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8/10
Another minor classic with Boris and Bela
jluis198427 June 2007
There is no doubt that during the decade of the 30s, the names of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi became a sure guarantee of excellent performances in high quality horror films. After being Universal's "first monster" in the seminal classic, "Dracula", Bela Lugosi became the quintessential horror villain thanks to his elegant style and his foreign accent (sadly, this last factor would also led him to be type-casted during the 40s). In the same way, Boris Karloff's performance in James Whale's "Frankenstein" transformed him into the man to look for when one wanted a good monster. Of course, it was only natural for these icons to end up sharing the screen, and the movie that united them was 1934's "The Black Cat". This formula would be repeated in several films through the decade, and director Lambert Hillyer's mix of horror and science fiction, "The Invisible Ray", is another of those minor classics they did in those years.

In "The Invisible Ray", Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) is a brilliant scientist who has invented a device able to show scenes of our planet's past captured in rays of light coming from the galaxy of Andromeda. While showing his invention to his colleagues, Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi) and Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford), they discover that thousands of years ago, a meteor hit in what is now Nigeria. After this marvelous discovery, Dr. Rukh decides to join his colleagues in an expedition to Africa, looking for the landing place of the mysterious meteor. This expedition won't be any beneficial for Rukh, as during the expedition his wife Diane (Frances Drake) will fall in love with Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton), an expert hunter brought by the Stevens to aid them in their expedition. However, Rukh will lose more than his wife in that trip, as he'll be forever changed after being exposed to the invisible ray of the meteor.

Written by John Colton (who previously did the script for "Werewolf of London"), "The Invisible Ray" had its roots on an original sci-fi story by Howard Higgin and Douglas Hodges. Given that this was a movie with Karloff and Lugosi, Colton puts a lot of emphasis on the horror side of his story, playing in a very effective way with the mad scientist archetype and adding a good dose of melodrama to spice things up. One element that makes "The Invisible Ray" to stand out among other horror films of that era, is the way that Colton plays with morality through the story. That is, there aren't exactly heroes and villains in the classic style, but people who make decisions and later face the consequences of those choices. In many ways, "The Invisible Ray" is a modern tragedy about obsessions, guilt and revenge.

A seasoned director of low-budget B-movies, filmmaker Lambert Hillyer got the chance to make 3 films for Universal Pictures when the legendary studio was facing serious financial troubles. Thanks to his experience working with limited resources, Hillyer's films were always very good looking despite the budgetary constrains, and "The Invisible Ray" was not an exception. While nowhere near the stylish Gothic atmosphere of previous Universal horror films, Hillyer's movie effectively captures the essence of Colton's script, as he gives this movie a dark and morbid mood more in tone with pulp novels than with straightforward sci-fi. Finally, a word must be said about Hillyer's use of special effects: for an extremely low-budget film, they look a lot better than the ones in several A-movies of the era.

As usual in a movie with Lugosi and Karloff, the performances by this legends are of an extraordinary quality. As the film's protagonist, Boris Karloff is simply perfect in his portrayal of a man so blinded by the devotion to his work that fails to see the evil he unleashes. As his colleague, Dr. Benet, Bela Luogis is simply a joy to watch, stealing every scene he is in and showing what an underrated actor he was. As Rukh's wife, Frances Drake is extremely effective, truly helping her character to become more than a damsel in distress. Still, two of the movie highlights are the performances of Kemble Cooper as Mother Rukh, and Beulah Bondi as Lady Arabella, as the two actresses make the most of their limited screen time, making unforgettable their supporting roles. Frank Lawton is also good in his role, but nothing surprising when compared to the rest of the cast.

If one judges this movie under today's standards, it's very easy to dismiss it as another cheap science fiction film with bad special effects and carelessly jumbled pseudoscience. However, that would be a mistake, as despite its low-budget, it is remarkably well done for its time. On the top of that, considering that the movie was made when the nuclear era was about to begin and radioactivity was still a relatively new concept, it's ideas about the dangers of radioactivity are frighteningly accurate. One final thing worthy to point out is the interesting way the script handles the relationships between characters, specially the friendship and rivalry that exists between the obsessive Dr. Rukh and the cold Dr. Benet, as this allows great scenes between the two iconic actors.

While nowhere near the Gothic expressionism of the "Frankenstein" movies, nor the elegant suspense of "The Black Cat", Lambert Hillyer's "The Invisible Ray" is definitely a minor classic amongst Universal Pictures' catalog of horror films. With one of the most interesting screenplays of 30s horror, this mixture of suspense, horror and science fiction is one severely underrated gem that even now delivers a good dose of entertainment courtesy of two of the most amazing actors the horror genre ever had: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. 8/10
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7/10
"If your men fail to capture him at the gate..."
the_mysteriousx9 April 2005
Karloff and Lugosi - Together again! This is one of those films that casual fans will pass over and tend not to appreciate as much. It's not an all-out horror film like the duo's previous two hits, The Black Cat and The Raven. But, it is very worthy of both's talents and is a fun film when re-visited.

The Invisible Ray was directed by Lambert Hillyer, a director who mainly made westerns, but curiously in these final days of the Laemmles' reign at Universal, he found himself helming this and the Laemmles' final horror film, Dracula's Daughter. Both are crisp, clean-cut fantasies that are very light on horror content despite the fantastic elements.

