The Invisible Ray (1936 film)

The Invisible Ray is a 1936 American black-and-white science fiction film melodrama from Universal Pictures, produced by Edmund Grainger, directed by Lambert Hillyer, that stars Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi.

The Invisible Ray
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLambert Hillyer
Produced by
Written byJohn Colton
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyGeorge Robinson
Edited byBernard W. Burton
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • January 20, 1936 (1936-01-20) (U.S.)
Running time
79 min.
CountryUnited States

The film concerns a scientist who creates a telescope-like device that captures light waves from the Andromeda Galaxy, giving him a way to view the distant past. Using this knowledge, he travels to Africa to locate a large, unusual meteorite that fell there a billion years earlier. He discovers that the meteorite is composed of a poisonous unknown element, "Radium X". After exposure to its rays begins to make him glow in the dark, his touch becomes deadly, and he begins to be slowly driven mad.


A visionary astronomer, Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff), has invented a telescope that can look far out into deep space, into the Andromeda Galaxy, and photograph light rays that will show the Earth's past. He has theorized about this being possible for some years, much to his discredit among his fellow scientist-colleagues. Looking at the remote past on a planetarium-like dome in his lab, two of those ardently skeptical scientists, Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi) and Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford), watch a large meteorite smash into the Earth a billion years ago, in what is now the continent of Africa. Amazed by Rukh's demonstration, the pair invite him to go on an expedition to locate the impact site.

Rukh finds the meteorite, but is exposed to its unknown radiation, now dubbed "Radium X". This causes him to glow in the dark and to make his mere touch instantaneous deadly to any living thing. The exposure also begins to warp his mind. Returning to the base camp, he entreats Dr. Benet to devise a means of neutralizing Radium X's poisoning effect. Benet develops a serum that holds the lethal element's toxicity at bay, but Rukh must take regular doses of the antidote or he will revert to being a luminous killing machine. Rukh returns to his jungle base and learns from Benet that this situation has been complicated by the romantic relationship between Rukh's wife, Diana (Frances Drake), and Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton), the nephew of Lady Arabella Stevens (Beulah Bondi), Dr. Stevens' wife.

Benet takes a piece of the meteorite back to Europe, where he modifies its effects to help people, including curing the blind. Working along similar lines, Rukh cures his mother's blindness, but in spite of her warning, he goes to Paris to confront Benet and the others. There, he pretends to acknowledge his wife's new relationship with Drake, but in reality, it is the first step in his plan for revenge. Rukh murders a Frenchman he closely resembles, making it appear that he has died and been rendered unrecognizable due to an accident with Radium X.

Believing the deception, Diana marries Ronald. Rukh now begins to use his radiation poisoning to kill off the expedition members. He marks each death by disintegrating a single statue on the exterior of a church across from where he is hiding. Each time, he focuses the radiation through a window using a raygun-like device. He manages to kill both Stevenses before the police realize what is happening. Dr. Benet helps them set a trap by convening a scientific conference at his home to discuss Radium X, but Rukh secretly gains access and kills Benet. He has saved his revenge on Ronald and Diana for last but finds himself unable to kill his former wife. This hesitation brings him to a confrontation with his mother, the most important woman in his life. She has foreseen her son's growing madness and smashes the last of his antidote bottles in order to stop him. As the Radium X begins to consume him from within, Rukh jumps from a window. He disappears in an explosive flame, having been vaporized before reaching the ground.



The Invisible Ray was originally budgeted at $166,785 but went $68,000 over budget.[2]


The Invisible Ray features a score by film composer Franz Waxman. Many of the sets and sound effects were later recycled in Universal's Flash Gordon movie serials.


Stock footage from The Invisible Ray was later recycled into the 1939 movie serial The Phantom Creeps, starring Bela Lugosi.[3] The film was part of the original Shock Theater syndication package of 52 Universal creature feature films.

The tone of the film (somber, dignified, and tragic) is established by the opening bars of Franz Waxman's film score, one of that period which borrows least from major 19th Century composers while employing only a snippet of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.

The film works as a morality play, particularly given the film's final dialog lines uttered by Madame Rukh: "My son, you have broken the first law of science ... Janos Rukh is dead, but part of him will go on to eternity, working for humanity".

Home video

Shout! Factory released The Invisible Ray on Blu-ray in 2019 as a part of their "Universal Horror Collection, Volume 1". The set includes audio commentary by Tom Weaver and Randall Larson that extensively covers the film's history and its Franz Waxman music score.

See also


  1. Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990 p151
  2. Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 189
  3. Internet Movie Database
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