Review of “The Invisible Man Returns” (1940)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. The leading man spent most of his time invisible and in the buff. We tried a new wine last night, something called Lirac. It was nice, but definitely a one-glass wine. We watched it with Svengoolie.


The friends, family, and staff of Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), a coal mine owner, await news of a last-minute reprieve, hoping he will be spared execution. They believe he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his brother, Michael. Geoffrey’s cousin, Richard Cobb (Cedric Hardwicke), tries to call in a favor from the Home Secretary.

While he’s calling, Geoffrey’s good friend whispers to Geoffrey’s fiancée, Helen Manson (Nan Grey), “If it’s a ‘no, be brave. You know what has to be done.” As it turns out, the person Richard is trying to talk to is away in Scotland (where apparently there are no phones) and can’t be reached.

The governor has granted a last visit to Doctor Griffin. Soon after he leaves, the guards raise a cry. Sir Geoffrey is missing. All that’s left is a pile of his clothes on the floor. In the meantime, Helen Manson has gone missing.

Enter Sampson of Scotland Yard (Cecil Kellaway), who realizes that Frank Griffin’s brother was Jack Griffin, the invisible man, who went insane, killed several people and was in turn killed by the police. He visits Frank in his laboratory.

“But, of course, Doctor,” he tells Griffin, “you would never make a man invisible… with the danger of him going mad unless you had a means of bringing him back in time. Surely, in all those nine years, you’ve found a method of avoiding insanity…or perhaps even restoring visibility.”

He hasn’t. While Helen and Geoffrey are holed up at an out-of-the-way inn, he’s working feverishly on an antidote. One turns invisible guinea pigs visible again, but it also kills them—bummer for the guinea pigs. And bummer for Geoffrey!


On the one hand, this was disappointing. I knew almost immediately who the real killer was.

On the other, this was a glorious ham-fest. Everyone overacted, with the possible exceptions of the guinea pigs and the watchdog.

In the beginning, Geoffrey shows concern and affection for Helen. He was in love with her. When they meet, his face is wrapped in bandages. “I’m not much to look at anyway,” he tells her.

Later, understanding that he might go insane under the influence of the invisibility drug, he tells Frank to chain him up before he can do any harm.

Not only does he want to forego hanging—a reasonable enough desire—he also wants to find out who really killed his brother. A few oddball things start slipping out; he can’t bear the sound of the barking dog. The audience watches as he torments a man he believes has received a promotion at the mining operation he was unworthy of. Still, there was some silly (as opposed to sadistic) humor in this scene. He finally goes full-blown Pinky and the Brain rearrange-the-world bat-guano nuts.

To find out if the old night watchman at the mine, Willie Spears (Alan Napier), knows more than he should about his brother’s death, Geoffrey messes with his car—while it’s in motion. Dangerous to any living critter, of course. Spears gets out and inspects the distributor and spark plug assembly—all in places where no distributor or spark plugs ought to be. Nevertheless, whatever he attaches, Geoffrey unplugs. Spears runs into the woods, with Geoffrey after him, telling him he’s a ghost.

Geoffrey sneezes and helps himself to Spears’ handkerchief. He is, after all, running around in his birthday suit.

“Can a ghost sneeze?” the abused Spears asks.

“It’s cold in the other world,” Geoffrey tells him in a sepulchral voice.

The special effects would not wow a 2021 audience, but they were pretty cool for the time. One shot looked into blank eyes after Geoffrey took his sunglasses off. Another showed him leaning back in a chair on the phone—extra points for humor.

Aside from a really young Vincent Price, a couple of familiar faces showed up. In the first scene, when Sir Geoffrey’s fate seems sealed, the cook, “Cookie,” says the two Radcliffe brothers were close. This is Mary Gordon, moonlighting from her job and Sherlock Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Another familiar face is Alan Napier, who plays the part of the abused and confused Willie Spears. Not to worry, Willie. A more peaceful job it on the way as Bruce Wayne’s butler.

So, this was fun in the overacting department, occasionally cute, special effects departments. Alas! It wasn’t much of a murder mystery, however.

Title: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

Directed by
Joe May

Writing Credits
H.G. Wells…(characters)
Joe May…(story) and
Curt Siodmak…(story) (as Kurt Siodmak)
Lester Cole…(screenplay) &
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay) (as Kurt Siodmak)
Cedric Belfrage…(additional writer) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Cedric Hardwicke…Richard Cobb (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Vincent Price…Geoffrey Radcliffe
Nan Grey…Helen Manson
John Sutton…Doctor Frank Griffin
Cecil Kellaway…Sampson

Released: January 12, 1940

Length: 1 hour, 21 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."

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