Just as Lugosi went wild in The Raven, much needs to be said of Karloff's hamming in The Invisible Ray. The one aspect of the story that is particularly unsatisfying is that Karloff's character, Rukh, acts so madly before he is poisoned by Radium X, that there really isn't much of a change once he starts glowing. This is very similar to the complaint people have about Jack Nicholson in The Shining - He's basically a loony right from the start. There isn't any real transformation. Same here. Halfway through Karloff simply has an added purpose for revenge in his mind. I still enjoyed his performance, though, just as I did Lugosi's over-the-top antics in The Raven.

Meanwhile, Lugosi completely surprises you and gives a restrained, and thoughtful turn as Rukh's rival in science, Dr. Benet. Lugosi also has some of the best lines in the film, including a memorable warning to the police trying to catch Rukh, of which I am in alignment with horror film writer John Soister on - "And if he (Rukh) touches anyone?" the inspector inquires. Lugosi hesitatingly replies, in a way that only Lugosi could deliver, "They die". Just as Lugosi could be so off, he could also be more perfect than any actor. This is one of those moments.

Therefore, Karloff and Lugosi's interactions are all very good as we get the mad antics of Karloff pared off against the cool logic of Lugosi. Karloff would go on to play similar mad scientists many times, however, one wishes Lugosi would have gotten to play more straight roles like this one. He only had one more chance (Ninotchka).

The Invisible Ray is a fun film, and a real treat to the true Karloff and Lugosi fans. It is one of those films that improves on each viewing, not because it is a masterpiece, but because of the charisma and talent of its' stars and how this story complements the darker, more horrific pairings they had. The special effects, by the always innovative John Fulton, are terrific and the supporting actors are all adequate. Frances Drake looks as beautiful as she did in Mad Love and plays a strong woman, something seldom seen in classic horror films. The scene in the end when Karloff stalks her and she doesn't scream is one of the most haunting moments of the film. A terrific, fun film!
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7/10
The Touch of Death
lugonian8 February 2002
THE INVISIBLE RAY (Universal, 1935, released January 1936), directed by Lambert Hillyer, is the third screen teaming of two horror greats, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, with KARLOFF (as he is billed in the casting credits with all capital letters), supporting a mustache and curly dark hair, this time dominating the storyline. Not quite as memorable or as successful as their previous efforts, THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935), both suggested on Edgar Allan Poe, in which the horror relies on their characters of good versus evil, THE INVISIBLE RAY, often classified as a horror film because of Karloff and Lugosi, is actually a science fiction story with three separate chapters. And of the three, only the African expedition described below in Part II, is the slowest as well as its longest.

PART I: Set in an isolated castle somewhere in the mountains as the thunderstorm rages, Doctor Janos Rukh (Karloff) is a middle-aged but brilliant scientist with a young wife, Diana (Frances Drake), and an elderly mother (Violet Kemble-Cooper), who is not only wise, but blind. Rukh prepares to reveal his latest discovery to a group of scholars: Doctor Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi), Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford), along with handsome young Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton) and Lady Arabelle Stevens (Beulah Bondi) as spectators. Rukh demonstrates his discovery of "the invisible ray" being a beam of light which he could follow back in time and space in order to see what has happened in the past. He then provides visual proof that a giant meteor struck the Earth in Africa many millions of years ago, and that this meteor is composed of an unknown element that may have substance more powerful than radium. After this demonstration, Rukh and the scholars prepare to go on timely expedition to darkest Africa. PART II: While in Africa, Rukh separates himself from his expedition, especially his wife, and discovers the ancient element called Radium X, intending to use it for the purposes of atomic medicine. He is soon contaminated by Radium X, and realizes that not only does he glow in the dark, but brings death to whatever he touches, with the first victim being his dog. With the help of Benet, an antidote is prepared for Ruhk in which he must take regularly. In the meantime, Diane, feeling neglected by her husband, finds comfort with that Ronald Drake, who now loves her. PART III: Rukh's discovery of Radium X proves successful, in which the ray used by the scholars cures blindness. Rukh uses this experiment to cure his mother from her eternal blindness, and upon getting her vision back, she doesn't like what she sees in her son. With the radiation becoming too powerful, Rukh's mind soon becomes effected, becoming less rational. He then accuses Benet and the others of "theft," even though Benet assures him that he he will get full credit for his work. Rukh is even more upset when he learns that Diane now loves Drake, thus, as in Agatha Christie's acclaimed mystery novel, "And Then There Were None," Rukh prepares to kill off those he felt betrayed him one by one, and with each death comes the destruction of statues that stand on the side of a London church.

THE INVISIBLE RAY is very much a production that predates the science fiction fantasies of the 1950s. Special effects here are first rate, compliments of John Fulton, with one particular standout scene in Africa where Rukh's machine focuses on a giant boulder, and with the strength of the invisible ray, the boulder disintegrates into powder. With Karloff's know-how into holding his viewer's interest throughout the film's 81 minutes, this production presents itself on a more elaborate scale than THE RAVEN for example. It also features a soothing but memorable music score by Franz Waxman. Although Bela Lugosi, as a European scientist supporting a little beard around his mouth, has little to do, his role is essential to the story. On the lighter side is character actress, May Beatty, in her humorous characterization as the nosy, gossipy cockney landlady.

