Today is the birthday of Claude Rains (1889-1967). The story goes that the search was on at Universal for someone with an “over the top” voice to play the lead in The Invisible Man (1933), and James Whale or one of his team overheard Rains’ bombastic screen test and that was how he got the part. The story gives the false impression that Rains was some sort of bad hack; in reality, he had extremely distinguished credentials as a thespian. A child actor, talented, but with a thick cockney accent, he was discovered and groomed by none other than Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Rains was later to teach at Tree’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). His pupils included Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. All three would have their struggles adapting their large theatrical styles to the subtler requirements of the cinema. Gielgud said of Rains, “He was a great influence on me”.
The list of Rains’ memorable film roles is too long for this post, and you know them all, or ought to, anyway. I just thought I’d leave you with one of my favorite monologues in all moviedom, the one where The Invisible Man somehow manages to go in a few seconds from professing his love for his fiance…..to a Hitler-like megalomaniacal rant about taking over the entire planet. “Power! Power to Rule!” . Masterful, in more ways than one!