26 June 2011 | secondtake
Rains is great, the filming superb, a nice British drama mystery
The Clairvoyant (1935)
This is a British movie with the flavor, and look, of Hitchcock's British films, and it's as good in many ways.
And Claude Rains as the title character is sharp, funny, sophisticated, warm, all in that way Rains has of being a little removed, gently above it all without being above his peers. He is way younger (of course) than his famous persona from, say, "Casablanca" or "Notorious" but it's still the same Rains, and in a way if you appreciate him in his American films, you should see this to see where he came from.
The filming and editing feels so much like Hitchcock at times I wondered just what kind of connections there might be between him and the director here, Maurice Elvey, and couldn't find anything obvious (like a shared cinematographer). But Elvey was the most established and famous and therefore the most influential of British filmmakers, making a hundred films before Hitchcock made his first. So the influence is probably one way at first, with Hitch picking up on Elvey's methods.
But by 1932, when Elvey made a talkie remake, "The Phantom Fiend," of an earlier Hitchcock masterpiece, the 1927 "The Lodger," the influence is obviously going the other way. The whole train scene in the first half of this movie is a masterpiece of filming and editing. In all, the plot is so interesting, with some honest twists to accompany what seems at first to be a slightly mystical theme, it deserves an honest remake of its own.
I think it's further worth noting some serious content. The movie deals (at least obliquely) with labor relations in the mines, with the acceptance by the establishment that mediums and clairvoyants are charlatans (or entertainers, as the charlatan says), with greed (in the depression), and with marital fidelity.
The copy you can stream on Netflix is only fair--not especially sharp, and with muddled sound, probably thrown together for television broadcast decades ago. It's good enough to watch anyway, but let's all hope for a remastered version soon.