It seems interesting to note, however, that with this third installment of Karloff-Lugosi films that Universal didn't attempt to team these two masters of horror to fulfill the trilogy in having them paired in another Edgar Allan Poe based thriller, something like "The Tell-Tale Heart" for example, but as with the aforementioned predecessors, it would have been more Hollywood than Poe. THE INVISIBLE RAY, however, is in a class by itself, but hardly gets the recognition it deserves.

THE INVISIBLE RAY, once a frequent late show or Chiller Theater replay on commercial television decades ago, played sporadically on the Sci-Fi Cable Channel in the 1990s during the late night hours where vampires and ghouls were its only viewers. It was revived again thanks to Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: April 5, 2006). It was also available on video cassette and later DVD, compliments of MCA Universal. (**)
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10/10
Sci Fi Caviar
franzfelix6 April 2006
One doesn't get to enjoy this gem, the 1936 Invisible Ray, often. But no can forget it. The story is elegant. Karloff, austere and embittered in his Carpathian mountain retreat, is Janos Rukh, genius science who reads ancient beams of light to ascertain events in the great geological past…particularly the crash of a potent radioactive meteor in Africa. Joining him is the ever-elegant Lugosi (as a rare hero), who studies "astro-chemistry." Frances Drake is the lovely, underused young wife; Frank Lawton the romantic temptation; and the divine Violet Kemble Cooper is Mother Rukh, in a performance worthy of Maria Ospenskya.

The story moves swiftly in bold episodes, with special effects that are still handsome. It also contains some wonderful lines. One Rukh restores his mother's sight, he asks, "Mother, can you see, can you see?" "Yes, I can see…more clearly than ever. And what I see frightens me." Even better when mother Rukh says, "He broke the first law of science." I am not alone among my acquaintance in having puzzled for many many years exactly what this first law of science is.

This movie is definitely desert island material.
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10/10
There's Nothing Invisible About The High Quality Of This Film
Der_Vampyr18 February 2002
This is just about in the same league as `The Black Cat', although I'd give this a 9 rather than a 9+. That's praise indeed for a film that has been so badly underrated that it is amazing!

`The Invisible Ray' is part horror, part drama and certainly part sci-fi. For a movie made in 1936 the sci-fi elements were a good deal ahead of their time. The mixture of horror, drama and sci-fi are a perfect blend, while the acting on the part of Lugosi and Karloff couldn't be better.

Director Lambert Hillyer captures a lot of elements that James Whale did so often. What I'm saying is that this film is eerie and well shot. The scene with the gargoyles outside of Lugosi's room is a perfect example of the mood. It's a standout moment in the film, which is so sadly missing in today's movies of the genre.

As with `The Black Cat' and `Island of Lost Souls', I can't understand why this film has yet to be released on DVD. When you consider some of the junk that's already been transferred to DVD it's that much more puzzling.

Anyway, watch this film if you get the chance. When it's released on DVD grab it fast and put it in an honored spot within your DVD library.
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The Curse of Radium X!
cdauten17 August 2002
THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Walter Kingsford Directed by Lambert Hillyer

Universal's third pairing of Lugosi and Karloff strays in to the realm of science fiction while retaining many of the elements of horror for which the studio was famous.

Janos Rukh (Karloff) is a brilliant, workaholic scientist who lives with his beautiful wife (Drake) and mother in a sprawling gothic castle/laboratory/observatory in the storm-swept Carpathian Mountains (where else?).

Sir Francis Stevens (Kingsford) and wife, accompanied by the skeptical Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi), arrive to see Rukh's latest discovery. By following a ray of light that left the Andromeda galaxy millions of years ago back to its source, he can see back in time. What he is able to show them is a giant meteor striking the surface of the Earth, on the African continent "thousands of millions" of years ago. With this proof that such a catastrophe occurred, he is able to embark on an expedition to Africa. The meteor is found and Rukh is able to harness a strange power that emanates from it...Radium X. Unfortunately, this mysterious element also causes Rukh to glow in the dark. And, as if that weren't bad enough, everyone who touches him dies. Dr. Benet comes up with a counteractive which will not cure Rukh, but will at least make him tolerable to have around. As with all such things, there is a price...Benet cannot promise what effects the counteractive will have on Rukh's mind.

For a film released in 1936, THE INVISIBLE RAY has some pretty good special effects. The image of the meteor sailing toward the Earth is impressive, though the actual impact is less than spectacular. The scene where Rukh launches his invisible ray at a rock formation and reduces it to nothing is also good, even by today's standards. The scenes at Rukh's home are what give THE INVISIBLE RAY its creepy atmosphere. As in other Universal horror productions, the set is made of almost exclusively vertical elements, casting long shadows. The doorways are so tall the tops of them disappear somewhere beyond the top of the screen. A middle segment that takes place in Africa is less eerie, but it does provide a nice setting for us to first see Rukh's glowing face and hands.

THE INVISIBLE RAY is a fun movie to watch despite (or because of?) a few flaws, like the fact that all of the Paris newspapers seem to be printed in English. Not as fun is the film's racist depiction of the African porters. Even allowing for the attitude of the time in which the film was made, these scenes will still make most modern viewers cringe.
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10/10
A Hodgepodge Science Fiction - Horror Film That Works Well
theowinthrop26 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made many films together, but on the whole (interestingly enough) Karloff usually is the better man of the two. The real exception is "The Black Cat" (1934) where Karloff is playing the evil head of a devil cult, and Lugosi is seeking revenge on him for destroying his life. But more usual is "Black Friday", where (whatever his motive) Karloff is trying to improve brain surgery while Lugosi is a murderous thug. In "The Raven" Lugosi is a sadistic surgeon, who blackmails Karloff to assist his evil plans until Karloff finally has had enough. Rarely are they both negative characters totally. In "The Body Snatcher", Karloff does kill Lugosi, but Lugosi is trying to blackmail him.

