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Claude Rains Movies: Outstanding Studio Era Actor

Claude RainsClaude Rains, one of the finest actors of the studio era – in fact, one of the finest film actors of the 20th century – is Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month of September.

What would I recommend?

Well, whether on TCM or on DVD or on VHS or in some hidden vault somewhere, I'd say check him out in The Invisible Man and (ouch!) The Lost World; his supporting roles opposite Priscilla Lane and Bette Davis; his Oscar-nominated roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, and Notorious; his brief appearances in Lawrence of Arabia and The Greatest Story Ever Told; his cinematic swan song, Twilight of Honor. In sum, if Claude Rains is in it, however briefly, the film in question is a worth a look.

All four of Claude Rains' Oscar-nominated roles will be on tonight. As far as I'm concerned, he steals the show – sometimes single-handedly; sometimes abetted by some other player – in every single one of those films.

As much as I love Jean Arthur, her role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is subordinated to that of James Stewart, who's not what I'd call of my favorite performers. Therefore, it's up to the likes of Claude Rains and veteran (and fellow Oscar nominee) Harry Carey to make Mr. Smith Goes to Washington both darker and more humorous (Rains provides the shadows; Carey the humor) than it'd have been had its focus rested solely on Stewart's movie-movie Average Joe.

Claude Rains, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid in Casablanca

Rains also steals the show from the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid in the much-admired classic Casablanca – but truly, a gay relationship in that film… Oh, c'mon! Those people have a lot of imagination.

In Mr. Skeffington Rains has the title role and quite a lot of screen time, though Bette Davis for once gives him a run for his WB salary by doing surprisingly well as a pretty, vain woman who discovers that youth and beauty aren't all. Shocking revelation, yes, but with all that great acting and Vincent Sherman's skillful handling of the proceedings, in my view Mr. Skeffington is one of Davis' very best Warner Bros. vehicles.

Claude Rains in Notorious

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious isn't the greatest spy thriller ever made (though you – like numerous others who love this film – may disagree), but Rains is superb as a evil schemer manipulated by the even eviler Madame Konstantin, who happens to be his Mom. Well, with a mother like that who wouldn't become a Nazi? Rains and Madame K. are so good that throughout the film I was rooting for their villains, hoping they'd do away with both Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, neither of whom look very comfortable in their roles. (Much has been written about the loooong – yawn – Grant-Bergman kiss; I'd much rather have watched the Madame planting on Rains a big, slobbery smooch.)

Four Daughters is the type of “family” movie that normally would give me sinus infections and asthma attacks – except that I find this particular family drama, directed by the Oscar-nominated Michael Curtiz, and starring the lovely Priscilla Lane and John Garfield, quite moving. I'm not sure exactly what went right with this one, but it does work beautifully.

Claude Rains isn't in I Love My Mother-In-Law, But … but … with a title like that it sounds like a must-see.

 

Pacific Time

5:00 PM Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
An idealistic Senate replacement takes on political corruption. Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains. Dir.: Frank Capra. Black and white. 130 min.

7:15 PM Casablanca (1942)
An American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 103 min.

Bette Davis, Claude Rains in Mr. Skeffington9:15 PM Mr. Skeffington (1944)
A flighty beauty marries a stockbroker for convenience and almost ruins both their lives. Cast: Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Walter Abel. Dir.: Vincent Sherman. Black and white. 146 min.

11:45 PM Notorious (1946)
A U.S. agent recruits a German expatriate to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Brazil. Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock. Black and white. 101 min.

1:30 AM Four Daughters (1938)
A small-town family's peaceful life is shattered when one daughter falls for a rebellious musician. Cast: Claude Rains, Priscilla Lane, Lola Lane, Rosemary Lane, Gail Page, Jeffrey Lynn, John Garfield. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 90 min.

3:15 AM Daughters Courageous (1939)
A father returns to the family he left years earlier and tries to solve their problems. Cast: Claude Rains, John Garfield, Priscilla Lane. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 107 min.

5:15 AM Four Wives (1939)
Three married women play matchmaker for their widowed sister. Cast: Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Claude Rains. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 99 min.

7:15 AM Four Mothers (1941)
Four married sisters face financial problems as motherhood approaches. Cast: Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, Jeffrey Lynn, Eddie Albert. Dir.: William Keighley. Black and white. 85 min.

