Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lugosi takes a turn as hero in 'The Invisible Ray'

The Invisible Ray (1936)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Frances Drake
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Scientific genius Janos Rukh (Karloff) discovers an amazing new radioactive element, but accidentially becomes poisoned by it. His equally bright collegue Dr. Benet (Lugosi) devises a serum that surpresses the deadly effects, but the chemicals and radioactivity drive the already mentally unstable Rukh over the edge, and he soon starts using his new radioactive powers to kill everyone he feels as wronged him. Will the kindly Benet and the police stop manage to stop Rukh's murderous rampage in time to save Rukh's ex-wife (Drake)?

"The Invisible Ray" has all the makings of a cool little Science Gone Mad film (complete with Karloff delivering the "they called me mad" speech!), but it is sabotaged by pedestrian direction, some of the tinniest dialogue ever put on film, and a too slow build-up before the killings start. Throughout the film, I saw glimmers of what it COULD have been if someone had written decent dialogue for the actors to deliver, but as "The Invisible Ray" currently exists, it's not until the action move to Paris and Rukh goes on his mad rampage that the film becomes entertaining. (There's enough going on at that point that the bad dialogue is no longer such an irritant.)

I think the only reason to watch the movie is for seeing Lugosi play a role that's almost entirely unlike any other part he's played; everyone else appearing doesn't really deliver performances that are noteworthy for being good or bad... they're just in the movie. Lugosi, however, is not only the film's indisputable hero (even if Dr. Benet is just about Rukh's equal when it comes to Mad Science... but he uses the WonderTech and crazy discoveries for good!), but he gives a more-restrained-than-usual performance that lets us see why he was such a respected stage actor. It's another one of those those pictures that makes it easy to understand why Boris Karloff described Lugosi as "Poor Bela" in interviews following Lugosi's death. It's another Lugosi film that gives a glimpse at what moviedom lost because Universal management treated him like a throw-away bit player and because Lugosi managed his overall film career badly.

(Oh... I don't usually do much trivia in this forum, but there is an amusing bit of stock footage in the film. The scene where Janos lowers himself into the meteor crater in protective gear was taken from the matinee serial "The Phantom Creeps". It is actually Bela Lugosi wearing the suit.


  1. You're right, though I would go further to say that The Gorilla is a genuine dog. The Ritz Brothers were funny -- mostly in vaudeville where we can't see them. Once I saw Harry Ritz do a routine on a comedy special in the 70s -- no words, just movements and zany facial expressions -- that had me laughing so hard I cried. But the only funny thing about this movie is one of the lines Bela has. Script was bad, the Ritz' were mishandled, and this one is a genuine stinker -- I think "Scared to Death" is a better movie than this! -Uncle Dave Lewis-

  2. Yeah, the Ritz Bros. were relatively big stars in their days, but by all accounts "The Gorilla" was not a good vehicle to showcase their strengths.

    And I agree with you about "Scared to Death." That's a fascinating picture, both despite and because of its flaws.