Meddling in things best left alone

Released 13 November 1933, TIM was the American screen début of Claude Rains. The film was directed by James Whale, who’d done Frankenstein two years earlier.

A snowstorm grips the village of Iping the night a mysterious stranger appears at the Lion’s Head Inn. His head is wrapped in bandages, and his eyes are covered by dark goggles. He demands a room, which Mr. and Mrs. Hall grant only very reluctantly.

The stranger demands complete privacy, and is outraged when Mrs. Hall interrupts his dinner to bring him mustard. He covers the lower half of his face, horrified to be walked in on. Mrs. Hall reports to her husband and the patrons that half of his face is missing.

We now discover the stranger is Dr. Jack Griffin, who’s been missing for almost a month while working on a secret experiment, and hasn’t communicated with anyone since. His fiancée Flora, daughter of his employer Dr. Cranley, is beside herself with worry.

When Mrs. Hall comes to bring Jack dinner, she discovers a full chemistry lab. Jack demands she scram. Livid at being interrupted and having a whole day’s work destroyed, he throws a vial on the floor and retreats to his desk.

Mr. Hall comes to evict him for being a week behind on rent and driving away customers. Jack begs Mr. Hall to let him stay, saying he’s been disfigured by a horrible accident, and that he’ll have the money in a week. It’s a matter of life and death that he be left alone to conduct his experiment.

When Mr. Hall refuses to relent, Jack attacks him and throws him down the stairs in a rage. The locals run to get a constable.

Jack talks back to the constable and resists arrest. When the constable and angry locals refuse to leave him alone, he finally reveals himself as invisible. Naturally, this scares the daylights out of everyone, and they flee.

When they return, he’s stripped down to just a shirt. He has some fun teasing everyone with his invisibility, attacks the constable and several locals, and slips away to play practical jokes.

The constable calls the chief detective, who thinks this was brought on by too much drinking.

Dr. Cranley and his other assistant, Dr. Kemp, search Jack’s lab and find a note with a list of chemicals. Last on the list is monocane, which Cranley explains is very dangerous. A German experiment turned a dog mad.

He suspects Jack used monocane without knowing it causes madness, since he himself only learnt of the German experiment in an old book by chance. The English books only describe the bleaching power, and came out before the incident with the dog.

Cranley asks Kemp not to tell anyone about the monocane when they call the cops.

That night, a radio broadcast breaks the news of the goings-on in Iping. Kemp freaks out when the radio suddenly shuts off, and Jack’s voice enters the room, followed presently by objects moving around. Jack orders him to get clothes, bandages, and dark glasses.

Jack also orders Kemp not to tell anyone he’s there.

Once he’s covered, Jack returns to Kemp, and lays out his plans for a scheme to take over the world. He wants Kemp to be his partner in crime. Jack explains how he went to Iping to finish his experiment and find the antidote, but those fools wouldn’t let him work in peace.

The chief detective has just declared this Invisible Man is a hoax when Jack springs into action and attacks him. Everyone runs screaming, and soon the entire country is living in terror.

Kemp calls the cops while Jack is asleep, and then calls Dr. Cranley. Not long afterwards, Jack wakes up and goes to find Kemp. He’s very suspicious about why Kemp locked the door, and even more so when he sees a car driving up.

Jack believes Kemp was frightened and unable to sleep, and is overjoyed when he learns Flora is there. He reiterates his plan to take over the world with the power of invisibility.

Then the cops arrive, and Jack removes his clothes. Things go from bad to worse when he tells Kemp he’ll kill him at 10 PM.

How much more terror will Jack wreak before he’s caught, and will he ever become visible again?

TIM was Universal’s most successful horror film since Frankenstein, and critics loved it. H.G. Wells also enjoyed it, though didn’t like how Jack was turned into a raving lunatic. In the book, Jack is already insane and amoral before becoming invisible.

In 2008, the Library of Congress selected TIM for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.

I really enjoyed this film, and would highly recommend it.

3 thoughts on “Meddling in things best left alone

  1. Hmmm, just because monocane turned a dog mad doesn’t mean it will turn a human mad.

    And in the last week I have been typing samples about how invisibility is against the current laws of physics.

    Insanity and amorality may very well push someone to be literally invisible as well as metaphorically/communally invisible. I don’t know if Wells was thinking of that.


  2. Pingback: Meddling anew in things best left alone | Welcome to My Magick Theatre

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