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Universal Monsters in Review: The Invisible Woman (1940)

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Have you ever had one of those moments when you question precisely what it is you’re watching? I had one of those during the screening for The Invisible Woman. Now, to be fair, the “Invisible” films have had a rather rough go at it as far as quality, in fact, the only movies from the “Invisible” production line I like are the original, The Invisible Man, and Invisible Agent, and you can thank Peter Lorre for that one. And I guess that gives you a bit of a spoiler on my thoughts for this rendition. While watching, I was really wanting to like the movie, I really did try. The major problem with The Invisible Woman, for me at least, was that it was trying to do one thing while simultaneously circumventing those attempts. The Invisible Woman started out as a comedy, Shemp Howard from The Three Stooges was in the film for Christ’s sake, and the movie was, at first, calling attention, through comedy, certain discriminations/sexism against women. The volunteer for the “invisible” project was after all a working gal whose boss was a certifiable pig. And I feel, at the beginning, the film achieved its goal of making light of a rather dark subject. But as the film progresses, the plot unspools into a heap of intangible wool. It made no sense…the woman was strong and could save the day, but couldn’t control herself and needed a man to save her? The message the movie is presenting is confusing. Does making a movie that semi resembles some sort of pro- women’s right as a comedy mean the subject is laughable? Then again, we need to remember the era in which the film was made and not interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts. Anyhow, that’s the beans on how I feel regarding the movie, let’s see what our honored guest has to say about The Invisible Woman.

The Invisible Woman

By: Matt Shaw

‘Hiya Matt.’

‘Hi.’

‘I was just wondering if you fancied doing a film review for me?’

‘Hey? What do you mean – I mean, I know what you mean but… What do you need?’

‘I’m doing a series of blogs about Universal Monsters and just wondered if you wanted to review one of the films…’

‘Erm. Can do. Not really my strength but – sure. Which one?’

‘You can choose from these.’ <List given>

‘Oh, I’ll have The Invisible Woman.’

‘You’re on!’

And then I forget about the conversation only to be reminded months later. Panicked, with the review due shortly, I go off to download the film Bride of Frankenstein. Not sure how my brain went from one to the other but – meh – a lucky conversation on Facebook and I realized my mistake and soon found myself watching the correct film on YouTube. And – you know what – I wish I hadn’t bothered. Still… I did bother so I might as well review the turd. I mean “film”. Try and guess what I thought about it before you get to my verdict at the end of this review and – remember – I’m a horror author, not a film critic.

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The Invisible Woman was released in the 1940s. It has that “old film” charm with the black and white footage and grainy specks here and there which normally trick you into thinking you’re watching an intelligent movie classic – you know, the type of pretentious shite you were forced to endure at school as part of life lessons. Unfortunately there is nothing intelligent about this film, nor – in fact – are there any lessons to be learned. It is also lacking any charm. In fact, how the studio survived with the release of this festering cesspit is beyond me, but – there you go.

Starring Virginia Bruce (The Wicked Witch no less) as the Invisible Woman (Kitty Carroll) and John Barrymore (as the eccentric Professor Gibbs), it also stars John Howard as Richard Russell, the millionaire playboy character on the verge of bankruptcy after years of living life to the full and paying towards Gibbs’ inventions. But none of these characters, or performances, will stand out compared to one of the other characters and – no – I’m not referring to Shemp Howard (one of the Three Stooges). I’m referring to Charlie Ruggles who played George, the butler to Richard Russell – a character who stands out for the wrong reasons. In fact – Charlie Ruggles deserved to never work again and – quite frankly – I am too irritated to check to see if he even did. The character was a bumbling idiot, given most of the “slapstick” scenes and delivering them a bull in a china shop. No… Not a bull. What’s bigger than a bull? Ah. An elephant. His oafish “acting” and over the top mannerisms doing nothing more than to fuel my hatred for the film and all involved.

‘George! Call for an airport!’

‘AIIIIIIRPORT!’

‘No, George… Call for an airport on the telephone.’

Oh, how I rolled around the living room laughing my quite frankly massive bollocks off.

Or…

George and Richard are in heated debate. Richard goes up the stairs and George goes up the ladder next to the stairs, only to do a somersault when he reaches the top, landing in a heap on the floor.

Someone call 999! I’m dying from laughter.

Now I know what a farce when I see one. I studied it at school with the likes of Dario Fo. I enjoy a good farce when they are done correctly but – here – there are so few scenes of comedy that when it does happen (poorly) it does nothing to serve the film and just feels painfully out of place. Anyway, fuck off, I’m watching Universal Monsters. I want horror. I’ve been duped. I don’t want some piss poor attempt at comedy. If I wanted something funny – I’d watch something by Seth Rogen…

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Oh, the irony.

