Universal Monsters’ special effects classic The Invisible Man famously starred Claude Rains, but another horror icon almost played the part. Bela Lugosi started Universal’s first Monster cycle as Dracula in 1931. Meanwhile, Boris Karloff (with makeup artist Jack Pierce) introduced Frankenstein’s Monster in 1931 and The Mummy in 1932.
In 1933, another pillar of the classic Universal Monsters was introduced with The Invisible Man. The film follows Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains), a scientist who goes crazy after an experiment leaves him invisible. He hides out in the English village of Iping, continuing his research. But after a violent clash with the locals and the invisibility drug messing with his mind, he decides the world deserves to be set straight by his own ghostly hands.
The film, directed by Frankenstein helmer James Whale, is well known for its cutting-edge effects. Rains famously unravels his bandage disguise, revealing his invisibility to shocked gawkers at key moments.
Rains gleefully plays Griffin’s madness with the zeal of a classic stage actor, shouting, cackling, and singing his way through the film. However, a much more subdued actor was nearly cast in the role.
How Another Universal Monster Icon Nearly Played ‘The Invisible Man’
Universal Studios had huge horror hits in 1931 with Frankenstein and Dracula. It only made sense that studio heads would want to adapt another classic horror novel to keep the box office flowing. They set their sights on H.G. Welles’ 1897 novel, The Invisible Man.
While the studio took great liberties with the work of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker with Frankenstein and Dracula, The Invisible Man follows its source material a bit more closely. James Whale, riding the success of Frankenstein, was hired to helm and develop the project. It only seemed natural that Boris Karloff, now the studio’s reigning horror king after playing Frankenstein’s Monster and Imotep in The Mummy would take on the role of Dr. Jack Griffin.
However, James Whale ended up pushing back against the studio’s first choice of Karloff. Despite having no problem working with Boris (Whale and Karloff would reteam for 1932’s The Old Dark House and 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein), he felt the role of Dr. Jack Griffin called for an altogether different actor.
Whale believed that Griffin needed an intellectual, sophisticated voice to carry the film. When The Invisible Man was coming together, Karloff played more silent or exotic characters that rarely showcased his own English accent. Claude Rains, with his theater background and English brogue, seemed like a better fit for Whale. Reportedly, Rains had never even seen a film before being cast in The Invisible Man.
It’s tough to imagine anyone other than Rains starring in The Invisible Man. His manic energy seems more in line with Dracula‘s Renfield, Dwight Frye. Still, every monster kid can’t help but wonder what Karloff would have done with the role.
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