Review of “The Invisible Woman” (1940)

trailer from YouTube

The movie for this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night was extremely silly. The pizza was yummy.


Wealthy playboy Richard Russell (John Howard) is bothered by little—until his lawyer tells him he is broke. He regretfully has to turn down a request for $3000 from an eccentric scientist friend, Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) he’s been underwriting for at least a decade. This, in turn, sends Gibbs to the classified ads department at the Daily Record, the local newspaper. He asks to change his ad, which reads:

Wanted—A human being willing to become invisible. $3000. remuneration

He crosses out “$3000,” writes “NO,” and hands the paperwork back to the clerk.

Later, Russel stops by Gibbs’ place to shamefacedly explain why he can no longer underwrite his experiments. He’s going fishing with George, his butler (Charles Ruggles). Gibbs pulls him inside. This time, things will work!

He and Russell read the responses to the ad with chagrin. Gibbs can’t understand why people view him as a crackpot. One letter is from a man offering money to make his wife disappear! He’s delighted to receive a serious response from one “K. Carroll,” and instructs his housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton—recognizable without flammable broomstick or green skin), to let him know when she arrives.

K. Carroll is, in fact, Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a model who has her own reasons to become invisible. She explains this to her patient landlady, Mrs. Patten (an uncredited Kitty O’Neil), who gently reminds her she’s behind on the rent before telling her not to be late for work.

She arrives two minutes late, and her boss, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane), docks her an hour. He also threatens to fire another model, who “has a cold in her head.” Kitty then resolves to do with her invisibility. “I’d kick him right in the pants,” she mutters.

However, Kitty isn’t the only one who wants to become invisible. Gangster Blackie Cole (Oskar Homolka), currently in hiding in Mexico, is getting homesick. The only way he’ll ever make it back home is if the law can’t see him. He sends his gang to steal the professor’s machine, not realizing that he needs an injection to make it work correctly. One member of his gang, Frankie, is played by Shemp Howard of Three Stooges fame. Blackie might have to wait a while for that machine.


This is the third in Universal’s Invisible Man series (TheInvisible Man (1933) and The Invisible Man Returns (1940)) and a departure from the earlier horror films. It is a screwball comedy/lighthearted romance and not to be taken seriously.

In the opening scene, George, Richard Russell’s long-suffering butler, who hands in his resignation regularly, trips on an empty champagne bottle left on the staircase and tumbles down the stairs. That had to hurt.

Later, as Russell is writing his note denying the request for $3000 to the professor, George, who can’t stand the professor, leans over his shoulder. Russell objects.

Richard Russell: Stop breathing down my neck.
George: It’s the breath of pleasure, sir. And perhaps a touch of garlic.

Of course, Kitty is a model. It gives the audience a reason to see her removing her top and seeing her in her slip. At Professor Gibbs’ lab, she’s given explicit instructions on the necessity of disrobing. Mrs. Jackson acts as “chaperone.” Kitty is behind a translucent barrier, throwing her clothes out. Her outline is not visible. There is no nudity, only the verbal suggestion of it.

Later, at Russell’s cabin, when she complains about being cold while invisible and nude while her clothing is still drying, she wonders how “the nudists” do it. Russell calls her a nuisance, “a female nuisance.”

Yet, when the gangster goon, “Foghorn” (Daniel MacBride), steps into the machine, he doesn’t even remove his hat. Maybe it’s not as enticing to think of him throwing his clothes at people and running around in the buff, but a little consistency here, okay?

The special effects are nothing today but were state of the art. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1942 for Best Special Effects. The audience could watch as glasses of brandy filled themselves from a bottle and tipped themselves backward as if someone were drinking them. Footprints appeared where no one walked. A dress, with no one in it, paraded before an audience, sending patrons scattering. And bad guys—who really needed better security—were discomfited.

There are no belly-laughs in this movie, but it is cute, sexist attitudes aside. The best parts are in the dialogue one-liners. This is fun if the viewer accepts it for what it is: a silly romp from 1940.

Title: The Invisible Woman (1940)

Directed by
A. Edward Sutherland

Writing Credits

Curt Siodmak…(original story) (as Kurt Siodmak) &
Joe May…(original story)

Robert Lees…(screenplay) &
Frederic I. Rinaldo…(screenplay) (as Fred Rinaldo) &
Gertrude Purcell…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Virginia Bruce…Kitty Carroll
John Barrymore…Professor Gibbs
John Howard…Richard Russell
Charles Ruggles…George (as Charlie Ruggles)
Oskar Homolka…Blackie Cole (as Oscar Homolka)

Released: December 27, 1940
Length: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: