The brilliant actor Claude Rains did not mind playing villains and antagonists in many of his films. He does a fine performance as the menacing and smug Prince John in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938, the crooked Senator Paine in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in 1939, and the evil Nazi Alexander Sebastian in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” in 1946.
It must have been fun for him to play those parts. He once said “Here in the movies I can be as mean, as wicked as I want to – and all without hurting anybody.” Of course, most people remember him from “Casablanca,” the 1942 film where he plays a slightly softer version of his villainous persona as Captain Louis Renault.
My first memory of Claude Rains is in 1933’s “The Invisible Man.” As Dr. Griffin, a scientist who discovers an invisibility formula, Rains delivers a gleefully mad performance. The drug he takes to disappear also makes him insane and prone to murderous rages. But he’s also fond of pulling pranks, such as knocking people’s hats off, pulling on their beard, and giving them a quick slap. He strikes terror among the populace, who run for their lives while the police probe relentlessly into the thin air.
Dr. Griffin remains invisible throughout the movie, which means we mostly only hear Rains’ incredible voice. The special effects, done well before the invention of the green screen, should remind everyone that movie technology and magnificent effects began long before the prevalence of computer graphics. When Dr. Griffen unwraps the surgical bandage from his face, we see the startling effect of him becoming invisible. This horror masterpiece remains scary throughout, mostly because of Rains’ incredible performance. Director James Whales’ atmospheric direction and the wonderful Universal Studio sets provide a dense and complete vision of an English village.