Pros: Some funny moments; John Barrymore's whacky scientist role; decent special effects
Cons: Varying degrees of success in terms of both the story and gags
The third film in Universal's Invisible Man series, A. Edward Sutherland's 1940 effort The Invisible Woman abandons the generally serious tone of the first two films and instead heads down the comedic route. A crackpot professor, using money provided by a rich playboy, has developed a machine to make people invisible and, after putting an ad in the paper looking for test subjects, gets a response from a young woman. Problems arise when the woman, a disgruntled model, has her own motives for wanting to become invisible, and she's not alone: a mob boss also is interested in the device, sending his goons to acquire both the machine and its inventor. Sutherland's film, from a script by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo and Gertrude Purcell takes an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach, throwing in all kinds of varying plotlines, all mixed up with slapstick humor and some genuinely amusing dialog.
The cast in the film is a lot of fun to watch, with John Barrymore especially notable as the whacky scientist. His dialog alone had me laughing on numerous occasions. Not quite as effective in getting the laughs is Charles Ruggles as the playboy's butler; a blend of slapstick, visual gags, physical humor and generally lame dialogue don't really work for him. Virginia Bruce stars as the titular character, running around nude and invisible for much of the film (although this is a film from 1940, so while it’s a little risque, there's not much in the skin department), and John Howard is the playboy who takes a liking to her.
The disparate plotlines essentially converge on (surprise!) a love story between Bruce and Howard and while this is an obvious course for the film to take, the unfortunate part is that the majority of the better and more fun gags and dialogue have already been played out by the time the two lovebirds realize their affections for one another. From here on out, the focus switches to the bumbling criminals and their attempts to steal the invisibility machine. After about the halfway point, The Invisible Woman just doesn't have any worthwhile gags left in the tank, and winds up limping towards the finish.
Special effects in the film were nominated for a special Academy Award, and do contain some nifty illusions: objects moving around by themselves, and clothes worn by invisible wearers. Not so impressive are shots where Bruce vanishes on camera, with the outline of her head and appendages still visible onscreen after she's supposedly disappeared, but overall, I'd say the elements of invisibility are carried out pretty well. Unfortunately, these ideas aren’t the focus of this film by a long shot. Really, Sutherland’s work is a straight up comedy more than anything, and while it has its moments, it runs out of steam long before the finish line and winds up being strictly mediocre, more for fans of old-time comedies than those looking for a sci-fi or suspense film.