Claude Rains had a high reputation as a stage actor when, in his mid-forties, he made the oddest of all film debuts. James Whale cast him as The Invisible Man. So this fine actor, renowned for his mobile and expressive features, played his first major film part in bandages or invisible.
The voice – rich, vibrant and sardonic did all the work. For the next thirty-odd years Rains played leads and character parts, and for the first half of that period he was scarcely in a bad film.
He played many sympathetic parts (the father in Four Daughters, the psychiatrist in Now Voyager) and many villains – but even they were sympathetic. “I’m only a poor corrupt official” says Rains’ police chief in Casablanca, but the smile and the twinkle with which he says it make one forget the corruption in admiration of the man. Here though is our pick of five of his best movies.
The Invisible Man (1933)
In this classic Universal horror film based on the H. G. Wells novella, Rains (in his debut, a role that monster master Boris Karloff turned down) plays a mad scientist whose formula for invisibility wreaks havoc on his mind, and he begins to lust for power. Directed by one of Hollywood’s most distinctive stylists, James Whale (Frankenstein), it co-stars Gloria Stuart long before her Academy Award nominated role in Titanic.
Director: James Whale
Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Holmes Herbert, Una O’Connor, Henry Travers
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Capra’s enduring favorite has James Stewart as the idealistic, yet naive, politician sent to Washington as junior senator who runs afoul of the political corruption in his state. Capra favorite Arthur plays his cynical secretary and Rains the powerful senior senator who expects Smith to be nothing more than a rubber stamp. As with the best of Capra’s films, the sentiment and moralizing are kept in check by wonderful acting and genuine emotion. Based on Lewis R. Foster’s novel The Gentleman from Montana. Academy Award Nominations: 11, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor: James Stewart; Best Supporting Actor: Harry Carey.
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Jean Arthur, Beulah Bondi, Harry Carey, Thomas Mitchell, H. B. Warner
Now, Voyager (1942)
“Now, Voyager, sail forth to seek and find.” Rains is a psychiatrist who quotes this line from Walt Whitman to inspire the repressed Bette Davis. Soon, the shy, sheltered spinster is brought out of her shell and falls in love with handsome, suave Henreid, though she knows he will never leave his wife. Through years of trials, their love endures and she becomes a surrogate mother to Henreid’s daughter (Wilson). The quintessential Hollywood tearjerker, with a lush Steiner score. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Actress: Bette Davis; Best Supporting Actress: Gladys Cooper.
Director: Irving Rapper
Cast: Ilka Chase, Gladys Cooper, Bette Davis, Bonita Granville, Paul Henreid, John Loder, Lee Patrick, Claude Rains
Mr. Skeffington (1944)
This popular Warner melodrama has Bette Davis as a society beauty who marries to prevent her brother from being arrested for embezzlement. She never forgives Rains, her banker husband, and they divorce. When their daughter flees her and she contracts a withering case of diphtheria, Davis learns that Rains has survived a concentration camp and is blind and poor. The one time beauty returns to the one time rich man. A strong script and two star performances, which garnered Academy Award nominations. Davis and Rains starred opposite each other four times in seven years (1939—1946). This was their third film together after Juarez (1939) and Now, Voyager (1942) they would also star together in Deception (1946). Franz Waxman’s score was called by one critic “the best [Richard] Strauss score not written by Strauss.” The score features some unusual early electronic instruments including an electric violin and a novachord. Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress: Bette Davis; Best Supporting Actor: Claude Rains.
Director: Vincent Sherman
Cast: Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Walter Abel, John Alexander, George Coulouris, Jerome Cowan,
Caesar and Cleopatra (1946)
An extravagant, big-budget adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s epic depicting the political and personal lives of Roman Emperor Caesar and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Caesar comes to Alexandria to quell a civil war and falls in love with the young and inexperienced Cleopatra, who is dominated by an evil servant and her conniving brother Ptolemy. Caesar teaches her to be a leader and unleashes his army against the devious Ptolemy.
Director: Gabriel Pascal
Cast: Claude Rains, Stewart Granger, Vivien Leigh, Raymond Lovell, Cecil Parker, Flora Robson, Francis L. Sullivan, Basil Sydney, Ernest Thesiger