February 16, 2019 12:02 pm
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Black velvet special-effects costume from The Invisible Man

(Universal, 1933) Following the enormous success of Frankenstein in 1931, Universal’s monster hit which made a star of an unknown named Boris Karloff, the studio wanted more. The powers-that-be urged famed director James Whale to turn his attention to another novel of the fantastique, H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Working with playwright R.C. Sheriff – who had scripted the play, Journey’s End, which became Whale’s first film success and catapulted the British director to international fame – Whale imbued the subject with his trademark quirky humor and macabre touches. In one memorable sequence, Whale envisioned having an “empty” pair of pants chase a woman down a deserted country lane as the Invisible Man sings, “Here we go gathering nuts in May…” This presented a far greater challenge than Frankenstein, which relied extensively on Jack Pierce’s brilliant makeup design for its shocks. The Invisible Man demanded a thorough exploration of an arena the movies had only flirted with previously – visual effects. Fortunately, Universal had the premiere effects artist in the business, John P. Fulton, who immediately went to work devising an impressive armada of dazzling visuals largely relying on blackscreen effects. Fulton’s plan to make Claude Rains disappear into his role involved filming the actor against a black screen wearing a black velvet costume. When lit properly, Rains would completely vanish. Over this costume, which consists of a shirt, pants and hood, Rains would wear his trademark robe, gloves and bandages. Then standing against the blackscreen, he would remove those costume pieces and thanks to his black velvet outfit, completely disappear. This film was then superimposed with footage of the actual set, so the Invisible Man would appear to be in a real environment. This blackscreen technique was the black-and-white equivalent of today’s bluescreen shots, which are the backbone of visual effects that strive to incorporate actors doing impossible things. When The Invisible Man debuted in 1933, it too was a smash hit for Universal Studios, who longed for a sequel. In fact, The Invisible Man would become one of the most sequelizedhorror films in Universal’s history – second only to theFrankenstein series. John Fulton was brought in to work his effects-magic first on 1939’s The Invisible Man Returns, which marks Vincent Price’s first starring role in a horror film, then on The Invisible Woman (1940), The Invisible Agent (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and lastly for a cameo by Price in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948). The black velvet costume offered here was used to create effects for the original Invisible Man and ALL the subsequent sequels. Costumes from Universal horror films rarely come up for auction, and this black velvet suit is arguably among the most complete and important artifacts from the Golden Age of horror cinema ever offered for sale. Estimate $35,000 – $55,000

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