8:41 AM Short Film: I Love My Mother-In-Law, But … (1948)
Every husband loves their mother-in-law, but when they are like the ones portrayed in this short it can be difficult! Cast: Dave O'Brien, Dorothy Short Dir: David Barclay BW-8 min.

Sept. 9

Robert Montgomery, Rita Johnson, Claude Rains in Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Claude Rains returns this Wednesday, Sept. 9, in more films featuring Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month.

Every single one of the titles listed below is worth watching if only because of Rains' presence. That said, a couple of them actually have considerably more to offer: Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Deception (1946).

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a witty, romantic comedy about love, death, reincarnation, greed, bad timing, and prizefighting. I know, this all (minus the prizefighting) sounds like some heavy-duty drama straight out of the Bible or some other holy book, but director Alexander Hall and screenwriters Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller, adapting Harry Segall's play Heaven Can Wait, handle those serious themes with a lightness that would have done Ernst Lubitsch proud.

Rains (flawlessly) plays the classy Mr. Jordan, the guy who comes visit you right at that moment when – ready or not – you're just about to Meet your Maker. Mr. Jordan is abetted by Edward Everett Horton, a well-intentioned but clumsy angel who messes things up when he takes a man whose time hasn't arrived, yet. The man in question, Robert Montgomery, must be sent back to Earth – in another man's body – only to uncover a plot to kill him off. Also in the top-notch cast: Evelyn Keyes, Rita Johnson, and John Emery. In fact, even James Gleason is quite tolerable as Montgomery's manager.

All in all, Here Comes Mr. Jordan is one of the few Hollywood movies then or now whose magic feels neither trite nor contrived. Warren Beatty (with Buck Henry) remade it as Heaven Can Wait in 1978, but despite a strong supporting cast – Julie Christie, Dyan Cannon, Charles Grodin – the magic was all but completely lost.

Claude Rains, Bette Davis in DeceptionDeception, a remake of the 1929 Jeanne Eagels melo Jealousy, stars Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains as three points of a love triangle that ends in heartbreak, murder, and classical music. Deception is a great-looking, thoroughly professional production featuring all the talent and craftsmanship that Warner Bros. could buy in the mid-1940s. Even so, the film lacks the layers of complexity found in Davis' more mature vehicles such as The Letter and The Little Foxes.

Perhaps that's the chief problem with Deception: it was directed by Irving Rapper, not William Wyler. Yet, Claude Rains' performance as Alexander Hollenius, Davis' mentor and tormentor, is nothing short of masterful. In other words, Deception is a must-see.

Rapper also guides Davis and Rains, plus Henreid and Gladys Cooper, in the unabashedly melodramatic Now, Voyager (1942), which lots of women and some gay guys seem to like a whole lot. I'm not sure what they see in this one – if it's the moon, the stars, or some passing comet – but I've never been able to get into Now, Voyager despite Sol Polito's nuanced cinematography and Max Steiner's melodious score.

Bette Davis is Bette Davis here, actressy all the way, while Rains deserved better than to play a secondary role as a psychiatrist who helps Davis' ugly duckling come out of her egg shell. In fact, I'd have liked Now, Voyager much more had it been about a murderous romance involving Rains and Gladys Cooper's domineering Mom. I really don't care who would kill or who would get killed, as long as most of the characters in this film ended up dead somewhere along the way. (I've always been a sucker for happy endings.)

Kings Row (1942) could have been much better had it had more Ann Sheridan and Betty Field and less Ronald Reagan and Robert Cummings. Ah, it would also have helped if Casey Robinson's screenplay had actually delved deeper into the issues found in this story set in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century – e.g., sex, hypocrisy, madness, bigotry – instead of tiptoeing around them. Perhaps the problem lay in Henry Bellamann's novel, but whether that's true or not (I haven't read it), it surely was exacerbated by the puritanical freaks at the Hays Office (or Breen's Office by then).

Angel on My Shoulder (1946) stars hammy Paul Muni, always an excellent reason to skip a movie – but it does have Rains (as the Devil) and Anne Baxter, both of whom do try, even if in vain. Harry Segall wrote the original story and co-wrote the screenplay with Roland Kibbee, but Here Comes Mr. Jordan this ain't. Perhaps part of the problem with Angel on My Shoulder is that when you have human beings around – this film was released the year after World War II ended – who the hell needs the Devil to either commit or justify horrific deeds?

