Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Claude Rains: A Man for All Seasons

London born and stage trained, Claude Rains was an exceptional actor equally adept at whimsical roles as he was in heavy drama. He made his mark in his very first Hollywood film, The Invisible Man (1933), his unmistakable voice doing most of the work. He signed on with Warner Brothers studio where his performances graced many of Hollywood’s greatest and best known classics. Warners cast him with its biggest stars at the peak of their careers and in many of their definitive films; The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn, Now, Voyager (1942) with Bette Davis and Casablanca (1943) with Humphrey Bogart.

Although rarely the lead, his characters were pivotal and always unforgettable. As Prince John in Flynn’s Robin Hood, he created one of the screen’s great villains. Wearing a heavily banged page boy bob, Rains preening prince planned and plotted only to be foiled in the end by the Prince of Thieves. Along with his role as the wise and knowing Dr. Jackwith in Now, Voyager, he also starred with Davis in Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Deception (1946). The two actors complemented one another perfectly and Rains was one of the actress’ favorite co-stars. The grande dame of the Warners’ lot even went as far to say he was “He was a pip! The best!”

The actor gave a powerful performance as a corrupt senator opposite James Stewart in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and yet another as a sinister Fascist leader in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), although it’s debatable whether he or his characters mother is more evil in the latter.

He continued working into the 1960’s and also continued his stage work, winning a Tony Award in 1951. Well respected by his peers, Rains was nominated for the Academy Award four times, though never winning the coveted prize.


  1. Claude Rains is one actor who never gave a bad performance, even in a mediocre movie. He was an incredible actor, and I like your tribute very much. I just watched "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" this morning! He stole just about every scene he was ever in, no matter who the star he worked with. I love the picture you chose for the top of the article. He was very handsome too. Wouldn't we all like to have a doctor like Dr. Jackwith! Mental ilness would be much more palatable with him to treat you!

  2. Great stuff - I love Claude Rains and think he is wonderful in Mr Skeffington with Bette Davis, which I saw not so long ago. I also have his star role in Dickens' 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' lined up to watch soon and am looking forward to it. One movie where he was definitely miscast, though, is 'They Made Me a Criminal', with John Garfield, where Warner for some reason forced Rains to play a New York cop, and gave him lines such as "I'm a cop, see" and "That was one swell-looking dame."

  3. Great post about a great actor who's sometimes underrated.

  4. Very nice profile of one of my favorite actors. I don't think he ever gave a bad performance. One of his most under-looked performances is as the father of Robert Cummings' love in KINGS ROW.

  5. Not only did Claude Rains never seem to give a bad performance but he also was always fascinating to watch. And that voice.
    One of my very favorites of his roles is Alex Sebastian in NOTORIOUS. His character is complex - on the one hand he's a cold-blooded Nazi killer - on the other, he's the henpecked son of a domineering mother and is married to a spy who doesn't love him. Vile as his character is, Rains manages to make him sympathetic at times.

  6. Wonderful tribute to a great actor. Loved him in everything he did, right down to his last performance in The Greatest Story ever told. A little correction, though. His character in Now, Voyager is spelled Dr. Jaquith. I always thought that Charlotte wound up with Dr. Jaquith at the end!



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