Claude Rains could make any old story worth watching. When he gets going, in the close ups, with those tightly bound English passions ready to burst free of class restraints but never quite, in that tension, I don’t think there has ever been another actor that could pull that off with such intensity. He made everything believable. He turned The Invisible Man into a classic, made us pity the craven, cowardly, murderous Nazi in Notorious and has taken this scene now, in The Clairvoyant, into something out of Zola. Not bad for such a little guy. Even Fay Wray towers over him in their scenes together, and she was in flats. Then he sweeps her off her feet into his arms like she is made of feathers. Such hidden strength. He had entered the Great War trenches a private and emerged a captain. Mustard gas took an eye and his voice. The voice returned, huskier, grittier even, a peculiarly English sort of machismo that worked well with American audiences. It’s the grain he uses in his moments of desperation or gritty determination. Plots rise and fall on his damaged vocal chords. What left him blind and voiceless, stumbling about a trench on Vimy Ridge at the mercy of shells and the arc of machine guns helped make him a movie star, a voice so unique it tormented impressionists who could never quite nail it. I watch him in film after film, and wonder how much of Claude Rains was formed there in a Flanders trench, the dead stacked like cordwood, he sipping cold tea from a filthy tin while waiting for the whistle to attack again, his precious England an impossible one hundred miles away. Of acting he once said I learn my lines and pray to god, as if he was going over the top again with every scene.
I thought I was the only one to see “The Clairvoyant” courtesy of Internet Archive. Good movie. Also like Rains in “Angel on My Shoulder” (sappy title for a pretty good life-after-death fantasy, with Rains great as Satan) and even in the Italian sci-fi turkey he did near the end of his life.
I am a Claude Rains fan and August 4 is my birthday. So thank you for the gift of this blog entry. I have seen “The Clairvoyant”. In his early movies, you can tell that Rains came from the stage — his film acting is a tad overemphatic — it lacks the finesse he learned from director Michael Curtiz. But I found it refreshing to see Rains in a movie where (1) he was married to a beautiful woman who was loyal to him; (2) he was YOUNG; (3) he was part of a supportive family group; (4) he wasn’t killed or betrayed at the end of the movie. And yes, that moment when he gathers Fay Wray in his arms and runs up the stairs with her (eat your heart out, King Kong) was flat-out adorable. (if only it had been me!)