One of the screen’s most popular character actors, Claude Rains, sprung to stardom after making his US film debut without showing his face until the picture’s end. Universal had gone through 14 script treatments and several directors in their efforts to add H.G. Wells’ novel to the list of horror classics they brought to the screen. Not surprisingly, name actors like Boris Karloff had turned the role down because they didn’t want to make a film in which they were barely seen. When James Whale came on board as director, he knew he needed an actor with an expressive voice and impeccable upper-class diction. He found his actor by accident when he heard Claude Rains’ screen test played in a nearby room, then had to fight to get Universal to cast an unknown. Writers R.C. Sherriff and Philip Wylie had to dig up a copy of Wells’ novel at a secondhand bookstore, as there were no copies on the studio lot, and they were so impressed by the original they stuck to it closely, only adding a love interest (Gloria Stuart) and beefing up Rains’ insanity as he embarks on an invisible reign of terror. The combination of horror and Whales’ trademark dark wit produced a classic, inspiring sequels and imitations for decades to come.
(d. James Whale, 71 m, 35mm)
In attendance: Gregg Kilday