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Intentional farce

If you think about it, there’s no reason Kitty Carroll couldn’t have been just as frightening a character as H. G. Wells’ original Griffin, or the version of Griffin played by Claude Rains in the first film of Universal’s Invisible series. But that wasn’t the movie Universal wanted to make in 1940, and it’s arguable whether they could have if they had wanted to:

If in earlier incarnations invisible means inconsequential, impermanent, inassimilable or uncanny, the invisible woman can never really be described as embodying any of the qualities. Part of the fear of Wells’ invisible man rests in the anxiety that he could be watching you and you would not know; he could sneak up out of the shadows and you would be taken by surprise — the fear, in other words, that you are being surveilled. At the most basic level, the transfer to film changes this relationship, for in looking at the screen, the viewer surveilling the Invisible Man, rather than the other way around. Indeed, in each of the films in the series, through a variety of visual and auditory cues, the viewer is in fact allowed to literally see where the invisible figure is at nearly any given moment. The Invisible Woman, in constantly reminding viewers of Kitty’s appearance, heightens this collapse of the visible and the invisible.

Kitty’s invisibility perpetually exists not only in relation to but for a viewer, and insofar as we are constantly encouraged to project an image of [Virginia] Bruce onto the special effects that suggest an invisible presence, the invisible woman is very deliberately constructed as subject of the spectator’s gaze.

The scenes at Richard’s hunting lodge, during which Kitty is mostly unclothed, make this perfectly obvious; due to Production Code rules, neither Richard nor the Professor could not tell you that she was naked at the time, but they went to an awful lot of trouble to make sure you knew it. I have to wonder how they would have made this film in 1933, the year James Whale directed The Invisible Man, the first use of John Fulton’s special effects, a year in which the Code was officially in effect but only sporadically enforced.

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