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Claude Rains (1899-1967)

  1. John Barrymore, A Bill of Divorcement, 1932.       Following West End and Broadway stage success, Rains tested for his first film - and was told he had no movie future. Director James Whale saw the test and booked him for a voice-only debut as The Invisible Man, 1933.
  2. Ernest Thesiger, The Bride of Frankenstein, 1934.      Frankenstein director James Whale refused to tackle any sequel. Kurt Neumann was to take over in 1933, And Rains in ’34 - until switched to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
  3. Peter Lorre, Mad Love,1934.   MGM was warned off such a shockingly brutal thriller. Instead, it calmly ear-marked Rains and Virginia Bruce, before switching to Lorre’s US debut opposite Frances Drake… The result was banned in various countries while others simply cut all the use of strangulation, torture and the guillotine.  Something for everyone.
  4. Leslie Howard, Pygmalion, 1937.   George Bernard Shaw was a master  writer - only one to win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar!    Not so hot on casting. He  wanted tubby Laughton as Professor Henry Higgins and - worse! - Brooklyn’s  Marion Davies as the Cockney flower seller Eliza Dolittle.  The wiser head of producer Gabriel Pascal prevailed: Howard (or Rains) and Wendy Hiller.  [See #15].
  5. Cedric Hardwicke, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1938. Rains was also in the list for Chief Justice Frollo. Likewise, Basil Rathbone, but Universal  would not allow Sherlock Holmes to lerave 221b Baker Street for Paris and a tale “BIG beyond words!…Wondrous beyond belief!…Magnificent beyond compare!”
  6. Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1938.      Director William Dieterle’s one and only titular choice was Laughton.  However, he was trying to set up a Cyrano De Bergerac at MGM.  Before that dream collapsed and he signed on as  Quasimodo, RKO looked at the obvious (Lugosi or Lon Chaney Jr) and  the intriguing… Rains, Robert Morley and even Orson Welles.
  7. Basil Rathbone, Son of Frankenstein, 1938.       Wolf, by name.
  8. John Shepperd, The Loves of Edgar Allen Poe, 1941.        Rains, John Garfield, Louis Hayward and Franchot Tone were all in the Poe mix in what The New York Times complained was “no more than a postured and lifeless tableau.”  Probably why  Shepperd quickley reverted to his (real) Broadway name: Shepperd Strudwick.
  9. Bobby Watson, The Hitler Gang,1943. Rains, Alexander Knox (US President Woodrow Wilson in 1945) and even Orson Welles were bizarre ideas for the Führer in one of eight Hitler-titled US movies during WWII. This was Paramount’s offering, a “documentary-propaganda” justly shot down by New York Times  critic Bosley Crowther for being “cut very much to the pattern of some of our early and better gangster films” which  meant “that the grave responsibility of the German citizens for what they have allowed has been neatly tossed onto the shoulders of a few ruffians, Army officers and industrialists.” was Watson’s sixth of nine screen portrayals of Hitler.
  10. Charles Coburn, Princess O’Rourke, 1942.       Coburn and Rains were roles apart. But they gave good uncle. In this comedy (a first draft for 1952’s Roman Holiday?), Rains was the concerned kin of Olivia De Havilland’s Euro-princess fleeing WWII by living incognito in the US.
  11. Jon Hall, The Invisible Man’s Revenge, 1944.      Universal wanted him back as the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t hero. Rains had plenty to thank Mr Invisibility for - the opening  chapter was his first talkie and put his voice firmly on the cinema map. But once was enough.  He liked being seen now… Hall headlined chapter,  The Invisible Agent, 1942.

  12. Lionel Barrymore, It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946.
  13. Robert Alda, The Beast With Five Fingers, 1946.      "This is the story of what happened - or seemed to happen - in the small Italian village of San Stefano nearly 50 years ago." Aha! Still not enough to entice Rains into Curt Siodmak’s script. Alan’s dad filled in. But Peter Lorre had The Role. He’s the cinema’s best actor, praised Charlie Chaplin.
  14. Robert Douglas, Adventures of Don Juan, 1948.         Douglas gave better evil than Rains and more or less reprised the Duke de Lorca in The Flame and the Arrow, 1949, Ivanhoe and The Prisoner of Zenda in 1951, etc. Due to a war-injured leg, Douglas had to be doubled by fencing master Fred Cavens in his staircase duel with a “pooped” Errol Flynn. Unpooped, Cavens also doubled another Flynn adversary, David Bruce. No matter what Flynn threw at Fred, added Mattison, “Cavens would take it and make Errol look good.”
  15. Leo Genn, Quo Vadis, 1950.      Both Rains and Frederic March were on the list to play Petronius as the epic wasthe postponed due to Gregory Peck’s eye infcection. John Huston quit as director after one of his famous divisions of opinion.
  16. Stanley Holloway,My Fair Lady, 1964.    Rex Harrison was  Professor Henry Higgins  in the musical of Rains’ role in the 1937 UK version of the original play, Pygmalion. So which rôle was Head Brother Jack Warner offering Rains 26 years later? Colonel Pickering, perhaps? No, Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Dolittle -  a London dustman!  This was Warner’s first Best Picture Oscar-winner since 1942’s Casablanca- which did star Rains.
  17. Michael Rennie, The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951.       “We always felt Rains was the man for the alien visitor Klaatu,” said director Robert Wise.“Then, [Fox chief] Darryl Zanuck mentioned an actor he had seen onthe London stage, who had never been seen on the screen before, so he was fresh and new...tall, sensitive looks.We just lucked out.”(Not so the 2008 re-hash with Keanu Reeves).
  18. Boris Karloff, Cauldron of Blood, 1971.       Producer Robert D Weinbach wanted Rains as the blind sculptor but he was too ill.Karloff was no fitter.

 

 





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