The first in Universal’s Invisible Man series is a horror film with a very dark, twisted sense of humour about itself as the lead goes quite mad and jauntily murders well over a hundred people, often singing after he’s killed someone. The follow up, The Invisible Man Returns, was a more sober affair however, it has some merit but isn’t exactly thrilling and largely only impresses with some of the special effects.
With the third film they decided to play it strictly for laughs, featuring all new characters as playboy Dick Russell (John Howard) normally funds the work of mad scientist Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) but has run out of money and may have to shut up shop. Gibbs thinks all of Russell’s problems are over with as he’s come up with a machine to make people invisible, though after placing an advert in the paper for a victim to try it out on he’s surprised when a clothes model called Kitty (Virginia Bruce) turns up and is initially a little reluctant to experiment on her.
She manages to persuade him and it’s a mixture of screwball comedy and slapstick from here on in, Kitty is supposed to stick around so that Gibbs can show her off (or not off) to Russell, but she immediately leaves so that she can get revenge upon her incredibly shitty boss Mr Growley (Charles Lane) and does so effectively too, he’s a changed man after their encounter and no longer a misogynistic twit. There’s also a subplot involving a murderous gangster who wants to get hold of the machine so he can return to America, and Russell and Kitty introduce a rom-com element, though thankfully this is only a minor aspect of the film.
Howard is fine as the love interest but this really is Virginia Bruce’s film, she’s a fantastically fun character to spend time with as she romps about without any clothes on, with the film often commenting on this factor of being invisible in a rather risqué manner, for the time at least. Bruce gets to deliver a lot of funny dialogue and doesn’t take any shit from anyone, and as this is a comedy unlike the majority of those who are turned invisible she’s never cruel or psychotic either.
Barrymore’s also clearly having a huge amount of fun as an often quite sarcastic scientist, reprimanding Kitty for not following his every command but also fairly impressed by the way she deals with the world. There’s an amusingly cowardly butler, while the gangsters are a daft bunch who get pushed and shoved all over the place by our frisky invisible woman, and as with the original there’s very little flab here. It’s a tight, smart comedy which moves at a great pace, and my only real complaint is that the series became serious again with 1942’s Invisible Agent as it would have been great to see more of Bruce’s invisible woman.