March 06, 2010
Giants of the screen
In a post about short actors, Ann Althouse features a YouTube video of the original "Mr. Skeffington" trailer:
It's a great film which starred Bette Davis and Claude Rains, and the two of them were perfectly matched -- as Bette Davis was 5' 3" while Claude Rains towered over her at 5' 6 1/2". You'd never know from watching the film that these two legendary giants of the screen were so tiny in real life.
While height is not the same factor in women that it is in men, Ann Althouse wondered whether Davis' average looks might have been the equivalent of male shortness:
Is there something comparable for women? Maybe we could make a list of women who have fairly average looks who play beautiful women on screen. My favorite example of this is Bette Davis in "Mr. Skeffington," where the raving over Bette's beauty occasionally crosses the line into the laughable. No man could resist her...Well, Bette Davis is hardly one of those actresses who made it on physical beauty. Perhaps the idea was that no man could resist her illusion.
And speaking of creating illusions, Claude Rains had to contend with more than just his height. He was nearly blind in one eye, and more important for an actor, he had a speech impediment:
He grew up, according to his daughter, with "a very serious cockney accent and a speech impediment".You wouldn't suspect any of that by watching his films. His voice alone was enough to carry scene after scene in "The Invisible Man":
Great acting by any standard. His voice made people leave the lights on:
Universal was embarking on its new-found role as horror film factory, and they were looking for someone unique for their next outing, The Invisible Man (1933). Rains was the very man. He took the role by the ears, churning up a rasping malice and volume in his voice to achieve a bone chilling persona of the disembodied mad doctor. He could also throw out a high-pitched maniac laugh that would make you leave the lights on before going to bed.Hey, disembodied thoughts made me turn the lights on in the wee hours of the morning to finish this post!
MORE: Sean Kinsell links this post (thanks Sean!) and offers Rains' performance in Notorious as an example of the actor at his most chilling.
...I'd be hard pressed to think of a recent movie that achieved anything like the quiet, oppressive horrifying-ness of that scene...I think the same could be said for Bette Davis' performance in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
Watch out for that innocent-looking covered plate!
posted by Eric on 03.06.10 at 05:03 AM
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