Pacific Time

5:00 PM Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
A prizefighter who died before his time is reincarnated as a tycoon with a murderous wife. Cast: Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains. Dir.: Alexander Hall. Black and white. 94 mins

6:45 PM Angel On My Shoulder (1946)
The Devil sends a murdered gangster to Earth as a respected judge. Cast: Paul Muni, Anne Baxter, Claude Rains. Dir.: Archie Mayo. Black and white. 101 mins

8:30 PM Now, Voyager (1942)
A repressed spinster is transformed by psychiatry and her love for a married man. Cast: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper, Bonita Graville, Ilka Chase. Dir.: Irving Rapper. Black and white. 118 mins

10:30 PM Deception (1946)
A woman tries to protect her refugee husband from her rich and powerful ex-lover. Cast: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains. Dir.: Irving Rapper. Black and white. 112 mins

12:30 AM Kings Row (1942)
Small town scandals inspire an idealistic young man to take up psychiatry. Cast: Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Charles Coburn. Dir.: Sam Wood. Black and white. 127 mins

Sept. 16

Claude Rains, Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse
Claude Rains, Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse

Turner Classic Movies will be showing eight movies featuring Claude Rains, TCM's Star of the Month of September, beginning at 5PM Pacific Time.

Of those, I've seen only three:

Juarez (1939) could have been a good historical biopic, but things go wrong from the start thanks to the miscasting of Paul Muni as Benito Juárez. Even Bette Davis, who plays the mad Empress Carlotta von Hapsburg, would have been more believable as Mexico's first full-blooded American Indian to be elected president. William Dieterle was also the wrong man to direct Juarez, as Dieterle's hand tended to be quite heavy when dealing with real-life subjects, e.g., The Life of Emile Zola, The Story of Louis Pasteur, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet. The only stand-out in the film's extensive roster of supporting players is Brian Aherne, who manages to bring a touch of humanity to his Emperor Maximilian. In this one, Claude Rains plays Emperor Napoleon III.

Rains fares infinitely better in Gabriel Pascal's British-made adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), in which the actor's mellifluous voice is used to excellent advantage. In fact, despite the production's theatrical feel, Caesar and Cleopatra is quite watchable mostly because of Rains' and Vivien Leigh's performances. (Though, admittedly, Leigh's Cleopatra comes across a little too kittenish at times.) As a plus, the cinematography – credited to lens-masters Jack Cardiff, Jack Hildyard, Robert Krasker, and Freddie Young – is first-rate.

Anthony Adverse (1936) is a big bore, but considering its cast (in addition to Rains, there's Fredric March in the title role, Olivia de Havilland, Gale Sondergaard, Louis Hayward, Edmund Gwenn, Akim Tamiroff, and others) and pedigree (four Academy Award wins, including a best supporting actress Oscar for Sondergaard), this period melodrama – about an orphan, the girl he loves, and everything and everyone keeping them apart – is worth at least a look.

Of the ones I haven't seen, Passage to Marseille (1944) and Lady with Red Hair (1940) are the two most intriguing. The former is an adventure tale involving Nazis and Devil's Island escapees whose chief point of interest is the presence of Rains and Michèle Morgan in the cast; the latter stars Miriam Hopkins as stage Grand Dame Mrs. Leslie Carter, and was directed by the reliable Curtis Bernhardt. Rains plays legendary theatrical impresario David Belasco.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, the 1937 Kay Francis melodrama Stolen Holiday could be a hoot.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website.

Pacific Time

5:00 PM Passage to Marseille (1944)
Devil's Island escapees join up with the Allies during World War II. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Michele Morgan. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 109 min.

7:00 PM Sealed Cargo (1951)
A fisherman tangles with Nazi smugglers off the Canadian coast. Cast: Dana Andrews, Carla Balenda, Claude Rains. Dir.: Alfred Werker. Black and white. 89 min.

8:45 PM Juarez (1939)
True story of Mexico's Abraham Lincoln and his fight against Napoleon's empire. Cast: Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Brian Aherne. Dir.: William Dieterle. Black and white. 121 min.

11:00 PM Caesar And Cleopatra (1945)
Julius Caesar gives the famed Egyptian queen lessons in government. Cast: Claude Rains, Vivien Leigh, Stewart Granger. Dir.: Gabriel Pascal. Color. 128 min.

1:23 AM Short Film: Anthony Adverse: The Making of a Great Motion Picture (1936)
BW-7 min.