The plot of the film itself is fairly bog standard. An inventor who invents a machine that turns people invisible. The investor gets excited because he thinks it will solve his money problems. After putting an advert in the paper – a woman (Kitty) gets in touch to be the test subject. But – wait for it – three crooks also hear of the machine and want to steal it for their boss! So – Kitty goes invisible and seeks revenge on her boss (she works as a model) who learns the error of his ways after getting literally spanked by Kitty. She then goes with Gibbs to Russell’s lodge to prove the machine works (and hear we discover how sexist films were back then) and they end up falling for each other and – boom – the crooks show up and kidnap the professor and the girl having already stolen the machine from back at the lab. Everything is wrapped up nicely with the Invisible Woman teaching them lessons in the space of about four minutes and the credits roll. That’s all there is to it and I’m sorry for the spoilers but – seriously – you’ll thank me. This film is a crock of shit with it’s dire “comedy”, flat acting, so-so music and… Fuck me… I’ve got something good to say… Hold your pants, this is big…

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The effects, given this, was made in the 40s are actually pretty good. With regards to the invisible effects anyway. Don’t mention the lightening towards the end of the movie. So – yeah – there you go – a positive in this shit pie. Good effects. But, if you’ve read my books, you’ll know I don’t like happy endings so… Remember when I said was sexist? Sexist and degrading to women. Check out these lines, babycakes:

‘It’s me, Mrs. Jackson.’

‘You can’t possibly be Mrs. Jackson! She’s in the kitchen where she belongs!’

Or…

‘Any girl insisting on becoming invisible can’t be easy on the eyes!’

‘Hiding your stout figure…’

It’s okay, though. The rumor is Hollywood is remaking the film and casting an all-female cast with the exception of the invisible man.

‘Of course, you chose to go invisible… With a penis that small, why wouldn’t you?’

‘He didn’t need the machine for us to not be able to see that!’

<Women laugh>

Anyway, I’m not sorry for this negative review. The film portrayed women to be either thick or deranged. This isn’t a hero piece. The male characters – with the exception of the Playboy – don’t fare any better on the stupidity scale and, quite frankly, the screenwriters should have been blacklisted just to fuck them off from the scene before they could do any more damage to the brains of those foolish enough to try their work out.

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This is not a good film and it’s no surprise I struggled to find a torrent with which to view it…

Thanks for reading now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to pour bleach in my eyes and drill a hole in my head – into which I shall be pouring sulphuric acid.

Peace out, homies.

Matt, The.

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Matt Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Matt and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on the altar of Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk

 

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Universal Monsters in Review: Abbot & Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)

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Vaudeville comedy has a certain kind of charm. An allure that brings in audiences for a quick laugh. An appeal developed by legendary talents, such as The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, to name a few of the pillars that made up the vaudeville slap-stick house. For Abbot & Costello, their era of fame started in 1940, with One Night in the Tropics, and ended with Dance with Me, Henry, in 1956. Lou Costello, the bumbling “dim-wit” of the duo, would eventually pass away in 1959, leaving Bud Abbot, the “straight man” of the pair, searching for a new partner in Candy Candido, but eventually calling it quits because, “No one could ever live up to Lou.” Bud passed away in 1974. For me, I think the 1940s is really when the duo shinned the brightest. It was an era of heighten stress due to the war in the Pacific and in Europe.  War time audiences were looking for distractions from the woes of loved ones deployed and of uncertain outcomes in the development of world powers. Our featured film for this review is Lou and Buds second to last Universal Monster flick, released in 1951, and you can begin to see the struggle of defining their roles in a new era. The movie itself plays out as part mad science, part detective/noir, part boxing, and part loony tunes. As our honor guest reviewer has pointed out in his review below, there moments of genuine entertainment, but for the most part, the film was dragged out and ultimately boring.  Well, I shall not delay any longer, lets see what our guest writer has to say.

 

Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

By: Lewis Duncan

 

I have to admit, the Abbot and Costello films were never something I went out of my way to watch or indeed find copies of in recent years. They linger in my memory, part of my childhood, part of growing up and watching whatever the grown-ups were watching. In our house, it was either Westerns or War films, both which I hated until I discovered Clint Eastwood.  Black and white films were to be snubbed as old and boring. It wasn’t until I discovered the genius of the Marx Brothers that I gave black and white a chance. I think it was my Granny’s fault. She used to eat them up. I remember her doing the ironing in the living room with the television blaring on a wet Saturday afternoon. I would be on the sofa reading a Beano or playing with Star Wars figure and these great brays of laughter would echo around the room. It was the television. Something on there had got her going. I was intrigued.

The Marx brothers made me laugh out loud and although it wasn’t until my teens that I appreciated the genius timing of Groucho’s gags and the on-screen chemistry between the brothers,  I still needed to see everything they had done. Thankfully my uncle had just purchased a VHS video recorder and would rent various video tapes at the weekend. One of those tapes was ‘Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein’. I can remember enjoying it without knowing what I know now and how it featured some of the greatest names in cinematic history. Looking back, I really enjoyed watching it but don’t ask me to tell you the plot. Kids don’t do plot. They do slapstick and action and Bud Abbot and Lou Costello did it perfectly.

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Having been asked to write a review of a film I was given a list of possibles. I chose ‘Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man’ for one reason and one reason only. I had never seen the film. I had heard of it but I had never actually watched the thing. Also, I’ve never reviewed a damn thing in my life apart from a few lines here and there on Amazon about books I’ve read so bare with me.

