Universal Monsters: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Universal sequel The Invisible Man Returns (1940) was made seven years after The
Invisible Man, but takes place nine years after the events of its story, with Dr. Frank Griffin
(John Sutton) continuing his brother's experiments in invisibility. Here, though, he's doing it for
the specific purpose of helping his friend, Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) escape from prison
so he can find the perpetrator of the crime for which he was falsely convicted.
That's already more story than The Invisible Man. While the style and direction of an end-of-
his-career Joe May may not match that of James Whale, I think the screenplay by Lester Cole
and Curt Siodmak is better than the one by R.C. Sherriff. That's perhaps because of the dynamic
of an additional villain who is not necessarily Radcliffe, even though there's the same ticking
time bomb of him being driven crazy unless Griffin can create an antidote.
Radcliffe's love interest, Helen Manson (Nan Grey), is also a larger part of the story than her
counterpart in the previous movie. She's involved in the escape and helps hide Radcliffe when
he's on the run. His potential descent into madness carries more emotional weight because she is
present to witness it instead of hanging around at home fretting about him. The typical Universal
triangle in which she's involved is also more effective because it's less overt and more sinister.
The fact that Radcliffe is not already a giggling maniac when the movie begins helps us relate to
him better than to Griffin in the first movie. He knows what's going to happen and sadly asks,
"How long do you think I have before I go mad?" Well, less than 81 minutes, because before too
long he's declaring that the nation will tremble before him and wanting Helen to drink to his
When he goes on his inevitable rampage, it's more focused. Having identified the real killer,
Radcliffe targets him directly with his deadly pranks and revenge. In its file on the original
Invisible Man, Scotland Yard must have found some clues for dealing with him, because they
have become quite clever when tracking him. This results in some interesting special effects
when a not-quite-invisible Radcliffe can be seen in smoke and rain.
The Invisible Man Returns has something big going for it: Vincent Price. This was only his
fifth movie and, unless you count his voice performance in a later movie, his only Universal
Monsters horror film. Of course, we don't really see him until the end, but I sometimes forgot it
was he who was playing the title role. Early in his career, his voice was deeper and not as
familiar as it became in his later run of features.
There's a glimpse of the icon Price will become at the very end of The Invisible Man Returns.
Turning visible as the antidote is cleverly and inadvertently discovered, he awakens with a look
of despair on his face, then relaxes into a smile when he sees his arm… I mean, actually sees it.
With a sparkle in his eye, the young actor is already terrific. And he gives the movie something
else missing from the original: a happy ending.