The one exception where they are both extremely sympathetic but at cross purposes to each other is this 1936 film, which I feel has rarely had the audience acceptance of some of the other movies I have mentioned. In it Karloff's Dr. Janos Rukh is a hard driven scientific genius who has been sneered at by the "official scientific community" for his theory that a rare form of Radium is in Nigeria on a meteorite that landed centuries ago. He has finally gotten the support of a well financed expedition led by Sir Francis Stevens and his wife Lady Arabella Stevens (Walter Kingsford and Beulah Bondi), and has another scientist, a Frenchman named Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi), Rukh's young wife Diane (Frances Drake) and a friend and protégée of the Stevenses named Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton).

Before they leave, Rukh is warned by his mother (Violet Kemble Cooper) that he is possibly seeking wisdom that he shouldn't and it may end in tragedy. He tries to dismiss this, but he is worried by what she says, his scientific standing, and whether or not he is going to get his due credit.

What he gets is a disaster. He finds the substance, but is infected by it's remarkable radioactivity. He finds that he is slowly burning up, and if he tries to touch people or animals they die. He's actually built up a friendship or understanding with Benet, who figures out a type of radioactive fighting cocktail for Rukh to use to counter the danger. But there are two things that are unbeatable here. The antidote can only last for a certain amount of time, and has to be replenished. And the radioactivity has affected Rukh's brain. He is increasingly jealous of Diane's friendship with Ronald (encouraged, unfortunately by Sir Francis and Lady Arabella), and he is equally upset that (due to his having to pretend to have died - the effects of the radioactivity are like that) Benet and several others are collecting the kudos of the wonders that "Radium X" is giving to man. Soon Rukh is on a murderous rampage that destroys many lives, ending with his own.

The film certainly picked up on science to an extent. Madame Curie had died recently from cancer she got due to work with Radium. Few fully understood the dangers of radioactivity in 1936, but some idea of it was coming out. The wave of murders by Rukh cause the newspapers to talk about a "curse" on the expedition. Of course, with the idea of a "cursed" expedition (on the continent of Africa) for a hidden treasure buried centuries ago, financed by a titled Englishman, we have entered archeology not physics or geology (paging Howard Carter and Lord Carnaevon).

On the other hand, Benet tries to settle the cause of the string of deaths, and reverts to an idea that was actually demolished in 1888 in England. During the Whitechapel Murders, Sir Charles Warren ordered the retinas of several of the dead victims to be photographed to see if the last image on the retinas was Jack the Ripper. It turned out he only got the photographs of the retinas of dead prostitutes. But the idea did not die. Jules Verne used it in his novel "The Brothers Kip" in 1899, and here Dr. Benet uses it. As this is a science fiction story, he finds the image of Rukh on the the plate, but Benet drops the plate accidentally and it shatters.

The film is good on many grounds, the most interesting that for a change Karloff and Lugosi are not unsympathetic towards each other. There is a type of tragic fatalism in this story that is missing from their other films. The other performances are good as well, in particular Ms Kemble Cooper. She is best remembered as Basil Rathbone's frightening sister (Jane Murdstone) in "David Copperfield". Here her final act is the only way to bring this tragedy to an end, and who can say it did not hurt her more than her target.
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Karloff/Lugosi...Need I Say More
BaronBl00d17 November 1999
The Invisible Ray is an exciting story about an overworked scientist who works effortlessly in his Carpathian castle looking for secrets of the universe. Boris Karloff plays the scientist Janos Ruhk who travels with a band of other scientists to Africa for the spot where an unidentified element landed centuries ago. Karloff is very good as the scientist who accidentally poisons himself with this new radioactive element. Karloff is obsessed with the idea that his fellow travelers, amongst them the stately Lugosi as Dr. Benet, are after his honors and secrets of this new find. Because of this, Karloff goes on a maniacal murdering spree of his former friends. There are many good elements in this film, most dealing with the rather interesting story of science gone amok. Lugosi is good too, although his role is not very big. I must agree with many that this pairing of the horrific duo is a second to The Black Cat. Nonetheless this is a fine Universal science fiction/horror film.
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8/10
Delightful movie, great acting performance, laughable science
stevebob992 November 2005
The Invisible Ray is an excellent display of both the acting talents of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Karloff pulls off a flawless performance as a sullen and conflicted scientist who appears to put his scientific achievements ahead of his relationships with others, even his wife. His already loner personality becomes unbearable as he becomes paranoid.

Lugosi plays the consummate professional, who is passionate about his work but still finds time to maintain on good terms with everyone, but still seems to have no real close friends. This was one of his few roles as a good guy and he plays it very well. It is hard, however to hear his accent and believe he is French.

The biggest problem with the movie was that it was all based on "junk science" but, in a way, even the junk science makes it work well. Since the ideas and theories are completely idiotic, they are as "relevant" today as they were when the movie was made. And they are also as forward reaching- and always will be.

