The Invisible Man is an American 1933 Pre-Code science fiction horror film directed by James Whale. It was based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897.
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project I, March 1934, signed gouache, 330×250 mm
Original maquette designed by Philippe Lavallée for the French release of James Whale, 2 March 1934 of the American movie.
“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft,” reckoned HG Wells and in this, as in so many things, he knew whereof he spoke. The father of modern-day science fiction did not live long enough to see men walk on the moon, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and “ecology gone berserk”. But in later years he was party to Hollywood’s burgeoning love affair with his work and by and large seems to have regarded this romance with a stern disapproval.
The Island of Lost Souls was judged to be beyond the pale in that it allowed the horror to obscure the serious points of its source material. He could not countenance James Whale’s adaptation of The Invisible Man, because it turned his title character into “a lunatic”.
If we count George Méliès’s evergreen A Trip to the Moon (1902) as the first Wells-inspired film, then one might argue that the history of the HG Wells cinema adaptation is almost as old as the history of cinema itself. It is also just as chequered… Today, let us look on the bright side. Here, in order of chronology, are my five favourite Wells adaptations.
The Island of Lost Souls (1933) The film that Wells himself was so quick to dismiss remains one of the era’s great horror pictures, rustling up a wild and disturbing menagerie (including Bela Lugosi as the “Sayer of the Law” and Charles Laughton as the demented Moreau). Contemporary viewers were apparently so shocked that they vomited in their seats, while the British censors argued that the film was “against nature” and banned it until 1958. “Of course it’s against nature,” shrugged Laughton’s wife, Elsa Lanchester. “So’s Mickey Mouse.”
The Invisible Man (1933) Yes, I know that he disliked this one too. But where’s the problem? The Invisible Man boasts a brilliantly chill and confident performance from (an almost entirely unseen) Claude Rains and a gloriously over-the-top supporting turn from Una O’Connor as his inquisitive landlady. Moreover, its tart, acid tone largely honours the spirit of the novel.
Kipps (1941), Dead of Night (1945), The Time Machine (1960) …
(Xan Brooks, HG Wells: What’s your favourite film adaptation?, The Guardian. Access to the online article:
“The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot …
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project II, March 1934, signed gouache
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project III, March 1934, signed gouache
“What I want to say at present is this: I need help. I have come to that—I came upon you suddenly. I was wandering, mad with rage, naked, impotent. I could have murdered. And I saw you—”
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project IV, March 1934, signed gouache
“What are you going for?” said the Voice, and there was a quick movement of the two, and a flash of sunlight from the open lip of Adye’s pocket.
Adye desisted and thought. “Where I go,” he said slowly, “is my own business.” The words were still on his lips, when an arm came round his neck, his back felt a knee, and he was sprawling backward. He drew clumsily and fired absurdly, and in another moment he was struck in the mouth and the revolver wrested from his grip. He made a vain clutch at a slippery limb, tried to struggle up and fell back. “Damn!” said Adye. The Voice laughed. “I’d kill you now if it wasn’t the waste of a bullet,” it said. He saw the revolver in mid-air, six feet off, covering him.
“Attention,” said the Voice, and then fiercely, “Don’t try any games. Remember I can see your face if you can’t see mine. You’ve got to go back to the house.”
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project V, March 1934, signed gouache
“The revolver vanished, flashed again into sight, vanished again, and became evident on a closer scrutiny as a little dark object following Adye. Then things happened very quickly. Adye leapt backwards, swung around, clutched at this little object, missed it, threw up his hands and fell forward on his face, leaving a little puff of blue in the air. Kemp did not hear the sound of the shot. Adye writhed, raised himself on one arm, fell forward, and lay still…”
Philippe Lavallée, Invisible Man Poster Project VI, March 1934, signed gouache