THE BORIS KARLOFF / Bela Lugosi horror express kept on trucking along for Universal Pictures, but this was definitely Karloff’s showpiece and this lesser known film from the iconic duo probably deserves more recognition than it currently holds.
Karloff plays the eccentric scientist, Dr Janos Rukh, a man with a wild belief that he can use a telescope to reach out to the Andromeda Galaxy and use images of light to capture Earth’s past as seen from space.
Scoffed at by his colleagues, it is only when he is able to present his findings to Dr Benet (Lugosi) and Dr Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and is able to capture when a meteor had crashed into the Earth, that his skeptics sit up and take notice.
An expedition is planned where Rukh is charged with finding the fallen meteor.
When Rukh finds the meteor, he is unwittingly exposed to the radiation, Radium X, which effectively makes him glow in the dark with a fatal touch with skin to skin contact.
He is aided temporarily by Benet who discovers an antidote that can keep the radioactive poison at bay, but it’s not long before it starts to eat away at his mind and Rukh goes on a killer rampage fuelled with jealousy.
By this time, Rukh’s estranged wife has fallen in love with Ronald Drake, the nephew of Dr Stevens.
At first, Rukh reluctantly let’s her go, but this soon turns to hatred and moulds into his vicious plan to rid the world of those responsible (or so he believes) for his downfall.
Rukh succeeds in killing the Stevens’s and then ventures to off the remaining few.
As the film proceeds, it feels certain that the only person who can stop him is Benet, but even he is thwarted in a surprise move considering the casting of Lugosi attached to this character and perhaps more could have been done to play with this encounter.
Instead, it comes down to Rukh’s mother, (who is magnificently played by Violet Kemble Cooper)
to intervene and destroy the antidote, thus rendering Rukh to succumb to the radiation and go out in a blaze.
It’s a painful story, which treads a similar path to The Invisible Man, but in this instance there is more sympathy laid out to the central character, which is a testament to Karloff’s handling of such a role.
Special mention should go to Kemble Cooper, who almost steals the show with every scene that’s she’s in, deftly displaying a balance of eeriness with her psychic ability and blindness combined with the motherly love and protectiveness that she bestows upon Rukh.
Not a lot has been written about this movie and from what I have read, they err on the side of negativity, but I feel that there’s enough of a plot and structure to this movie that it warrants further scrutiny.
I found it a lot more engaging than Karloff and Lugosi’s previous outings and that The Invisible Ray could potentially be a forgotten classic as a result.
- Paul Farrell