The Invisible Ray (1936) was on TV last night, hosted by Svengoolie. It teams Boris Karloff with Bela Lugosi and is one of the lesser known films from Universal’s golden age of horror. There is a lot that could be said about this movie, but to me on of the most fascinating aspects of it is the mad-scientist character played by Boris Karloff.
Janos Rukh, though an insane, radiation-poisoned mad man at the end, is nevertheless a sympathetic character. He’s a brilliant scientist who leads an expedition to Africa and discovers a power previously unknown but suffers the consequences of that discovery by exposing himself to harmful radiation. But more than that he has a human failing. He believes the world underrates him. And when he makes his breakthrough he believes others are stealing his discovery, taking credit and profiting from it. None of which is really true.
Isn’t he like most of us? Don’t we feel we’re not really appreciated by our peers? Don’t the fools know the magnitude of our genius? They’ll learn. Mwhahahaha! Even though his friends have no bad intentions, Rukh’s paranoia forces them to turn against him. Even his loving wife (Frances Drake) turns away and is driven into another man’s arms.
Rukh sets about killing all the members of the expedition that led to his discovery. Only Rukh’s mother, whose blindness he cured with the invisible X-ray, stops him from killing his wife and her lover. When he realizes what has happened it is too late. The radiation starts to burn him up and he leaps through a window to a flaming death.
There are aspects of the screenplay worth study. Such as the use of the X-ray to see past events, as when Lugosi’s character, Dr. Benet, uses it to look into one of Rukh’s victims’ eyes and discovers Rukh’s face was the last thing he saw. And a poetic touch comes with Rukh’s vision of the statues at The Church of the Six Saints in Paris as the six members of the expedition.
It’s an unusual story and like they say, they just don’t make them like they used to.