One of the Greatest Supporting Actors of All-Time
Who does not know this face? If ever there was a true legendary supporting actor in cinema, it was surely Claude Rains. Born to an actor father on November 10, 1889 in Camberwell, London, England, Claude made his acting debut on stage in London theater at age eleven. He achieved success in his acting and became an acting teacher in his 30's. One of his students would be known in later years as the world's greatest actor, Sir Lawrence Olivier.
Claude came to America in 1927 to pursue his career in New york and was soon offered a screen test at Universal Pictures. He was a small man with a very distinctive voice and good looks. He also talked with an air of elegance and certainty which made everyone pay close attention.
His first film was 1933's The Invisible Man which had Rains playing a mad doctor with a blood curdling laugh. He was captivating and turned this one role into several more of the same genre throughout the 30's.
His next film that would have its place among the lists of legendary movies was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939 starring James Stewart. Already 49, Claude would play a much older, silver-haired senator with ties to the powers that be and bound by greed to disavow the character of Stewart playing a first year, honorable and driven senator set on disrupting the establishment of which his lifelong idol, Senator Paine (Rains) was a part.
This was a villanous role that Rains would play quite often throughout his career. Even though small in stature, he came across as a powerful man to be feared, or admired depending upon the circumstances.
Of course, the role that most are familiar with is Claude as the delightful, yet hypocritical captain of police serving whichever side benefited his needs at the time in 1942's Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart.
Rains was superb in his charming, eloquent, misguided performance as a friend to Bogart, yet ally to the Third Reich when necessary.
Along the way, in between The Invisible Man and Casablanca, Claude played in four films that I dearly loved, Four Daughters 1938, Daughters Courageous 1939, Four Wives 1939 and Four Mothers 1941. These films were a complete diversion for Claude from his earlier film roles. These found a very relaxed, very loving father with four daughters going through romances, marriages and motherhood. Four daughters was John Garfield's first film. He took part in the next two with Claude, but did not participate in the final sequel, Four Mothers.
Claude made four films with Bette Davis who called him her favorite co-star. All were memorable films including Juarez in 1939, Now Voyager in 1942, Mr. Skeffington in 1944 and Deception in 1946 with Rains playing such a domineering ex-lover that Bette shoots him in a very moving scene.
Claude received four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, yet never won. They were for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with James Stewart, Casablanca with Bogart, Mr. Skeffington with Bette and Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in 1947.
Other memorable roles were in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, 1941's The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role, 1942's Kings Row with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan, Phantom of the Opera with Rains as the Phantom and Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945 with Claude playing Julius Caesar and becoming the first actor to receive a million dollars salary in a film.
There were two more films where Claude played an angel in one and a disciple of the devil in another that I thoroughly enjoyed. The first was Here Comes Mr. Jordan in 1941 starring Robert Montgomery as the boxer that was called to heaven before it was time and they sent him back accompanied by an angel played by Rains in his finest intellectually placated manner. The boxer came back in the non-athletic body of a rich playboy and with his angel by his side, he trains this new body to be a boxer as he had been before his untimely demise.
In Angel on My Shoulder in 1946, Claude teamed up for the second time with the great Paul Muni with Rains this time representing hell down below. Muni, a gangster, was sent back in the body of an honest judge in a chance to redeem himself from purgatory. He is to make an evil man out of the judge, but when Muni finds love this attempt at corrupting an honest judge fails.
Rains plays the devil's disciple with angelic overtones. He is manipulative, even believable in his attempts to sway Muni into submission. His mannerisms at time are pleasant, but when disappointed he becomes very demonic, but in a subtle way as only Rains can do.
Rains was married six times and fathered one child, Jessica Rains born in 1938. He continued to make films until 1965 when he played King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Claude Rains died from an abdominal hemorrhage on May 30, 1967 at the age of 77 in Laconia, New Hampshire. What a terrific actor! What presence he had.