Discovering Rains in a Torrent!

DATELINE: Marvel of Supporting Actor

Bogart & Rains! Shocked, shocked! (and shocked again).

No, it’s not a meteorological treatise on the workings of Donald Trump’s weathermen series. Discovering Claude Rains is a short biographic documentary on the great character actor.

Like most entries in this series, it is truly short on real life details, but heavy handed when it comes to movie clips.

We do learn that Rains came from poverty, not privilege, and he was a self-made man who looked like he was born to the manor and the manner.

It was his voice that brought his accolades for stage, well before there were talky movies. He was far too short to be a leading man, but he could be the foil and nemesis to the hero.

Rains did not need too many scenes to steal a movie—as Bette Davis learned the hard way. In one film she even shoots him, but his dying breath underscores the film. He could underplay Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, and he could be completely hidden by bandages in The Invisible Man, and still show a full personality through his voice.

When visiting a friend of Rains, Howard Gottlieb who ran the Special Collections Library at Boston University, he gave this writer the special treat of trying on the plastic laurel wreath Rains wore in Caesar and Cleopatra. It didn’t fit. Gottlieb had many of Claude’s memorabilia, including an impressive oil portrait.

Later, Rains’ wry expressions added to the repertoire. Casablanca gave him a charming rogue, but he returned regularly to horror films: Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man. He often played fatherly sorts, many years beyond his real age. He was like Walter Brennan in that score. It seemed he was old for fifty years.

His end never gave away his roots: he moved to New Hampshire—and there lived in retirement as a New England gentleman. He became what the world wanted him to be.

The best part of this short documentary is the ending when Dooley Wilson sings an unusual version of “As Time Goes By,” as there is a reprise of clips of Claude Rains in his best scenes.

 

 

 

Angel on My Shoulder: Classic Fantasy

DATELINE: Devilish Fun.

he's no angel  He’s no angel (Muni with Rains).

Harry Segall was the trifecta leader in Hollywood in the 1940s. You may confuse his three movies about death and the hereafter for their formulaic plots.

He loved the devil/angel angles and used them in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait (original story), and Angel on My Shoulder. He worked at all the major studios and wrote exactly the heavenly tale requested.

Almost always it featured the wry, sly Claude Rains (one-time Invisible Man) as the spiritual or demonic force. He did these lighter films between a series of Warner Brothers epics with either Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart.

He was always the scene-stealing costar.

In Angel on My Shoulder, he reverses course and plays the devil. Indeed, the opening twenty minutes of the film is delightful in its cynical and diabolic presentation of Hell. And, Rains runs his  corporation with a hot hand. He quotes doggerel poetry to great effect.

Without makeup, Paul Muni is the lug this time: it’s either a boxer or a gangster from the shady side with a blue-collar, ghetto demeanor. He is always saved by a beautiful, wholesome girl (this time Anne Baxter before she went to seed in All About Eve).  Muni foregoes playing a historical figure to be a contemporary crook for once.

One you leave the netherworld and return to the Big City of 1946, you have the usual stereotypic gangster idiots with recognizable faces from a dozen other films. Of course, he takes over his Doppleganger’s body (the virtuous Judge Parker).

All the bad guys are shocked by the change in the Judge to newly acquired thuggish lexicon –“Let me case the joint,” he requests.

He has been dispatched by a traitor fellow crook, Smiley, when he asks for his old gat and receives four slugs. “Let me have it,” is exactly the mantra used.

Of course, the love of a good woman changes everything, though the gangster cannot remain in the body he doesn’t own—and more deals with the devil are required.

Special effects are simple and kept to a minimum, mostly walking through doors.

Rains always transcended the material, and he does so here too.

Invisible Wells Classic

DATELINE: Whale of a Film

Rains

When James Whale chose to do his next amusing gothic horror, it turned out to be H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist who becomes invisible. It has now become a trite metaphor, but this is the original—and therein hangs some fascination. The Invisible Man came out in 1933.

To play a man who won’t be seen for most of the film, Whale chose Claude Rains whose voice manages to carry his performance. And Jack Pierce’s makeup is the notion of a wig, fake nose, dark glasses, and a bandaged mummy wrap to hide the lack of face.

Rains would go on to become one of the most familiar of second-banana stars—stealing movies like Casablanca in every scene they gave him.

For a film made in the early 1930s, the delightful special effects of invisibility set a standard that today still cannot be achieved. There is something in the primitive, expressionistic style that gives the unwrapping of Rains to scare the locals with such hilarious and horrific power.

As Dr. Jack Griffin, Rains gives a couple of classic homicidal maniac speeches about murdering people for the good of science, while his lovely girlfriend Gloria Stuart (of Titanic fame about 60 years later) frets about. Whale nixed Rains as Dr. Praetorius in the Bride of Frankenstein because of on-set difficulties between them.

Henry Travers is the dutiful sober-sided scientist. Best known as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is less befuddled here. As the loud, half-crazed tavern owner, there is Una O’Connor, shrieking whenever there is a chance.

We also saw Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in one of his earliest roles as the man with the bicycle. He does a wonderful low-brow Brit accent. Also there is John Carradine, father of Keith and David, as a minor character on the telephone.

Alas, Whale was saddled with many American actors whose regionalisms are completely out of place in a small English town. The village boys are decidedly American in tone.

Whales frequently films shorty Rains from the knees looking upward, giving him a frightful height, and the sets are spectacular and sumptuous, a sign that the budgets had improved for the director of Frankenstein.

 

Whatever its shortcomings, this remains an impressive achievement in cinema history.

 

 

Bill Belichick Stars as Captain Renault in Casablanca!

DATELINE: Rounding Up Twice the Usual Shock

Rains

Starring Bill Belichick as Claude Rains

If you felt like you were watching a bad remake of the Humphrey Bogart classic, Casablanca, you were not alone.

The Bill Belichick press conference about Deflategate seemed to be re-enacting one of the more famous scenes of the movie.

The gendarmes crash into Rick’s Place for a raid. Whistles blow and everyone scrambles.

Bogart demands to know what is going on from the Prefect of police, Captain Renault. As played by the slick Claude Rains, his expression is purely feigned innocence.

Captain Renault barks out, “I am shocked, shocked, shocked, to hear there is gambling going on in this establishment.”

Rick storms away in fury, and one of the croupiers runs up to Captain Renault and hands him his winnings, which he promptly stuffs into his pocket. “Oh, thank you.”

Bill Belichick gave his press conference and noted duly with a straight face, “I am shocked, shocked, shocked to hear that footballs were under-inflated.” The first he heard of this was Monday morning when he came into his office at 4am.

Belichick had never in his life ever discussed the psi of footballs with anyone. In fact, he simply plays the game with the equipment given him at game time.

He never questions the inflation of the balls, the atmospheric pressure of the stadium, or the meteorologist’s forecast of the game.

Yes, indeed, we are shocked, shocked, shocked!