This is a perfectly delightful movie to watch again and again. I saw it maybe 5 times this weekend and I could easily sit through it five more times. The acting is marvelous and the science is amusing. I highly recommend it.
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10/10
KARLOFF AND LUGOSI MAKE SPARKS FLY !
whpratt16 May 2003
With a special telescope, Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) successfully proves that years ago a meteorite landed in Africa containing an unknown, but extremely powerful element. Dr. Benet(Bela Lugosi) form an expedition led by Rukh to locate the element. Unexpectedly, Rukh discovers "Radium X,", even more powerful than radium and very radioactive and Karloff becomes contaminated and can kill anyone by just touching them. The sparks really fly between Lugosi and Karloff in this classic science-fiction film during the post-World War II era. Director Hillyer used a few standing sets from "FLASH GORDON" series which was being filmed at the same time and also inserted some footage of electrical machines from Frankenstein. Universal kept the public unaware of the special effects being used in this great classic film. Karloff and Lugosi were at their very best and they both enjoyed working together and will be enjoyed by future generations.
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6/10
Delightfully Silly and Naive Sci-Fi
claudio_carvalho20 November 2007
The scientist Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) has been expelled from the scientific community due to the lack of credibility in his researches. Living isolated in a castle with his blind mother (Violet Kemble Cooper) and his wife Diane (Frances Drake), he makes a private presentation of the recently discovered invisible ray to his colleague Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi), and succeeds in being sponsored by Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and his wife Lady Arabella Stevens (Beulah Bondi) in an expedition to Nigeria, where he believe he could find a meteor with Radium X. Once in Africa, Janos leaves the expedition alone and finds the meteor, but is exposed to its radiation, acquiring a deadly touch that immediately kills anyone who is touched by him. Meanwhile, Diane falls in love for the son of Lady Arabella, Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton). Dr. Benet finds an antidote to control the effects of the radiation in Janos to be daily injected, but advises that the side effect could bring madness to him. Dr. Benet returns to Paris and steals the findings of Janos, exposing and using Janos's researches to the scientific community, while the deranged Janos seeks revenge against those that have betrayed him.

"The Invisible Ray" is a delightfully silly and naive sci-fi visibly inspired in H.G. Well's "The Invisible Man" of 1933. This minor film is a great opportunity to see Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi acting together. The story is entertaining but with questionable ethical and moral behaviors of the lead characters. Dr. Felix Benet steals the research of his colleague that needed to recover the esteem together with the scientific community for self-profit and self- promotion. Diane Rukh has an affair with Ronald Drake in the absence of her husband in Africa. Mother Rukh breaks the only chance of survival of her only son that loved her and recovered and healed her vision. And Janos Rukh does not tell his wife that is sick and kills innocent people to reach his personal vendetta. In the end, all the characters are unpleasant. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Raio Invisível" ("The Invisible Ray")
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7/10
Karloff and Lugosi: Great Combination!!!!
MStillrage18 December 2000
Boris and Bela do well together in this film,whether they are against each other, or paddling the same boat.I saw this one in 1972, and just purchased it from Borders this year. This time watching it with my children,I took note of 2 things: It held the attention of a 3, 4 and 5 year old; and I caught a few things I hadn't when I first watched it.Very swift story with an unpredictable end. A must for movie buffs!!!
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6/10
Early sci-fi horror film with good performances from Karloff and Lugosi...
Doylenf31 October 2007
THE INVISIBLE RAY is a highly enjoyable horror film that seems way ahead of its time, coming as it does in 1936 and making use of meteors and Radium X in its plot design. BORIS KARLOFF is the scientist whose ideas are "stolen", or so he believes, by others and goes about seeking an unusual method of revenge, killing off his intended victims one by one.

FRANK LAWTON and FRANCES DRAKE are the romantic leads with BEULAH BONDI playing an aristocratic Lady Arabella who is one of the victims. But the film is mainly a showcase for BORIS KARLOFF as the mad scientist, with BELA LUGOSI doing extremely well (and underplaying effectively) the role of a colleague among those on the "victim" list.

Universal obviously planned this as a low-budget feature, but the sets are impressive, all the technical credits are more than adequate, and the story is well-paced and effective throughout.

Well worth viewing and certainly one of the better Karloff/Lugosi joint ventures.
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10/10
There are so many good things to say about this “B” movie.
we216 October 2007
There are so many good things to say about this “B” movie.

“B’ maybe in connections, but not in commission. This is about the best of its genre that I have ever seen. A grade A effort by Universal. The script is well done, imaginative, and without fault. Writing credits: Howard Higgin original story & Douglas Hodges story, John Colton (screenplay). Director Lambert Hillyer handled the complex story and story locations very well. No skimping on the loads of extras and locations. I loved Beulah Bondy (Jimmy Stewarts mother in “It’s A Wonderful Life”. The fem lead, Frances Drake is a beauty and handled her part with grace and pathos for her Karloff husband. Lugosi likewise was correctly underplayed. I think this is the best part I remember seeing him in. As I said there were so many good things: the African discovery of the Radium “X”, the melting of the stone statues ((somewhat reminiscent of the Ten Little Indians in And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie) (the Barry Fitzgerald version)), the glowing of Karlof in the dark. Karloff’s mother played by Violet Kemble Cooper with elegance. And because of all these virtues, I found myself believing in the science it portrayed. I guess that’s the mark of a good piece of art.
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10/10
A movie about movies
thhill1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
For real film people, this film is a must, since it works as a perfect little allegory for the movies themselves. Janos Rukh/Boris Karloff's science has to do with capturing and projecting light from cosmic phenomena. This light can do harm, or it can be harnessed to do good. On the one hand it blinds his mother, on the other it is used to cure blindness ("I can see!" shouts a young girl on whose eyes this light is projected). When Rukh/Karloff is himself poisoned by the uncanny power of this light, we see him actually emitting a ghostly glow on his hands and face like a badly developed negative, drawing attention to the fact that the man we are watching is a projection, an entity viewed on film (only visible, as in a movie theater, when the lights are out).

