Tag Archives: Claude Rains

Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock)

In the third act of Notorious, director Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht (who had some uncredited and quite exquisite help) figure out a way to get maximal drama out of a rather mundane situation. Well, mundane as far as the possibilities of American agents in Rio de Janeiro (with the permission of the government) trying to root out Nazi moneymen after the war. And as mundane as is possible when Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant are the American agents. When they’re glamourous and star-crossed lovers. Mundane for all those conditions.

Because a big action sequence wouldn’t be out of place in Notorious. It’s a spy thriller, with a naif (Bergman) as the main spy and a debonair Grant as her handler. Claude Rains is the villain, though he’s a somewhat benign one. Even when he’s most dangerous, Rains is always pitiful. He’s a mama’s boy—singular performance from Leopoldine Konstantin as the mom—and he used to know Bergman’s dad. During the War, when they were traitors; Bergman’s dad got busted (leading to Grant finding some leverage to get her to help), Rains ran away to Rio. Grant needs Bergman to help not just because her dad gives her cred with the Nazis… but because Rains had the hots for her. It’s not illegal inappropriate—she would’ve been late twenties, he would’ve been late forties—or even exceptionally (and definitely not for a movie). Bergman did not reciprocate.

It should be the perfect assignment, particularly for Bergman because—the agency has decided—she’s already lost her virtue so why not do for Uncle Sam. Grant’s boss, an outstanding Louis Calhern, sees Bergman as an asset and can’t figure out why Grant doesn’t do the same. Though Calhern also doesn’t want to ask. Meanwhile, it’s not the perfect assignment for Bergman or Grant because the two of them managed to fall in love even though Grant’s kind of a dick and Bergman’s got a serious drinking problem. But Notorious makes it all work. The writing, the acting, Hitchcock’s glorious, glamorous close-up heavy direction, plus the photography—Ted Tetzlaff—the music—Roy Webb—and especially Theron Warth’s editing. Warth’s cutting is what makes Notorious thrilling. Warth’s cutting, Hitchcock’s directing, Bergman’s acting.

Notorious runs just over a hundred minutes and at least the entire first act and a chunk of the second is all just a close examination of Bergman as she goes through this momentous life change. She’s gone from shamed public enemy to secret agent to potential secret agent power couple. Notorious doesn’t just pull off its plot—charming espionage thriller—it’s got the whole romance thing going too. Grant wants Bergman to say no the assignment, Bergman wants Grant to tell her she can’t do it, but he’s a dick about it because it’s his job and it’s duty before love and all whereas Bergman—who the film establishes magnificently in the first few scenes, thanks to Hecht’s writing and Bergman’s awesome deliver of the dialogue—just wants Grant to acknowledge her as a person and not some stereotype. Now, while Grant’s debonair and all and definitely Cary Grant levels of attractive, he’s also a socially awkward goof. Not a lot, but just a bit. Enough he’s bad with people in general, more ladies, and Bergman specifically.

With barely a handful of Grant moments, Notorious is a spotlight on Bergman for the first forty-five or so minutes. Once Bergman gets to Rains’s house and gets to meet everyone—all his Nazi pals, mom Konstantin, of course, and then butler Alexis Minotis (who’s peculiar in just the right way, though it seems entirely coincidental—like, Minotis will glance at the camera, which the film is able to get away with thanks to Hitchcock’s establishing it elsewhere—but anyway, after the film gets to the house it pretty much doesn’t leave and Hitchcock and Hecht adjust the narrative distance to Bergman and how the film tracks her narrative.

At this point, Notorious starts to feel a little different. Then a lot different. Then when Hitchcock synthesizes the styles in the third act, it feels like it’s been longer (partially because the film skips ahead quite at least twice in the second act, which works well in maintaining tension). But there’s no rushing on the second act of the second act part of Notorious; Bergman gets a great arc. Rains gets a great arc. Grant gets to continue his arc, which has him mostly fretting in the backgrounds—often literally—as he becomes so frustrated with the situation and, eventually, himself. Bergman’s performance, particularly in the first act, is amazing. No question about it, the stuff she does it doesn’t seem like anyone else could ever do. Just spectacular, one of a kind stuff. Grant’s background stuff is a lot less superlative (it’s more like he just realized playing the whole part comedically just without any big jokes was the way to do it), but it’s one of Notorious’s many treasures.

It’s an outstanding film. Hitchcock’s direction is inventive, measured, ambitious, enthused. Outstanding script. Wonderful performances from Bergman and Grant. The film’s an obvious technical masterpiece but still has a buzz of Hollywood magic to it. Notorious is—quite obviously at this point in time—one of a kind. In the best ways.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Ben Hecht; director of photography, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Theron Warth; music by Roy Webb; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Cary Grant (Devlin), Ingrid Bergman (Alicia Huberman), Claude Rains (Alexander Sebastian), Leopoldine Konstantin (Mme. Sebastian), Louis Calhern (Paul Prescott), Alexis Minotis (Joseph), Reinhold Schünzel (Dr. Anderson), and Ivan Triesault (Eric Mathis).


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley)

The Adventures of Robin Hood gets by on a lot of charm. Charm and costuming (good and bad). The film opens with title cards setting the scene. Sherwood Forest, evil King’s brother, righteous nobel, beautiful damsel, insidious villain, and Technicolor tights–Claude Rains looking like a Little Lord Fauntleroy grew up and broke bad.

