Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's Claude Rains Day on TCM!

Turner Classic Movies has chosen today to celebrate the wonderful character actor Claude Rains, airing 13 of his movies, from 1933's "The Invisible Man" at 7 pm Central to 1963's "Twilight of Honor" at 3:15 am.

Most of these are not Claude Rains-centric movies, but star vehicles for somebody else, like "Now, Voyager," one of my mother's favorite movies, that shows up at 3:45 pm this afternoon. That one puts Bette Davis in the spotlight, playing an introverted, lonely woman who takes a cruise as part of an attempt to live a more full life, and there falls in love with a married man, played by the dashing Paul Henreid. He holds two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them both and hands her one of them in a swoony, indelible romantic gesture, and even though they both know their love affair is impossible, she says, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars," in a swoony, indelible romantic line. Rains plays the therapist who encourages her to turn her life around, to go from a frump under her mother's thumb to a stylish, elegant beauty who takes the fateful cruise. It's definitely Bette's movie. She and Gladys Cooper, as her domineering mother, were nominated for Oscars. Rains was not.

"The Invisible Man," the marquee movie at 7, is clearly a Rains piece, however. The trick is that he's invisible for most of the film. Still, that cultured, rich Rains voice is front and center, and he does a terrific job communicating the character of the brilliant scientist who invents an invisibility potion, succeeds in making himself invisible, but also succeeds in driving himself insane. "Invisible Man" was Claude Rains' first Hollywood film after a distinguished stage career (and one silent film) in England. He'd also been a teacher at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

"The Invisible Man" made Claude Rains a star, but a star as a character actor rather than a leading man, one who made his biggest impact in supporting roles. If I were running Claude Rains Day at TCM, I would've tried to include "Casablanca," where Rains is as adorable as he is unforgettable as Captain Renault, the one who begins a "beautiful friendship" with Humphrey Bogart's Rick, and Alfred Hitchcock's fabulous "Notorious," where Rains is part of a group of Nazi expats living in Rio de Janeiro. His Alexander Sebastian loses his heart to Ingrid Bergman, who is romancing him to undermine him and his fellow Nazis, with help from her real love, Cary Grant. Hitchcock was known for his three-dimensional, appealing villains, and Alexander Sebastian was one of his best. You can't help but feel pangs of sympathy for this small, sweet man who pins his romantic hopes on lovely, luminous, larger Ingrid Bergman. Rains' performances shows the glimmer of hope in his eyes, the fear that she isn't for real, and the dawning awareness that he has really screwed up. Rains makes you care for Sebastian, even though he's a Nazi. That's no mean feat.

"Notorious" is a wonderful movie in a lot of other ways, too, with Cary Grant being all gorgeous and sexy (as well as nasty and dark), Bergman beautiful and vulnerable, and Hitchcock using lighting, camera angles and creepy supporting actors to ratchet up the suspense (both the romantic and spy-story variety) as the film moves along.

Rains was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars for both "Casablanca" and my beloved "Notorious," as well as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," where he played the corrupt Senator Paine, and "Mr. Skeffington," another TCM choice, where he was paired with Bette Davis again. In that one, he was Bette's Jewish husband, someone she married for reasons other than love. It may be called "Mr. Skeffington," but Mrs. Skeffington, a spoiled, fickle beauty who wreaks havoc on the lives around her, is the star all the way through. But Claude Rains does his usual excellent work, making you feel for the little guy who never gets the girl, but shows intelligence, compassion and charisma just the same.

"Mr. Skeffington" airs at 8:30 pm (Central Time Zone) tonight on TCM, right after "The Invisible Man."


  1. Just because it's so rarely shown now (though it was all over public TV when I was a kid), and because it's a rare "classical" role for Rains, I would have liked them to include "Caesar and Cleopatra." I know he was second choice for Caesar after John Gielgud declined the part, but still it's Shaw, which suits his witty attitude, and having him star opposite Vivien Leigh in Technicolor is a kick.

    Looking at TCM's background material for this all-day marathon, I find titles unfamiliar to me. I'm taken aback by this bit in the synopsis for 1939's "Four Wives" (a sequel to "Four Daughter" from the year before): "Ann has recovered from the loss of her husband, Mickey, and is engaged to fellow musician Felix, again played by Jeffrey Lynn. Then she discovers she's pregnant with Mickey's child." So... from funeral to recovery to romance to engagement takes about 2 months? Or we were expected to not delve too closely into the facts of life back then?

  2. I was taken aback that they abandoned John Garfield so easily. He was the star! Come ON! Do you think they gave her another husband before the next one?

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    Not having seen either movie, I'm at a loss here. "Another husband before the next one?" This is going to prey on my mind all day.

  4. Argh! I quoted the sentence "Do you think they gave her another husband before the next one?" between double pointy brackets, which I thought would stand out and look cool, and it all got stripped out!

  5. I was in a hurry to get out the door to see DAMN YANKEES and I didn't put that very well. There is a third movie in that series, FOUR... Something Else. (I went to look it up. FOUR DAUGHTERS, FOUR WIVES and FOUR MOTHERS.) Anyway, I was wondering if they were going to kill off her second husband and give her a third one by the third movie. After killing off John Garfield and trading him in for Jeffrey Lynn, I mean. Then they could've gone for THREE KIDS WITH THREE HUSBANDS.

    I have never seen any of these FOUR movies, as you can probably tell. I never really liked Priscilla Lane, so... Not motivated to try them.