There is a wonderful passage near the beginning where Karloff/Rukh explains his research as being informed by the fact that everything that happens is captured in light which rolls through space for millions of years, as the light from Andromeda was emitted from that Galaxy at a time when the earth was still molten rock.

There are passages in the film when this new science is juxtaposed to older cultural vehicles: that of the writer, in the persona of Beulah Bondi/Arabella Stevens; and religion, emblemized in the sculptural figures on the local cathedral Karloff blasts with his projector/ray gun.

One has to wonder here if this film was meant to glance at what was going on in Germany at the time, and particularly at Riefenstall's use of film the year before to promote a regime that certainly would go on to do a lot of harm:Triumph of the Will.

Happily in the end, Mother (Violet Kemble Cooper) intervenes, reminding Janos Rukh of the first rule of science.

If only more movies made you want to stand up in the theater and shout: "I can see!"
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8/10
A dandy old fashioned horror flick with Karloff AND Lugosi!
MartinHafer7 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
While not as famous as some of their other collaborations (such as THE BLACK CAT and THE BODY SNATCHER), this is a dandy little horror film even though the casting decisions were a bit odd. Boris Karloff plays Dr. Janos Rukh, a weird scientist who lives in the Carpathian mountains--near where the Dracula character's home town. Bela Lugosi plays Dr. Benet--whose nationality was never discussed though the name certainly sounds French. I really think it would have made sense to have the two switch roles, as the Carpathian role seems tailor made for Lugosi--especially with his accent. However, despite this unusual twist, the two still did excellent jobs. Karloff's was definitely the lead role, but Lugosi acquitted himself well as a relatively normal person--something he didn't play very often in films!! It seems that Dr. Rukh is a bit of a pariah, as other scientists (especially Benet) think his theories are bizarre and nonsensical. However, over the course of the film, Rukh turns out to be right and Benet is especially generous in his new praise for Rukh. But, unfortunately, the wonderful new element that Rukh discovered has the nasty side effect of turning him into a crazy killing machine (don't you hate it when that happens?). While this could have just been a simple nice scientist turned mad story, the plot was well constructed, the characters nicely developed and the mad Rukh was NOT a one-dimensional killer, but complex and interesting.

This film is bound to be enjoyed by anyone except for people who hate old horror films. You can really tell that Universal Pictures pulled out all the stops and made a bigger-budget film instead of the cheap quickies both Lugosi and Karloff unfortunately gravitated in later years. Good stuff.
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3/10
A weak vehicle for Universal's horror stars.
BA_Harrison26 March 2017
On a stormy night, a group of people—Lady Stevens (Beulah Bondi), her husband Sir Francis (Walter Kingsford), their nephew Ronald (Frank Lawton) and Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi)—arrive at a castle in the Carpathians to witness an experiment by Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff, sporting curly hair and 'tache), who believes that a ray from a nebula in the Andromeda system will reveal secrets about the earth's distant history. The guests are astounded when Rukh shows them a projection of a meteor hitting Africa, an event that occurred a few thousand million years in the past.

Convinced that the meteor has left deposits of a previously unknown element, Rukh and his visitors launch an expedition to the dark continent, joined on the venture by Rukh's beautiful wife Diane (Frances Drake); going on ahead of the others, Rukh locates the element—Radium X—but suffers from radiation poisoning in the process, which leaves him deadly to the touch and just a little unhinged.

When I was a kid, I had a model figure of Lugosi as Dracula that had glow-in-the-dark hands and face; in this film, it is Karloff who has the luminous head and hands, the result of exposure to the radioactive element with which he creates an all-purpose ray that can both kill and cure. As fun as the sight of a glowing Karloff is, if it wasn't for the teaming of the Frankenstein star with Lugosi, I imagine that this clunky sci-fi potboiler from Universal would have been all but forgotten by now, suffering as it does from a meandering pseudo-scientific plot that can't decide what it wants to be (sci-fi, jungle adventure, horror, or murder mystery), a rather leaden pace, and a dull illicit romance between Diane and Ronald.

3.5 out of 10, not rounded up to 4 because the ray doesn't actually make things invisible.
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8/10
Nearly forgotten atomic age sci-fi
ebeckstr-126 February 2019
If you can get past the racist components which characterize the middle one third of this movie, it's a very fun ride. Following only five or so years after Dracula and Frankenstein, The Invisible Ray boasts one of Lugosi's best roles, and one of his comparatively rare portrayals of a protagonist rather than antagonist.