Rains, with sidekicks Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, and Montagu Love, isn’t a terrible villain. When there’s first act banter between Rains and Flynn, it seems like Rains is going to be a great one. It’s like Rains is buying into the pomposity of the production. Maybe it’s when Keighley is still directing the film, maybe it’s Curtiz. They didn’t work together; the studio canned Keighley for weak action scenes.

And action scenes are Robin Hood’s weakness. Neither Curtiz or Keighley has much of a handle on them. There’s almost a discomfort around the castle sets, like neither director knows how he wants to shoot the exteriors. There are some decent moments on the outdoor castle and village set, but not many. Robin Hood’s best directorial moments are indoors. Even the problematic ones; one of the directors has some real issues with framing the grandiose castle interiors, like he’s going for something and it just doesn’t translate.

Olivia de Havilland’s condemned Maid Marian, tinily waiting her sentence, is a somewhat effective moment, but it’s not a style the directors use in the rest of the film. Just for inside the castle for a bit in the second half of the film, specifically as the second act winds down. de Havilland’s gowns are always exquisite–quite the opposite of the men in tights–and the shots sort of showcase them, but her performance during her bigger character moments could’ve been shot a lot better.

There’s also Ralph Dawson’s editing.

But the problem is the script more than anything else. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller string together some introductions to familiar Robin Hood supporting cast through the first act–while setting up Rains’s villainry–and that first act is pretty much the most Flynn gets to do in the film actingwise. He and de Havilland flirt wonderfully through the rest of the film, but it’s all easy stuff. And then in the second act, de Havilland gets a lot more to do, only to lose it all for the third act. Third act is a mostly even split between Flynn and Rains, along with the deus ex machina sauntering around, but it’s not a return to the first act.

Robin Hood has a lot of (tighted) buts to it. Basil Rathbone’s an effective strong man villain, but he has no character and Rathbone doesn’t bring one to it. He just sweats well during the sword fights. Same goes for the Merry Men. Patric Knowles gets top billing despite having nothing to do. He’s purely functional. At least Eugene Pallette and Alan Hale eventually bicker, though it comes out of nowhere.

The best parts of the supporting cast are this underdeveloped, but frequently utilized, romance between Flynn’s “squire” Herbert Mundin and de Havilland’s lady-in-waiting Una O’Connor. And Melville Cooper’s cowardly Nottingham Sheriff is eventually funny, just because the script doesn’t forget about the joke. Cooper’s character gets a singular consistency and he does well with it.

Shame Rains doesn’t have a similar success.

Beautiful Technicolor cinematography from Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito. Omnipresent and overbearing, but still good in parts, score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Adventures of Robin Hood ought to be better, even though some of the cast does all right.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley; screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller; directors of photography, Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito; edited by Ralph Dawson; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (Prince John), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale (Little John), Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham), Una O’Connor (Bess), Herbert Mundin (Much), and Montagu Love (Bishop of the Black Canons).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND + ERROL FLYNN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LAURA OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES and CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)

The Invisible Man is a filmmaking marvel. First off, R.C. Sherriff’s screenplay sets things up speedily and without much exposition. The film introduces Claude Rains’s character through everyone else’s point of view–first the strangers he meets, then his familiars–all while Rains is front and center in the film. Even though he is, after all, invisible.

Rains is another marvel. The script is excellent, Whale does a peerless job directing (more on his contributions in a bit), but Rains makes the whole thing possible. With him, Invisible isn’t some horror picture or a sci-fi one, it’s a very simple, very tragic story of a man going mad. It doesn’t need the special effects, it just needs Rains. Everything else is a bonus. It’s an outstanding performance.

The whole cast is great–Gloria Stuart has to sell the idea Rains was once a lovable guy, so goes Henry Travers for instance. William Harrigan gets to be a sleaze bag but a decent enough minded one.

Now for Whale. Many of the special effects in The Invisible Man are unbelievable. Even the ones where they obviously used some kind of matte decades are sort of unbelievable, but the practical effects–where the bandages must have been suspended by wire–those are astonishing. And Whale knows, early on, to wow the audience. But he never lets up with it; it’s one wow after another.

The Invisible Man gets better on every viewing. The work from Whale, Rains and Sherriff is singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Claude Rains (The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Const. Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane) and Merle Tottenham (Millie).


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Sons of Liberty (1939, Michael Curtiz)

Despite Michael Curtiz directing and Claude Rains starring–Curtiz does better than Rains–Sons of Liberty is a rather tepid little short.

Rains plays a Jewish proto-American (circa 1776) who sacrifices all for the United States. He even dies penniless because he won’t sign a document on the Sabbath. Of course, Liberty never says the word “Jewish.” I was shocked when someone identified a rabbi by title.

The short also has a lot of problems establishing characters. Gale Sondergaard shows up as Rains’s wife–she’s not very good either. She shows up after Rains has supposedly been in jail for a year. I understand they’re playing fast and loose with history–I didn’t look up the real story because I wouldn’t want it ruined–but Curtiz and writer Crane Wilbur ignore even the most basic narrative requirements.

While it’s interesting as a historical document, but Liberty is a flop.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; written by Crane Wilbur; directors of photography, Sol Polito and Ray Rennahan; edited by Thomas Pratt; music by Howard Jackson; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Claude Rains (Haym Salomon), Gale Sondergaard (Rachel Salomon), Donald Crisp (Alexander McDougall), Montagu Love (George Washington), Henry O’Neill (Member of Continental Congress) and James Stephenson (Colonel Tillman).


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