The title itself suggests horror but we know it’s not going to be an all-out horror flick is it? No, of course not and to be honest there isn’t any horror in the film whatsoever. It’s a comedy, it’s a vehicle for Lou Costello and Bud Abbot to showcase their vaudeville skills and put them on the big screen and they do it perfectly. Don’t they always?

Since agreeing to review this, I’ve sat down with the laptop, loaded up the film and ate some crisps and drank some soft drinks, clear head required and I must say each time I’ve watched the movie it has been as enjoyable as the first. Even that Universal music during the opening credits gets me going. Big old Earth spinning around is a definite cue to go grab some nibbles because you know you’re in for a treat, you’re in for a quality hour and a half’s entertainment. They just do it right.

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So here we go, Lou Costello, or Lou Francis as he is called in the movie, is skipping, tripping and dancing up to graduate from Detective School, misses the chair and falls on his arse. The start of it. Lou is informed by his partner, the very brilliant straight guy of the duo, Bud Abbot, that he slipped them twenty bucks to let him graduate. I think this is the first time of many that Lou looks directly at the camera. I have my doubts about that though. It’s a fun thing to do in a film and an fourth wall effect I love but I sometimes wonder if Lou actually relies on prompts from off-screen. I guess we’ll never really know.

Anyway, the unlikely detective duo are in their office when the boxer, Tommy Nelson walks in, all cagey like and makes a phone call. It’s Lou that recognizes who he is. Bud is still in the dark. That old straight guy/fun guy thing really working full speed.

Tommy needs to go to the Doc’s place and ends up getting injected with invisibility serum. He needs the comedy duo to help find out who murdered his manager, a murder in which he has been convicted of. They agree and drive him to meet Dr. Phillip Gray, the posh doc played brilliantly by Gavin Muir. His accent is just sublime. I just wish he was in the film more.

The Doc refuses, the cops arrive, and Tommy takes the serum on his own. It doesn’t work straight away but it eventually does when he is alone with Lou and the handshake scene is priceless. It’s the first glimpse of how the invisibility effects are going to pan out. They work, there is no denying that. I don’t think there is one moment throughout the film that features the invisible man that you think, yeah, I know how they did that or I can see the strings. It doesn’t happen. I won’t list them here but each invisible man sequence is perfectly done and when you watch it you will agree. Be it spaghetti or playing cards.

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A character that has to be mentioned is the detective played by William Frawley. His lines are sharp, delivered well and his frustration with Lou is just class. He sends him to a psychiatrist and Lou ends up hypnotizing everyone he comes across in a scene which includes a reference to a nursery rhyme about mice running up a clock. Again, I don’t want to give much away but it’s funny as hell.

This is where the film falls into two segments, the build-up to the big fight and the fight itself. We find Lou and Bud in a fancy restaurant with Tommy (invisible) at the table. They order food and the food scenes are the funniest and best scenes in the whole film.  It is also the first time we see that Tommy might be starting to lose his mind a little. He gets this huge ego thing going and Lou and Bud try to keep him cool. It doesn’t work and all hell breaks loose in the restaurant, resulting in Tommy getting knocked out by some revolving doors. They get him back to the Doctors. Tommy is full of remorse, well acted by Arthur Franz who is a constant star throughout the film. A straight talking guy that compliments Lou and Buds slapstick brilliance.

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Here we go then, fight night. You know what’s going to happen. Fight scenes will ensue, Lou Costello will camp it up and bounce about the ring like a fool but it will entertain you, it will make you smirk, maybe not laugh, but smirk and the bad guys will get their just reward. I can’t be bothered detailing all the scenes and quotes that matter, there’s no point. If you want to watch it then do so. I recommend that you do.

I’d like to say one final thing about this film, Abbot and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, this is not a horror movie, it’s not even a comedy. It does entertain, it has those old moments, those, ‘Why, I outta…’ moments, but that’s standard with an Abbot and Costello film. You know what to expect. Did I enjoy it? Yeah, of course, I did but I’m not going out of my way to talk it up like a lot of folks do. It is what it is. I’m a fan but if I had the choice of spending my Saturday afternoons watching this or a Marx brothers film, I would go all out Groucho. That’s just me. I like horror and this isn’t. I like comedy and this is dated. Worth a watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon if you have nothing else to be doing but  don’t go out of your way to check it out. It is what it is. Too much film on a really slim plot.

My rating: 3/5

LewisDuncan

Lewis Duncan is an up and coming writer and graphic artist. You can find his work on numerous book covers recently released this year, including books by Dawn Cano, Duncan Ralston, and myself (Thomas S. Flowers). He also has upcoming projects with the likes of Kit Power and Rich Hawkins. Some of Lewis’s publishing work includes Violent Delights, in which he co-wrote with Dawn Cano. He is an avid reader and supporter of fellow indie writers. His artwork is stylized in a retro, space-age grunge, 70s grindhouse. You can follow Lewis on Facebook to keep up with all his latest work.