The film also includes some pretty cool special effects for the time, suspenseful pacing, and effective horror movie atmosphere. In addition, it's one of the earliest movies to involve radiation apropos of the atomic age as the plot's driving force, and so in addition to being an entertaining movie is an interesting curiosity piece.
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5/10
"I believe that this city is at the mercy of a madman..."
classicsoncall3 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Delightfully wooden acting, pseudo-scientific gobbledy-gook and the presence of two iconic horror masters - what's not to love about "The Invisible Ray"? I get the biggest kick out of pictures like this, and this one's a beaut. Boris Karloff is Doctor Janos Rukh, working in virtual isolation in the Carpathian Mountains attempting to capture an invisible ray from the nebula of Andromeda, some seven hundred fifty million miles away from Earth. By doing so, he may get a hint of life that existed eons before the appearance of Man, and perhaps gain some insight into an unknown element from a far distant galaxy. You know the film makers and actors were doing things pretty much on the fly when Bela Lugosi's character is referenced more than once by the name of both 'Ben-et' and Be-nay'; obviously they couldn't determine which version was correct so they tried both on for size. I also got a chuckle out of Doctor Rukh's insistence that his invisible ray had a velocity faster than the speed of light! Obviously, his knowledge of science came from an undetermined source.

Well, Rukh demonstrates his invisible ray to a team led by Dr. Felix Benet, and their look back into the past reveals a giant meteor that descended to Earth millions of years ago, landing in Africa. An expedition is formed, and Rukh discovers the ancient rock emitting a dangerous radiation that he labels Radium X. Exposed to the meteor, Rukh's touch becomes deadly to anyone he comes in contact with. Dr. Benet develops a counteractive agent to keep Rukh's newly acquired murderous tendencies in check, but Rukh's desire for revenge against the members of his party who try to horn in on his discovery eventually leads to the deaths of Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and his wife, Lady Arabella (Beulah Bondi). If you're quick enough to catch it, a newspaper article with the headline 'Titled Woman Dies In Curse' proceeds to state that the mysterious murders parallel the case of an alleged curse that followed the Tut-Ankh-Amen party, a clever reference to the 1932 Boris Karloff film, "The Mummy".

While Karloff and Lugosi are wonderfully wicked in their portrayals, the film is brought down a couple of notches with the presence of Rukh's wife Diane (Frances Drake), and the nephew of the Stevens couple, Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton). They fall in love somehow with virtually no chemistry between them, and their scenes and dialog together are the very definition of wooden. It's quite hilarious actually, so maybe they served an unintended purpose, but they really were terrible otherwise. Still, Karloff and Lugosi together is a combination that can't be beat, and this is one of eight films in which they appeared together. I wouldn't call it their best collaboration, but what the heck, they could just stand there and they'd be a blast!
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7/10
Make it a 7.5!
AlsExGal6 October 2018
This is a better than average Universal sci-fi movie, somewhat dressed up to be like a horror film, but it is not. Also this was the first of the Karloff-Lugosi collaboration features in which it was clearly Karloff in the lead with Bela in support.Karloff is scientist Janos Rukh, who lives in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains with his wife Diane (Frances Drake) and blind mother (Kemble Cooper). He has invited a team of scientists, including Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi) to witness a re-enactment of "past vibrations" from the "nebula of Andromeda". He successfully recreates a vision of a meteor hitting the continent of Africa. The scientists subsequently invite Rukh to join their planned expedition to Africa to look for the meteor and the powerful elements of it that Rukh calls "Radium X". Things go dreadfully wrong, of course.

Karloff is excellent as the misunderstood scientist who goes too far. Lugosi contributes one of his most restrained performances as one of the good guys. Drake is effective as the damsel in distress. Kemble Cooper is very good as The Voice of Doom. Maria Ouspenskaya must have watched this movie before making "The Wolf Man" (1941).

Franz Waxman contributed an underrated musical score. The castle sets that dwarf everyone aren't credited on TCM's webpage, but they are creepily effective. If my eyes didn't deceive me, some of the laboratory equipment that was prominently featured in "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) was reused in the Planetarium sequences.

There are some flaws. The native laborers in Africa all sound like they come from the American South, and Janos' name is pronounced "Yanosh" or "Yanush", depending on who is talking. But overall, this is an underrated horror film and worth your time.
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8/10
Quite advanced for 1936
gullwing5920032 January 2018
After "The Black Cat" in 1934 "The Raven" in 1935 the two horror icons Karloff & Lugosi teamed up again in "The Invisible Ray in 1936. Unlike the first two films The Invisible Ray has less horror & is actually an early foray into science fiction 14 years before it became an established popular genre in the 1950's.1936 Audiences must've been blown away at the early scenes of outer space showing the planets & stars predating "Destination Moon" in 1950. It's plot device is the model & set the standard for 1950's Sci-fi which was a bit ahead of it's time. The only other memorable science fiction film from 1936 is "Things To Come" a visionary film that travels 100 years into the "future". The Invisible Ray shows Bela Lugosi (Dracula) & Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) in roles very different & a departure from their signature identification stamps. Karloff is the visionary & somewhat mad scientist that really loses it as he slowly falls apart after exposure to Radium X . Lugosi in complete contrast is the balanced good doctor scientist that develops a counter-active to keep Karloff's radium poisoning in check for a short time as it wears off & he must have regular doses at certain times or he'll quoting Lugosi's line "Crumble to an ash" as only Lugosi can deliver a line. Bela as Dr. Felix Benet is a sharp contrast from Count Dracula his facial hair & beard gives him a radically different look & virtually removes his vampire image. He really shows his range & versatility here & he wasn't just Dracula he was a great actor. He got to show his versatility again in his next teaming with Karloff as the crazed shepard Ygor in "Son Of Frankenstein" in 1939. Lugosi upstages & steals the show from Karloff one of the reasons why Karloff stopped playing the monster.

