The Invisible Woman (1940)

04/11/2017 16:38

Film: The Invisible Woman

Year: 1940

Director: A. Edward Sutherland

Writer: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo and Gertrude Purcell

Starring: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore and John Howard



This film I never heard of until I was working my way through the classic Universal monster films. This one I wouldn’t really classic as a horror movie, as we don’t get those elements. It really is more of a crime, romance, sci-fi type film if I’m honest. I did give this a second viewing though since it was from 1940 and I’m still tossing it into the horror realm due to Universal and being a sequel in name only to The Invisible Man. The synopsis is an attractive model with an ulterior motive volunteers as a guinea pig for an invisibility machine.

We start out in the large house of a young playboy by the name of Richard Russell (John Howard). His butler, George (Charles Ruggles) is at his wits end with his boss and to add to this, we see him fall down the stairs. He tries to compose himself when the doorbell rings, but he’s knocked over when Hudson (Thurston Hall) bursts in. He’s quite upset as he handles the finances for Richard and it turns out that he is broke. Aside from needing to pay off money that he gets entangle with, he’s given a lot of money to professor who is trying to invent thing. He hasn’t succeeded and it is taking up a lot of funds. Hudson tells Russell that he has to stop giving him money immediately.

A letter is delivered to the house of Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore). The invention he has now is a machine and serum that will make people invisible. He has a woman that takes care of his house who is Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton). She brings him down a letter from Richard and he opens it. Prof. Gibbs thinks that it is the check he requested for $3,000. It turns out though it is the letter that Richard was told to write. Prof Gibbs goes to the newspaper because he needs to change the ad that he was going to put in the newspaper. He is no longer going to offer money to whoever helps him with the first experiment to become invisible.

There are a lot of letters that come in. Prof Gibbs takes them home where he runs into Richard. He asks him to come help him sift through the mail. He tells him that for all the help he has done this experiment will make him rich. This makes Richard happy, since he has been having George pack up his house, because he cannot afford it. Most of the letters are jokes though, all but one. Prof Gibbs writes to K. Carroll and has Mrs. Jackson send it off to let them know they’ve been selected.

Prof. Gibbs  thought that it was a man, but it turns out to be a woman. Her name is Kitty Carrol (Virginia Bruce). She is a model for a dress maker and she really wants to become invisible. She goes to work and is 2 minutes late. She is scolded by her boss, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane). He docks her an hour of pay for this. This puts her in a foul mood so when customers are rude, she is sent home.

From work, she goes to see Prof. Gibbs. Mrs. Jackson answers the door and lets her in. He is shocked to find out the person that accepted to be his guinea pig is a woman. He has Mrs. Jackson stay down to help him, as there are issues with her being nude. He performs the experiment and it succeeds in making her invisible. Prof. Gibbs asks her to wait while he goes to get Richard to show him, but she flees. Instead she goes to teach her former boss a lesson.

All the while though, a group of criminals: Bill (Edward Brophy), Foghorn (Donald MacBride) and Frankie (Shemp Howard), go about to steal this machine for their boss Blackie Cole (Oskar Homolka). He can’t get over the border from Mexico so they come up with stealing this machine to make him invisible. Prof. Gibbs with the help of Kitty get them to leave and he really needs to prove it works to Richard before it is too late.

Now this is an interesting to the Invisible Man. This film is taking the concept that was used in the original and just changing it by making a woman invisible, which really isn’t revealing much. What struck me first was their major concern from 1940s, the thing that they worry about is that she would have to be naked to be invisible. This becomes an issue though, because it is ‘unladylike’. It is quite sexist since no one was worried about this with Claude Rains or Vincent Price when they were completely nude.

Something that struck me about this as well, unlike what happens to those previous invisible men, it never is a concern here that Kitty would go mad and do bad things. This one really is more of a comedy though. Plus the effects on it don’t last all that long. Prof. Gibbs is worried that he won’t get Kitty in front of Richard before they wear off. What I did like though was them playing with the effects of alcohol and what it does to the invisibility serum.

I did find this movie interesting that they’re playing with the invisibility a bit more and what you could do with it. I like that Mr. Growley is punished for what he’s doing to these poor women that work for him. It is interesting watching this in 2020 with people speaking out more against businesses and how they treat their works. Plus, we’ve had some major breakthroughs in the years between now and then with unions. Something else interesting is incorporating the gangsters here. I like the idea of sneaking him back over the border back into the United States. It is a bit shocking thinking on such small terms though to be honest.

I’m not the biggest fan that this movie decided to remove the horror and go more comedic. I have my small issues here that they thinking more small scale for this with the woman, but I can also see not wanting her to go crazy like the ones in the path. I will commend though for not giving us the same movie over again for sure.

Not all of the acting really worked for me here though either. I did really like Bruce. She is a modern woman and won’t be held back by anything which I dug and I’d say her comedy was the best for me. Barrymore was fine as the professor here is a bit aloof. He does say some pretty funny things. I didn’t really care for Howard. He fits the role, but it doesn’t add much. Ruggles was fine for the most part and the gangsters were fun in rounding this out for what was needed. The last thing would be it is fun to see Hamilton, who will always be the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz to me.

The last thing that I wanted to go over would be the effects. Since this came out the same year as The Invisible Man Returns, I thought it was on par there. They do a lot more as the technology had gotten better. I do feel though that this movie does play with it a bit more due to the more whimsical take. There are some slight issues I have with people not picking up on things, but that might be me being harsh.

Now with that said, I wasn’t as big a fan of this film as I was of its predecessors. This one isn’t horrible, but this one is much lighter than the previous ones. The comedy was amped up and I personally didn’t like that aspect of the film. This one does look at the issue of femininity, but it doesn’t prevent her from participating in the experiment which I did like. We get vibes of the built in misogyny though. I didn’t find the acting to be as strong as previous films, but it wasn’t bad. If I had any issues, it would be to take it darker, since it is part of The Invisible Man series. This film is from the 1940s and is in black and white, so keep that in mind. Not the best film from the era, but it is still entertaining. If you are out to watch all the films in the Universal Series, The Invisible Man or like films from the era, then I would recommend this film.


My Rating: 6 out of 10