1:30 AM Anthony Adverse (1936)
An orphan runs off to a life of adventure, then returns to France in search of the girl he left behind. Cast: Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Black and white. 141 min.

4:00 AM Hearts Divided (1936)
Napoleon's younger brother falls for a girl from Baltimore. Cast: Marion Davies, Dick Powell, Claude Rains. Dir.: Frank Borzage. Black and white. 76 min.

5:21 AM Short Film: Canoeman's Holiday (1956)
BW-8 min.

5:30 AM Stolen Holiday (1937)
A Paris fashion model marries a fortune hunter to protect him from the law. Cast: Claude Rains, Kay Francis, Ian Hunter. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 80 min.

7:00 AM Lady With Red Hair (1940)
An actress hopes to regain her lost son by making it to the top. Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Claude Rains, Richard Ainley. Dir.: Curtis Bernhardt. Black and white. 78 min.

More Claude Rains movies

Claude RainsClaude Rains Movies

Turner Classic Movies, Sunday, August 5

GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938) A gold strike in California triggers a bitter feud between farmers and prospectors. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains. Color-94 minutes.

THEY WON'T FORGET (1937) Bigotry flares when a teacher is accused of killing a small-town girl in the South. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson, Edward Norris. Black and White-95 minutes.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) A British nobleman undergoes a startling transformation when he's bitten by a gypsy werewolf. Dir.: George Waggner. Cast: Lon Chaney Jr, Maria Ouspenskaya, Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy. Black and White-70 minutes.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) A scientist's experiments with invisibility turn him into a madman. Dir.: James Whale. Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan. Black and White-71 minutes.

MR. SKEFFINGTON (1944) A flighty beauty marries a stockbroker for convenience and almost ruins both their lives. Dir.: Vincent Sherman. Cast: Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Walter Abel. Black and White-146 minutes.

THE UNSUSPECTED (1947) The producer of a radio crime series commits the perfect crime, then has to put the case on the air. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Joan Caulfield, Claude Rains, Audrey Totter. Black and White-103 minutes.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) The bandit king of Sherwood Forest leads his Merry Men in a battle against the corrupt Prince John. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Una O'Connor. Color-102 minutes.

TWILIGHT OF HONOR (1963) A struggling lawyer takes on a controversial murder case that could make or break him. Dir.: Boris Sagal. Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Joey Heatherton, Nick Adams, Claude Rains. Black and White-104 minutes. Letterbox.

 

Movie schedules and synopsis via the TCM website.


         
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7 Comments to Claude Rains Movies: Outstanding Studio Era Actor

  1. Andre

    @Jerry,

    I believe you mean that *Deception* was a reunion of the three “Now, Voyager” principals — not the other way around.

    I did quite a bit of research on the Hays Code while I was working on my Ramon Novarro bio.
    They helped to ruin at least one Novarro vehicle — “Laughing Boy” — and I'm sure that the 1935 musical “The Night Is Young” would have been much better had it been made two years earlier.

    Now I'm curious to check out Bellamann's novel…

  2. Jerry

    Okay, reading more closely, I do see that you included Henreid in the Deception paragraph.

    The making of King's Row, however, merits its own Wikipedia entry subsection.

  3. Jerry

    But, but, but!

    Actually, Now, Voyager was a reunion for its three principals (you seem to have forgotten that Henrein played Davis's husband in Deception four years earlier).

    As far as King's Row not going far enough, you should probably research the history of the Hays Code; considering the self-censorship guiding the hand of the film industry, it's a wonder that the film version ever got made at all, considering the themes that the screenwriters had to deal with — or, more inportantly, not deal with because of the Code.

  4. Andre

    (Literally) shooting stars??

  5. Daniel Camargo

    “Where's the rest of me!”, that's another good reason to see King's Row. Would it be better if Ronni Reagan lots his head instead of his legas?
    As for Now, Voayger, there are plenty other reasons to see it! First, the charming way to light two cigarrettes in the mouth, and second, the wonderful studio back projection and backlot views of dazzling Rio de Janeiro at the 40's. What else could you guys want?

  6. lemur

    Love Claude Rains in Casablanca. A special frienship!

    I thought Rains had won an Oscar but it seems like he was only nominated.

  7. Trevor Arthur

    Thomas Mitchell was also great in “Mr. Smith.” I believe that he'd have gotten an Oscar nomination for his performance if it weren't for the fact (?) that he got more votes for “Stagecoach.”