The residents of the Radcliffe Mansion have a cloud hanging over them. In the kitchen, the staff fret over the situation, which is that the head of the house, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) has been convicted of murdering his brother and as they speak is waiting in the prison cells for his execution by hanging. Upstairs, Geoffrey's fiancée Helen Manson (Nan Grey) confides in his business partner Richard Cobb (Cedric Hardwicke) that she cannot see a way out of this, not knowing of the plan of Geoffrey's chief scientist at the colliery he owns - when he visits the condemned man, an incredible escape appears to occur...
The credits proudly proclaim this as a sequel to the H.G. Wells story, but it's more of a sequel to the James Whale chiller from the previous decade, sharing many of its concerns but alas not building on them, preferring to repeat them as if they were a tried and tested formula. Among the writers on the film was Curt Siodmak, here beginning his reputation as the Hollywood screenwriter to go to in the forties for atmospheric horror tales, but he stuck closer to a thriller format in The Invisible Man Returns, which just happened to include John P. Fulton's always-welcome special effects.
Yes, the reason Geoffrey has escaped is because he has been injected with a serum that has made him invisible, exactly as the late brother of the scientist, Dr Frank Griffin (John Sutton), had done to himself. Frank thinks he can perfect the serum so as to make an antidote, but his troubles arise in a scene that's both amusing - because there are invisible guinea pigs which you can only see due to the harness they wear - and sad because when Griffin tries out his new antidote... well, I don't know how to break it to you but the little furry animal dies!
So it's not looking good for Geoffrey whether he can clear his name or not, but Price dons the traditional bandages and goggles and with this unmistakable voice, here a little deeper than you might be used to, he makes a pretty good title character. Without doubt when the megalomania that accompanies the state sets in, the star is in his element, but as usual with such films it's the effects that really steal the show. There is a mystery set up as to who the real killer is, but as there really could be only one character who the culprit could be it's not much of a conundrum.
Geoffrey is on a one man mission to find out who has set him up nevertheless, and in the course of his investigations he finds he has to seek a place to hide out as well. Helen (lovely Nan Grey had appeared with Price the year before in Tower of London) is called upon to support him, but oh how she suffers, never cracking a smile apart from one unintentionally funny moment where the crazed-with-power Geoffrey orders her and Griffin to at the dinner table as he toasts his own world-dominating potential. As you see, this Invisible Man is very much in the shadow of the last one, and as far as that goes it's amusing enough, but a few moments aside lacks a spark of inspiration that might set it apart. It's as if Universal held the rights, and that was the sole reason the film was made without any great innovation behind it. Music by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner.
Born in Joseph Otto Mandel in Vienna, May was one of the founding figures of German cinema. May began directing in 1911 after working in operetta and set up his own production house, helping to establish Fritz Lang as a scriptwriter. May was a prolific director at the famous UFA studios, making films such as Asphalt and Homecoming, although he was more interested in crowd-pleasing pictures than the more groundbreaking work of Lang or F.W. Murnau.
Like Lang, May headed to Hollywood when Hitler began his rise to power. In 1937 he made the moody thriller Confession, starring Basil Rathbone, but subsequently found himself stuck making B-movies for Universal. The most notable were The Invisible Man Returns, House of the Seven Gables and the comedy Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore, starring a young Robert Mitchum. May retired from filmmaking in 1950 and died four years later in Los Angeles.