Saturday, September 9, 2017

Karloff & Lugosi Seek "The Invisible Ray"

Boris Karloff & Frances Drake
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made eight films together, several of which are considered essential viewing by classic horror fans. The third of these collaborations, The Invisible Ray (1936), is more of a science-fiction tale than a horror thriller. As the story begins, Dr. Janos Rukh (Karloff) a brilliant but eccentric scientist has made an incredible discovery. He invites several colleagues to his lab in the Carpathian Mountains to view his findings, including Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi), and Sir Francis Stevens. Rukh has found a way to send a beam of light to the Andromeda Galaxy, which reflects images of past events from space back to Earth. Rukh shows his guests evidence that a large meteorite fell somewhere on the African continent sometime in the distant past. He believes the meteor contains an undiscovered element that may have unique qualities. It just so happens that Benet and Stevens are mounting a research expedition to Africa, and they invite Rukh to join them.

Rukh’s mother, who was blinded while assisting her son in an earlier experiment, warns him not to go. She essentially gets to utter a version of the well-worn “there are some things man was not meant to know” line. Rukh decides to join the expedition, despite her warning. Also going along on the journey are Rukh’s wife, Diana, Sir Francis’ spouse, Lady Arabella, and her nephew, Ronald Drake. Rukh breaks off from the main group, and ends up locating the meteor’s crash site and discovering “Element X.” But there’s a catch; Rukh becomes infected by the substance, and learns his touch can kill. He also glows in the dark! Diana comes to visit him, but he won’t see her, and she returns to the main camp. Rukh later goes to Dr. Benet in secret, reveals his condition and appeals to him for help. Benet concocts a cure, but warns Rukh that it will only temporarily forestall his symptoms, and the continual use of it (along with Element X's stress on his system) may affect his brain.

Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff
Initially, the cure is a success, and Rukh decides to continue his work with Element X, believing it will give him great power. But Dr. Benet and Sir Francis decide it’s too important a find to keep secret, and reveal Rukh’s discovery to the world. He’s angered by this, and accuses Benet of stealing his work. Meanwhile, the lonely Diana has fallen for Ronald Drake, and decides to leave Rukh for the dashing young explorer. The young lovers plan to marry. Benet begins using the power of Element X to treat patients and cure their illnesses, even restoring the sight of a young blind girl. The film moves into its final third, and Rukh (who’s starting to go insane due to over-using the cure, combined with the ongoing impact of Element X on his mind and body) fakes his own death, and starts targeting his enemies. He uses his fatal touch to eliminate those he feels have done him wrong, starting with Sir Francis. Will Dr. Benet realize what’s going on, and stop him in time? Or will it take an intervention from someone else to halt Rukh’s series of revenge-fueled murders? 

The film offers Bela Lugosi the chance to play the hero and foil to Karloff’s more than slightly mad Dr. Rukh. This isn’t the vengeful, justice-seeking Dr. Verdegast that Lugosi played in The Black Cat or the egotistical Dr. Vollin he portrayed in The Raven. Dr. Benet is a conscientious man who just wants to do the right thing: to use Element X for mankind’s benefit. Karloff’s character is the villain here, and he’s very convincing in the role. Rukh sees his discovery as a way to achieve more power for himself. His greed, pride and thirst for vengeance are his undoing. The two actors play off each other nicely in their scenes together in the film. The supporting cast is effective as well; Frances Drake (Mad Love) is good as Diana; Frank Lawton (The Devil-Doll) is appropriately dashing as Ronald Drake. Walter Kingsford is solid as Sir Francis and Beulah Bondi makes the most of her scenes as Lady Arabella. Violet Kemble Cooper, a British stage actress, plays Karloff’s mother, though she was only a year older than he was in real life! And look fast for Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn in 1933’s King Kong) as an ill-fated scientist killed by Dr. Rukh.

Lambert Hillyer, who was primarily known for his work on Westerns, directed the film. He also helmed another classic Universal chiller, Dracula’s Daughter, the same year he made this movie.  While it doesn’t quite reach the expressionistic heights of The Black Cat or The Raven, or the outright terror of The Body Snatcher, the film is atmospheric, and has some eerie moments, thanks to the cinematography by George Robinson and the impressive work by John P. Fulton, the special effects master behind The Invisible Man. The evocative score is by Franz Waxman, who also worked on The Bride of Frankenstein. You may notice that some of the sets, props and sound effects seem familiar: they were later used in Universal’s Flash Gordon serials. The Invisible Ray is an enjoyable tale of science (and the quest for knowledge) gone wrong. If you’re a fan of Karloff and Lugosi, or the classic Universal films, it’s worth seeing. It might not be the best of the duo's work together, but it's an entertaining tale with good performances from two of our favorite horror icons. The Invisible Ray is available on DVD as part of The Bela Lugosi Collection, and as a standalone disc. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_gsfQS7oxY.

This post is part of "The Movie Scientist Blogathon" hosted by my fellow bloggers Christina Wehner and Ruth at Silver Screenings. I'd like to thank them for having me as part of this celebration of "The Good, The Mad and The Lonely!" You can view the posts and get more info here: https://silverscreenings.org/2017/09/06/moviescientist-blogathon-starts-friday-2/.

12 comments:

  1. First, I love that this film has something called "Element X".

    As I was reading your review, I realized I've seen only a couple of the films Lugosi and Karloff made together, and this isn't one of them. Good grief! How on earth did this escape my notice? It's not often you see Lugosi as the "good guy", so this is one to see.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon! :)

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  2. I really like the idea of Lugosi playing the good guy to Karloff's mad scientist! I've only seen them together once, though they did not interact together as much in The Raven. Definitely going to have to see it!

    That is so curious how Hollywood often casts women to play the mothers of men who are scarcely younger than they are! I wonder if they did the same thing casting fathers.

    So very glad you could join the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks, Christina! I'm happy to be part of the Blogathon! You should definitely check out the movie!

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  3. It is indeed a very well done and entertaining movie, as is your review. The combination of Karloff and Lugosi is played up in unexpected ways for horror fans, and no one will be disappointed.

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    1. Thanks, as always, for reading, and for the kind words!

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  4. I've not heard of this film with Lugosi and Karloff, and now I want to see it. I enjoyed your post about it. :)

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    1. Thanks, jenni! I hope you enjoy the film, too!

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  5. oooh great another Karloff/Lugosi movie I haven't seen...

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  6. Karloff and Lugosi! Not as good as Black Cat and/or The Raven, but great fun nevertheless. Nice review! :)

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    1. Thanks. Eric! The film is a lot of fun, for sure! You can't go wrong when Karloff & Lugosi get to share some scenes together! :)

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