Boris as D. Janos Rukke was the first of his many mad doctor roles he would play & Bela also did his share of mad genius doctor roles later in the 1940's. The scenes of Karloff glowing in the dark from Radium X is very impressive special effects & still holds up today. The film gets better with age & never gets old & a film I can watch over & over. Bela & Boris were great on their own & even greater together. I have lots of their movies I can't get enough of these two masters of horror. Bela & Boris are the greatest horror kings of all time.
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Good Third Teaming Between Karloff and Lugosi
Michael_Elliott16 October 2016
The Invisible Ray (1936)

*** (out of 4)

Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) discovers a new form of radiation and he hopes to do great things with it but he becomes poisoned and soon everything he touches dies.

This here was the third teaming between Karloff and Bela Lugosi and as fans often point out this film here isn't nearly in the same league as THE BLACK CAT or THE RAVEN. In a large part this is due to the fact that horror films were pretty much banned and were not put into production for several years. This here meant that there weren't any "horror" movies from the studio and all of their famous monsters remained on the shelf. What we got a spike in were old dark house movies and more science-fiction type of films, which is what THE INVISIBLE RAY here.

The film isn't a complete success but if you're a fan of the two stars then it's certainly good enough to hold your attention. What works the best is the performance by Karloff who once again does a very good job at making you believe he is the character as well as making you like the character. I really thought he gave a very strong performance here and he once again works extremely well with Lugosi. Lugosi is given a fairly weak role here but whenever the two legends are on the screen together you can see that they both raise their game.

The film has a lot of dialogue scenes that tend to drag on a bit but where the film really works are the science ones. I really liked the special effects of Karloff's hands and face glowing. I also liked how the radiation story played out. One just wishes that they had given more screen time to the special effects instead of the dialogue.
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9/10
Karloff shines... uh, glows...
poe-4883314 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The so-called "junk science" postulated in THE INVISIBLE RAY came as quite a shock to me: I've maintained since I was a teenager that it might actually be possible to look into the Past in exactly the same way. I'm no scientist (far from it), but the notion of Light traveling away from a star that no longer exists still being visible to us, here and now, makes the argument at least plausible. MY theory (such as it is) would require traveling to the point in Space at which the Earth was first "touched" by the aforementioned Starlight to observe Past Events. Sound shaky? Plausible? At any rate, THE INVISIBLE RAY was a most pleasant surprise. Highly recommended.
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7/10
An Interesting Older Sci-Fi
Rainey-Dawn13 December 2014
A good and interesting older sci-fi film. I love the idea of finding a cure for blindness but this particular fictitious form of radium called Radium X also has it's dark side if it falls into the wrong hands (as we see in the film). This movie is a grim reminder that scientific discoveries in real life (as well as in the movies) can be used for good but it can be used for bad/evil if one uses that way.

Great film for fans of the science fiction genre. It tells the story of Dr. Janos Rukh (Karloff) who discovered the (fictitious) Radium X, is exposed to the poison and becomes a murderous maniac against the scientists and supporters of the expedition were the Radium X was found.

7.5/10
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7/10
Radioactive Man
utgard1422 February 2014
Brilliant scientist Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) discovers a rare element called Radium X that has unusual properties. Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi) encourages Rukh to hand over his work on Radium X because it could be used for the benefit of mankind. But Rukh refuses to do so until his research is complete. After discovering the exposure to the element has made him radioactive and lethal to touch, Rukh turns to Benet for help. Benet creates a temporary antidote for Rukh and then promptly steals his research and presents it to the scientific community, which praises Radium X's healing properties. Enraged by this and his wife (Frances Drake) leaving him for another man (Frank Lawton), Rukh fakes his own death and uses his lethal touch to seek revenge against those who have wronged him.

Another good Karloff/Lugosi film. This one is an early foray into science fiction by Universal. Karloff is marvelous as always. Lugosi gives a fine, surprisingly restrained performance. More proof that he was a better actor than he's often said to be. It's also a credit to the script that his character doesn't go the clichéd route of becoming a full villain. Actually, that's one of the more intriguing things about this movie. There are no clear-cut black & white heroes. Though the narrative often portrays Karloff as the villain, the "good guys" consist of two adulterers, two thieves, and an obnoxious old crow. That's to say nothing of a mother who betrays her son even after he restored her sight! As to the rest of the cast, Frances Drake is gorgeous and does a good job with a somewhat difficult part. Her legendary braless bounciness early in the movie will brighten anyone's day. Poor Janos was making the wrong discoveries, sadly. Frank Lawton is as exciting as dishwater. To be fair, these types of parts are always a hard sell. At least he's no Lester Matthews in Werewolf of London. Beulah Bondi is best in small doses as the butch buttinsky Arabella. Exceptional turn by Violet Kemble Cooper as Karloff's mom. Walter Kingsford is funny as Arabella's husband.

Great sets, decent effects, good cast, and a smart script with interesting ideas. Not the best of Universal's 1930s horror films or even the Karloff/Lugosi pairings, but a very good one nonetheless.
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