Saturday, September 15, 1973: The Invisible Woman (1940)

Synopsis: Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce) is a model at a department store. Each day she and a half-dozen other women do a little fashion show of the store’s newest offerings to jaded customers. It isn’t a job that pays very well, and Kitty is frustrated with the constant humiliations she and her co-workers face at the hands of their boss Mr. Grawley (Charles Lane). Mr. Grawley docks them an hour’s pay if they are a minute late, verbally abuses them, fires one girl because she has a cold, and so on.

Meanwhile, millionaire playboy Richard Russell (John Howard) discovers that he is in financial trouble and needs to jettison any unnecessary expenses. Among other things he’s been paying money to crackpot inventor Professor Gibbs in hopes that he will come up with a marketable product. He goes to Gibbs’ lab to inform him that the money spigot is being turned off.

But as it happens, Gibbs has finally invented something worthwhile: an invisibility formula. He places an ad in the newspaper looking for a volunteer test subject. When Kitty sees the ad, she immediately replies, seeing it as a way to get revenge on Mr. Grawley.

The formula, once injected into the body, needs a special machine to complete the invisibility process. It works just as well as Gibbs could have hoped, and a now-invisible Kitty leaves to terrorize Grawley, demanding that he treat the women on his staff better. Immediately, Grawley changes his ways, but when Kitty returns to the lab she discovers that the formula hasn’t worn off as expected — she is still invisible.

While Gibbs and Russell try to get this sorted out, a group of mobsters has heard about Gibb’s invisibility machine and want to use it to smuggle their boss down to Mexico. They steal the machine, and even though Gibbs knows it’s useless without the formula, he also knows it’s only a matter of time before the mob shows up looking for that too….

Comments: I was a bit surprised to learn that tonight is The Invisible Woman’s first-ever broadcast on Horror Incorporated. We’ve seen most of the movies in the series more than once. This one is an oddball film in the franchise, having no continuity with the other films in the Invisible Man series (the same could be said, of course, for The Invisible Man’s Revenge: in that opus the invisibility serum is created by John Carradine’s Dr. Drury, and none of the events connect to anything that occurred in the previous films. However, at least the Griffin name carried over from earlier entries).

The Invisible Woman is also unusual in that it’s an out-and-out comedy — though as we have seen, many horror films in the early 1940s such as Horror Island (1941) and Murder in the Blue Room (1944) — were played for laughs. While all of the Invisible Man films had some comedic moments Kitty’s invisibility is never taken seriously. Kitty’s invisible nudity (to the extent allowed by code-enforced decorum) is proffered for our amusement and the presence of the wiggy Professor Gibbs anticipates Boris Karloff’s turn in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942).

Virginia Bruce is a very likable actress, and she makes the most of the slightly daffy role of Kitty. John Howard starred in the Bulldog Drummond pictures in the late 1930s. We’ve seem him on Horror Incorporated in The Man Who Returned to Life. He made a number of guest appearances on television through the 1950s.

The once-great John Barrymore is almost unrecognizable here, playing the goofball professor Gibbs in an Edwardian collar and pince-nez. At this point in his career Barrymore could no longer memorize dialogue and had his dialogue pasted up just off camera where he could see it, and you can clearly see his eyes moving back and forth as he reads his lines.

All in all, this likable programmer seems an inevitable use of Universal’s invisibility gimmick as comedic fodder, and while it isn’t a great movie it seems like a good use of Virginia Bruce’s talents. I don’t know if it made money for Universal; I hope it did. We’ve seen plenty of dire films on Horror Incorporated — let’s hope light-hearted little films like this one did well too.

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2 comments

  1. John Barrymore supposedly channels elder brother Lionel in his performance, certainly never boring. The second half is less interesting than the first, though it’s nice to see Shemp among the inept villains.

    Like

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