The Invisible Ray (1936)

Directed by Lambert Hillyer


A visionary astronomer, Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) has invented a telescope that can look far out into space — into the Andromeda Galaxy — and photograph rays of light that will show the Earth’s past, something which he has theorized as possible for some years, to his discredit among his scientist-colleagues. Looking at the past on a planetarium-like dome in his lab, two of these ardently skeptical scientists, Drs. Benet (Bela Lugosi) and Stevens (Walter Kingsford), watch a large meteor hitting the earth, thousands of years ago at a spot in Africa. Amazed by the demonstration, the pair invite Rukh to go on an expedition to find the meteor.

While in Africa, Rukh finds the meteor but is exposed to its strong radiation, dubbed (“Radium X“), which causes him to glow in the dark, makes his mere touch cause instantaneous death, and will eventually destroy his mind, then his body. Dr. Benet develops a serum that holds this effect at bay, then takes a piece of the meteorite back to Europe, where he modifies its effects to help people, including curing the blind. Rukh returns to his jungle base and has Benet declare that he has heroically died in Africa, leaving his discovery to the world.


The situation has all along been complicated by the romantic relationship between his wife, Diana (Frances Drake), and Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton), the nephew of Lady Arabella Stevens (Beulah Bondi), Dr. Stevens’ wife. As his mind deteriorates, Rukh become crazed with jealousy over Benet’s success with his discovery, and returns to Europe and follows the others to Paris. Believing that he has died, Diana marries Ronald. Rukh begins to use the toxic radiation poisoning imparted to him by Radium X exposure to kill off the members of the expedition, and marks each death by disintegrating one statue outside a church across from his hideout by focussing his radiation through a raygun-like apparatus aimed out the window.

Rukh manages to kill each of the Stevenses before the police realize what is happening. They set a trap by convening a faux conference of scientists to discuss Radium X; but Rukh secretly gains access to the house and kills Benet also. He has saved Ronald and Diana for last, but finds himself unable to kill his wife, and this hesitation brings him to a confrontation with the one most-important woman in his life, his mother, who has all along foreseen her son’s fatal flaws. She smashes the last of his antidote bottles as the radiation begins to consume him from within, and Rukh jumps from a window, being consumed by an explosive flame and vaporized by Radium X before reaching the ground.


The scene of Boris Karloff being lowered into the pit containing the Radium X meteor was reused in a 1939 Universal serial, “The Phantom Creeps,” starring Bela Lugosi. Karloff essentially “doubled” for Lugosi in the sequence since in “The Phantom Creeps” it was Lugosi who was lowered into the pit.Boris Karloff, who was actually an Englishman (true name: William Henry Pratt), plays a Hungarian scientist. Bela Lugosi, who was actually a Hungarian plays a Frenchman.

Delightfully Silly and Naive Sci-Fi

20 November 2007 | by Claudio Carvalho (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – See all my reviews

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.



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