who tells him that he had indeed discovered a monocaine derivative that causes complete invisibility. However, Griffin can’t reverse the process and he wants to use Kemps’s laboratory to work on a solution. But Griffin has more than a simple problem of chemistry on his mind. He has clearly been driven mad by his formula, and when he isn’t imagining how can “make the world grovel” at his feet, he is delighting in the chaos and destruction an invisible man can cause…
But a good deal of credit for the film’s success should go to Claude Rains, who successfully conveys the full range of Griffin’s madness to the audience. Rains is often criticized for an over-ripe performance in this picture (with some justification) but when you consider how much of the movie relies solely on his voice, it’s easier to understand why he makes the choices he does.
One of the best scenes in the film is when Griffin meets with Flora (played by the dreadful Gloria Stuart), and inside of a minute he caroms between affection, regret, contempt and outright megalomania. It’s the sort of thing an actor can easily botch, but Rains sells it, allowing us to pity Griffin even as we despise the creature he has turned into. Like the H.G. Wells novella it’s based upon, The Invisible Man has a somewhat unusual structure in that the closest thing we have to a protagonist is Griffin himself. Since he’s also the antagonist, Rains has to make us root for him and against him at the same time. That’s a very difficult job, but he pulls it off — as the clip below will demonstrate.
Skip ahead to the 5:00 minute mark and try to imagine another actor in the role. Even covered head to toe Rains commands your attention. It’s one of the best film performances of the 1930s.
*To any list of successful adaptations I’d include Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey, Jr. While the screenplay takes considerable liberties with its source material, the essentials of Holmes’ character remain: he is a brilliant detective but something of a washout as a human being, and it isn’t hard to figure out why he has exactly one friend.