The Invisible Ray (1936)
What do they know? What will they ever know? I'll take them somewhere they've never been. Back into time. It will work well tonight. I'm sure and I'm ready. They'll never laugh at me again.
Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff)
I’ve been stuck in the 70s lately, so It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film from the Golden Age of Horror. Therefore, it was a pleasure to watch The Invisible Ray (1936), for the first time, by the way. The problem is, except for the time it was released, its production company, and its stars, I’m not sure I’d call it a “classic.”
Most of the film has the look and feel of one of Universal’s best, if not a Frankenstein or The Mummy, at least a The Black Cat or The Raven. The sets are spectacular, the story is global in scope, and the cinematography is crisp and clear. However, when the special effects kick in, it starts to feel more like Indestructible Man than The Invisible Man.
In other words, the plot eventually overcomes the trappings of the film, and The Invisible Ray becomes a true B-movie instead of a true Universal classic. I hoped more would come of Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) and his discovery of Earth’s history written on a ray from a nebula in the Andromeda galaxy, than him simply becoming a glow-in-the dark villain.
Rukh is protective of his experiments for good reason. The scientific community has stolen his work before. He’s reluctant to demonstrate for Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi) but can’t help himself from sharing it with the world. In a variation from most mad scientist movies, his ray becomes public and turns out to be a cure for blindness.
This is after a detour to Africa where Rukh’s ray showed a meteor crashed “a thousand million” years ago. There are multiple things happening here. We have the ray itself, from which Rukh could re-live the past. We have a new element called “Radium X,” that Rukh discovers in Africa. And we have some combination of both that turns the ray into a weapon for revenge.
The entirety of the story of The Invisible Ray could almost be told through the headlines and close-ups of magazine and newspaper articles peppered throughout. If you’re having trouble understanding the plot, this information would be helpful. They don’t spin into the screen, but I nevertheless love when these bits of “fake news” appear on screen.
Radium “X” Goal of the Doctor Benet Expedition
Benet Expedition Leaves Africa – Dr. Rukh at Carpathian Laboratory
Doctor Benet’s Use of Radium X Startles Medical World
Those are less than half the headlines, and I won’t give spoilers by revealing any more of them. Let’s just say Dr. Rukh’s ray can perform several different tricks, none of them good for his enemies, including his wife, Diana (Frances Drake), who leaves him for fellow expeditioner, Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton.)
The Invisible Ray is fun, but it’s ultimately a minor effort. Although more horror than sci-fi, it’s the final film of an era. Carl Laemmle and his son were soon removed from Universal Pictures a few months after its release and the studio’s next foray into monsters would be Son of Frankenstein in 1939.
Tomorrow, check Richard's post at:
The name I'm giving him (first letter of first name must be first letter of last name, Karloff) is:
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