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.