Eccentric Professor Gibbs, brilliant but impractical, invents an invisibility machine and advertises for a guinea pig. What he gets is Kitty Carroll, an attractive, adventurous model, who thinks being invisible would help her settle a few scores. Complications arise when three comic gangsters steal the machine to use on their boss. But they fail to reckon with the Revenge of the Invisible Woman! Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (Universal, 1940), directed by A. Edward Sutherland, is an original story by Curt (billed Kurt) Siodmak and Joe May that has nothing to do with either the H.G. Wells story "The Invisible Man" nor the original 1933 motion picture from which it was based. In fact, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN is a comedy, a screwball comedy in the 1930s tradition, with an dose of science fiction and character types thrown in. The title role belongs to the attractive blonde, Virginia Bruce, while much of the praise for comedy goes to that "ham actor" himself, John Barrymore, in one of his several character performances, sporting glasses, white hair, mustache and a comical expression on his face, co-starring as a nutty professor who invents things, with one machine in particular he's been working on for ten years.
As for the plot, the screenplay goes through the process of character introduction, the first being Richard Russell (John Howard), a millionaire playboy with a handful of débutante girlfriends and a large selection of their photographs residing in a mansion with George (Charles Ruggles), his loyal servant. Following another one of his all night parties, Dick learns from his family lawyer, John Hudson (Thurston Hall), that because of his extravagances he is now flat broke. Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore), the second introduced character, has his laboratory near the Russell mansion with Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton), his housekeeper of 12 years, as his assistant. Unable to acquire the $3,000 needed for his latest experiment, Gibbs places an ad in the Daily Record newspaper asking for a subject willing to become invisible. Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), the central character and the third to be introduced, is seen as a poor working girl in need of extra money. Working as a model for the Continental Dress Company at $16.50 a week, she and the other girls are at the mercy of the mean and demanding Mr. Growley (Charles Lane), whose greatest pleasure is bossing the girls and threatening to fire them whenever possible. Unhappy under those conditions, Kitty walks out after a customer tears her dress, hoping to some day carry out her threat by kicking Growley "right in the pants." She gets her chance after becoming a willing subject to Professor Gibbs by stepping into his machine that makes her invisible. With that done, it is up to Kitty to rescue Gibbs from the clutches of Foghorn (Donald MacBride) and his two stooges (Edward Brophy and Shemp Howard) wanting to use his machine to make their boss "Blackie" (Oscar Homolka) invisible so he could return to Russia unseen. Then the fun really begins.
In the tradition of creative special effects by John Fulton, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN comes off best with its quota of laughs during its first half with the invisible Kitty Carroll getting even with her employer (Lane) and scaring his snobbish clients responsible for nearly having her lose her job, while the second half revolving around the love-hate relationship between Kitty and Richard along with the comic henchmen stealing the invisible machine and kidnapping the professor where he is held hostage in Blackie Cole's hideout in Mexico, gets a little tiresome, though redeemed afterwards by some silly, though well-paced climax.
Aside from the amusing Charlie Ruggles making his scenes count, fainting on cue, with Margaret Hamilton unfortunately having little to do, there's Donald MacBride hilariously talking soprano (like "Jenny Lind") after walking through the invisible making machine that backfires on him. Others in the cast taking on lesser roles are Anne Nagel, Mary Gordon, Edward Conrad and Kathryn Adams. Look quickly for a young Maria Montez, not long before making her mark in a series of Technicolor South Seas adventure tales mostly opposite Jon Hall, as one of the models.
Unlike THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN spawned no sequels, nor is it relatively known in spite of it being part of "The Invisible Man" video and later DVD package over the years. Unseen (no pun intended) on cable television for quite some time, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN did have some revivals on the Sci-Fi Channel (late 1980s), American Movie Classics (1989-90) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: February 3, 2012). For anyone looking for a change of pace in regards to science fiction or comedy, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN is certainly one to consider. (**1/2)
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