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LA DOLCE VITA and Other Lost Movie Roles: Luise Rainer

Luise Rainer Ramon Novarro TV series CombatLuise Rainer: Stage and television work, from Chekhov to The Love Boat

[See previous post: "Two-Time Best Actress Oscar Winner Luise Rainer and the ’Oscar Curse.’"] After World War II, Luise Rainer starred in several plays on the American stage, e.g., Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. She was also featured in a handful of television series, including the Combat! episode "Finest Hour," delivering a superb performance* opposite fellow veteran Ramon Novarro. Almost inevitably, a couple of decades later Rainer would land a guest spot — in a double role — on The Love Boat. (Photo: Luise Rainer, Ramon Novarro Combat!.)

More recently, Rainer was featured in a small role in Károly Makk’s 1997 movie The Gambler, a little-seen British-made drama starring Michael Gambon as Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Luise Rainer: The movies that weren’t

According to the (excellent) Luise Rainer website, throughout the decades Rainer’s name was at some point or other attached to various film projects that either never came to fruition, or that were eventually made with other performers. Those include the Ronald Colman vehicle The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (1935, Joan Bennett); Lewis Milestone’s The General Died at Dawn (1936, Madeleine Carroll was cast opposite Gary Cooper); Richard Thorpe’s Double Wedding (1937, replaced either by Myrna Loy — which would have been ironic — or by Florence Rice, playing opposite William Powell); the Edward G. Robinson crime drama The Last Gangster (1937, Rosa Stradner); and the minor romantic comedy Bridal Suite (1939, Annabella).

Also: Julien Duvivier’s The Phantom Wagon / La charrette fantôme (1939, probably in the Marie Bell role); Mervyn LeRoy’s Madame Curie (a role Rainer truly wanted; the film was ultimately made at MGM in 1943, starring eventual Best Actress nominee Greer Garson); Henry King’s blockbuster The Song of Bernadette (1943, if the lead role, Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Jones); and China Sky (1945, either Ruth Warrick or Ellen Drew, playing Caucasians). Probably as a result of The Good Earth, Rainer was also considered for the part of a Chinese peasant in Dragon Seed (1944, Katharine Hepburn at MGM) and, if for the lead role, the part of an Eurasian doctor in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955, Oscar-nominated Jennifer Jones).

Luise Rainer in Out of Africa?

Luise Rainer was also eager to play Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen in a movie version of Blixen’s 1937 autobiographical book Out of Africa, but Louis B. Mayer turned her down. Out of Africa would reach the screen nearly half a century later, by way of Sydney Pollack’s Oscar-winning adaptation starring Meryl Streep as Blixen/Dinesen and Robert Redford as her doomed lover. More recently, Rainer was reportedly considered for the widely panned Warren Beatty / Annette Bening remake of Love Affair. Katharine Hepburn landed the role. (Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly had Luise Rainer considered for a supporting role in the 1985 Out of Africa.)

But the most lamentable losses (for film history) are probably Rainer’s potential roles in two unidentified projects of the early ’50s — one by Vittorio De Sica, the other by Carol Reed — and a supporting role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Rainer would also have been an interesting choice for James Cameron’s Titanic, though in that case Leonardo DiCaprio would have frozen to death so as to rescue a German / Austrian-accented Kate Winslet.

Luise Rainer and her ’collapsed’ Oscar

In 1944, Luise Rainer married UK-based publisher Robert Knittel. The marriage lasted until Knittel’s death in 1989. She currently lives in London, in the apartment building that was once the residence of another two-time Oscar winner, Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind / A Streetcar Named Desire). (See also: Luise Rainer comes out Julia Roberts, The King’s Speech fan.)

Back in 1983, when Luise Rainer returned to Los Angeles to present the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, she had one of her Oscar statuettes replaced. “Actually, it wasn’t broken at all,” Rainer told The Hollywood Reporter at the time. “I think it got so tired just standing there, holding that sword all those years, it just collapsed.”

* For my Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise, I interviewed actor Kurt Kreuger, who plays a Nazi in “Finest Hour.” According to Kreuger, Luise Rainer tried to direct both her fellow actors and “Finest Hour” director Don Tait. Making matters worse, Novarro was suffering from severe attacks of pleurisy that made filming his scenes a Herculean task. The final result for the two lead actors, however, was remarkably effective.

Luise Rainer “broken Oscar” quote via Damien Bona and Mason Wiley’s Inside Oscar.

Luise Rainer, Ramon Novarro Combat! image via LuiseRainer.net.

Continue Reading: ZERO DARK THIRTY Controversy Sells: Weekend Box Office

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