Friday, 2 December 2016


d. A. Edward Sutherland (1940)

The Invisible Woman has very little to do with H.G Wells, instead being a frivolous screwball comedy full of broad performances and lots of knockabout humour.

John Barrymore is the head scientist, a twinkly eccentric who has discovered the secret of invisibility. When he advertises for a human ‘victim’, he gets Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a headstrong young woman looking to heed ‘the call to adventure’. The experiment requires the subject to be naked, a detail that attracts much prurient interest and a great number of jokes, even though the most you see is a pair of bare legs. The story is padded out with a bit of romance and a subplot about a gangster who wants to steal the process but, for the most part, it’s mainly about glasses of brandy and lampshades and cats whizzing about with no visible means of support whilst supporting characters look on aghast. If you like that sort of thing (I do), it’s a lot of harmless, undemanding fun.

Barrymore is in his late fifties here, but looks in his seventies. He gives a good but pantomimic performance, but then the production isn't notable for its subtlety.  In a change from the usual self-parodying roles of this era, the script only makes a couple of references to his real life reputation as a drunken ne’er do well and womaniser, and even lets him declaim a few Shakespearean lines. Bearing in mind that he has only a year and a half to live he seems in pretty good form, but then, for all his troubles, he was always a good actor.

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