The Invisible Man (1933) was a science fiction/horror film based on H. G. Wells' science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897. From the beginning there were problems with the script. Universal had made several unsuccessful attempts to come up with a workable treatment. After several writers had failed to produce a suitable adaptation the studio hired R. C. Sherriff. When he asked the staff at Universal for a copy of the H.G. Wells novel, no one at the studio had a copy, in fact all they had was 14 "treatments" submitted by the previous writers, including one set in Czarist Russia and another one set on Mars. Sherriff purchased a copy of the novel at a used bookstore. After reading the novel he was convinced that it would make an excellent picture as it stood, and wrote a script that (unlike the Universal versions of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) was a much closer adaptation of the original novel.
James Whale who had directed the horror hits Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932) was hired to direct the film. Boris Karloff, Universal’s premier horror star, was the studio’s first choice for the role of the Invisible Man. But Karloff turned down the role because he would not be seen until the very end of the film.
Claude Rains, was chosen for the role of Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man). Whale wanted someone with more of an "intellectual" voice. Claude Rains, who had primarily been a stage actor, was chosen by Whale after the director overheard Rains' screen test being played in another room. Whale was impressed that Rains spoke with such clarity and could be easily understood. This would be crucial since his character would be 'invisible' or his face would be covered throughout most the film. The Invisible Man (1933) would be Rains’ first American screen appearance, he had appeared in one other film a British silent movie Build Thy House (1920) The Invisible Man (1931) would also be was his first sound film. Rains would later gain fame for appearing in such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca (1942), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Gloria Stuart who had appeared in Whale’s earlier Horror/comedy The Old Dark House (1932) played the role of Flora Cranley, the Invisible Man’s love interest. Stuart has the distinction for being the oldest person to be nominated for a competitive Oscar, for her role Rose Dawson Calvert in Titanic (1997) at the age of 87.
The cast also included John Carradine, who would later play Dracula for Universal Studios in two films, as a police informer (uncredited), Dwight Frye who had previously appeared in Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), as a newspaper reporter (uncredited), and Una O’Connor in one of her most memorable roles as the innkeeper’s wife, Jenny Hall. She would later appear in a similar role in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Problems in developing a suitable script had held up the project for some time. In June 1932 the film was called off temporarily. Production finally began in June 1933 at Universal studios in Los Angeles. The production was interrupted when a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, damaged an exterior set. Filming was finally completed in August 1933.
The film is noted for a spectacular special effects which were astonishing in 1933. The invisibility shots were accomplished by using props that were controlled by wires while filming Rains or a stunt double who were completely dressed in black manipulating objects against a solid black velvet background. A stunt double was often used due to the grueling nature of the special-effects costume which required breathing through a rubber tube. All shots of Griffin bandaged were actually Claude Rains himself, his real face is only visible for about 20 seconds in the very last scene of the film.
The Invisible Man (1933) was released on November 13, 1933 and was well received by audiences and film critics alike. The New York Times named The Invisible Man (1933) one of the best films of 1933. H.G. Wells the author of the novel on which the film is based did have some misgivings about the film, he stated that while he liked the film he had one grave fault with it. It had taken his brilliant scientist and changed him into a lunatic, a liberty he could not condone. James Whale justified the script by saying that the film was targeted for a "rationally minded motion picture audience," because "in the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible anyway.” Despite his reservations about the plot of the film Wells did applaud Una O'Connor’s performance as the shrieking barmaid Mrs. Jenny Hall.
The Invisible Man (1933) kicked off a series of invisibility themed sequels that bore little or no resemblance to the original. None of which would have the impact or the acceptance of the previous film. The Invisible Man (1933) remains a classic and remembered as one of Universal’s better films produced during the studio’s Golden age of horror.