What a fun film this is. Best way to describe it is probably to call it a sci-fi screwball comedy – not at all what I expected. It’s fast paced and a great cast led by Virginia Bruce as Kitty, an unhappy model at a dress company. She sees an ad and promptly answers it.
The ad has been placed by eccentric (that’s a given) inventor, Prof. Gibbs, played in great style by John Barrymore.
Gibbs has found a way to make people invisible and hopes he can repay his friend Richard (John Howard) who has been financing his research. Richard is a rich playboy whose mansion is run for him by his butler and general factotum, George (Charlie Ruggles).
Professor Gibbs’s assistant and housekeeper is played by Margaret Hamilton (who is only in a few scenes unfortunately).
Charlie Ruggles has some of the funniest scenes in the film, as George the butler who is always resigning, or doing pratfalls, or fainting.
The main reason Kitty answers Prof. Gibbs’ ad is because she hates her boss, the hard hearted Mr Growley (Charles Lane) who is mean to all his employees, firing them for the slightest infraction like having a cold or coming in late.
As soon as she is invisible, she immediately leaves the Gibbs laboratory and heads straight for the dress company. She reaks havoc and frightens Growley so much, he becomes a changed man.
Some great scenes for Charles Lane. It’s so funny to see Lane become kind and thoughtful, telling the models they’ll stop for tea every afternoon and suggesting the girl who has a cold should stay at home till she is well.
He’s never quite sure if the invisible body is still there and asks if he is doing ok. Nobody replies.
I thought John Barrymore was excellent and made the most of his dotty character.
A not so sharp trio of crooks want to steal the Gibbs invisibility machine and take it to their boss, Blackie (Oscar Homolka) who’s holed up in Mexico and longing to get back home. Blackie figures being invisible is the best way to escape the cops.
Great to see Donald MacBride and Ed Brophy but Shemp Howard had little to do. MacBride is nicknamed ‘Foghorn’ and when Blackie insists Foghorn be the first to try the machine, he comes out of it with his voice now falsetto!
Richard finally gets to see what Kitty looks like after joking with her,
“Any girl that’d become invisible cant be very easy on the eye.”
Prior to this, Kitty, in order to remain invisible , has to take all her clothes off. She comments, “Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it.”
At one point Prof.Gibbs says to Kitty, “You’re materialising. Get your clothes on!”
Apparently Margaret Sullavan owed Universal a picture but refused to do this one. (She eventually agreed to do BACK STREET in 1941.)
The film got an Oscar nod for special effects but I didn’t find them as good as in The Invisible Man.
I didn’t spot Maria Montez as one of the shop models.
I don’t care if the New York Times in 1940 said the script was “as as creaky as a two wheeled cart, only saved by John Barrymore taking a ride in it.”
The Invisible Woman will hardly be confused with the other Invisible Man films. It’s more akin to TOPPER, with a super cast led by Bruce, Barrymore and Ruggles. I’m so glad I caught up with it.
And why wasn’t Virginia Bruce a bigger star.
A fun film for sure! What really made it for me was all those great character actors you mentioned. ‘The Invisible Woman’ usually gets lumped in with all the ‘Universal Horrors’ of the era, but stands alone as a (minor but) classic screwball comedy!
Definitely deserves more attention. Enjoyed your review.
Thanks, and right back at ya!
It’s considered part of the Invisible series but really has only the most tenuous connection to the others. I haven’ watched it in years but I do recall it being light and fun, and I think your piece here captures that quality very well.
Thanks, Colin. Next up is The Invisible Man Returns.
I have Invisible Agent with Jon Hall and beautiful Ilona Massey, set in Nazi Germany It’s quite enjoyable but with some irritating comedy relief.
I know what you mean about some comedy relief.
Will watch Invisible Agent soon. Glad you liked it.