Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: Day 25 – Virginia Bruce and The Invisible Woman

Now, when I first looked over the names for TCM 2015 Summer Under the Stars lineup, I was impressed, but I had to admit, there were a few names that were a bit of a puzzlement. Virginia Bruce was one of those names. When I first saw the schedule, I thought, Virginia Who? In fact, I felt bad that I didn't know her.

Perusing the titles I felt worse. There were a handful of films on the schedule that I knew by name and only one that I could actually say I recognized, The Invisible Woman. So you're probably wondering why I'm writing this, simple The Invisible Woman is a great little movie. 

With the possible exception of Bride of Frankenstein which I think is every bit as good as the original Frankenstein, the sequels to the original Universal Monster movies rarely lived up to the first film. Sure, as they lost their edge, they were still fun to watch, but rarely would you call one of the sequels a good film. What makes The Invisible Woman different is that they abandoned the formula. Rather than making another horror movie with worse production values than the previous film, they wrapped a screwball comedy around the Invisible Man, err, Woman story, and it works brilliantly. 

Storywise, it's not phenomenal, but it is both fun and funny. One of my problems that I have with The Invisible Man films is they tend to have a mean edge, so it makes the title character unsympathetic. The Invisible Woman being a comedy plays it more mischievous and that works way better for me. The special effects in the The Invisible Woman like the rest of the series are very good, especially when the invisible person is only partially clothed.

The casting is superb. Let's start with Virginia Bruce. She's great, despite being invisible through much of the film. She definitely had a feel for comedy. I can see her holding her own with the likes of Cary Grant in a light romantic comedy. The film was considered somewhat risqué at the time, because Virginia Bruce is naked through much of the movie, well, invisible naked anyway. There's a great scene where she puts on her stockings, that takes advantage of this quite nicely. 

John Howard (best known for playing George Kittredge in The Philadelphia Story) is good as her happy-go-lucky playboy love interestFrom there, the rest of the cast is veritable who's who of old Hollywood character actors in parts both big and small. Co-starring with Virginia Bruce is John Barrymore in his third to last film. In a normal Universal Monster movie, the Barrymore role would be that of the mad scientist, but here it's played more like the quirky uncle, which works well in the film. 

Charles Ruggles plays Howard's butler and is brilliant. Barrymore's assistant is none other than Margaret Hamilton, and perennial miser, Charles Lane, is perfect as Bruce's a-hole of a boss. Finally, Oskar Homolka plays a gangster after Barrymore's invisibility machine and his trio of inept henchmen are also Hollywood veteran's:

  • Edward Brophy who tended to always play big-hearted dim-witted criminals
  • Donald MacBride who seemed to specialize in playing outraged hotel managers and clueless police captains
  • Along with Shemp Howard in his pre-Three Stooges days
How could a movie with a cast like this not be worth watching. In short, it couldn't be, even if it was bad. But The Invisible Woman is a great little movie, and everyone shines. 

And Virginia Bruce. Well, I'm still not real familiar with her or her work. Her bios on wikipedia and IMDB are both very short and spend as much time on her marriages and personal life as her career. Her career took a bit of a dip after the death of Irving Thalberg in 1936, and she went from making A pictures to B pictures.

The Invisible Woman is one of those B pictures. Maybe Virginia Bruce is not the brightest star in the sky of classic Hollywood, but she gave us one hell of a good movie in The Invisible Woman. And that's good enough for me.

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