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Academy AwardÂ(r) winner* Charles Laughton brilliantly captures the inner turmoil of the passionate 17th-century genius in probably the finest acting performance ever recorded on celluloid (The Observer)! In Amsterdam of 1642, master painter Rembrandt Van Rijn (Charles Laughton), enjoys a rich, full life in a beautiful, blinding, swirling mist of fame and fortune. But with the sudden death of his beloved wife and muse, his work takes a dark, sardonic turn that quickly offends even his most loyal patrons. Bankrupt and bereft, he finds comfort in the arms of pretty, young Hendrickje (Elsa Lanchester), a servant in his home. Now, offered a surprising second chance at love, will he summon the courage to overcome his demons or will tragedy continue to haunt one of the greatest painters who ever lived? *1932 33: Actor, The Private Life of Henry VIII
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Charles Laughton (1899-1962) is arguably the most capable actor in Hollywood's golden era. His performances in films such as "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1936) and "Witness for the Prosecution " (1958) are peerless, and when you consider he received best actor nominations for both films, separated by more than 20 years, this by itself speaks volumes. He won the best actor award for his portrayal in another British bio pic "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933). Laughton is marvelous in this role, and appears in virtually every scene.
Laughton's wife, Elsa Lancaster (1902-86) co-stars, 1 of 12 films they made together beginning in 1933 and ending with their marvelous collaboration in "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957). She was nominated for an Oscar for her work in that film and for "Come to the Stable" (1949), but I liked her best as "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), a film she did out of friendship for director James Whale. She plays Laughton's maid and lover, but unfortunately does not appear until way past the middle of the film. Once she appears, the film clearly picks up, having sunken into a morass for the previous half hour.
Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) was primarily a stage actress. She made only 10 films, mostly in the 30s. She won a Tony in 1952 for "The King and I". She plays Laughton's house keeper, and the tension on the set between the two of them is clearly in evidence on the screen. While Lawrence does a good job, it's hard to imagine how she got her acting reputation from the skills on display in this film.
Abraham Sofaer (1896-1988) appears as a physician and friend. Sofaer's deep tones, bulging eyes, and sharp features adorned more than 50 films, although he's probably best remembered for his recurring role as Hadji, the master genie, in "I Dream of Jeanie" (1965-70). I liked him best as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" (1947). He does his usual good job here.
Alexander Korda (1893-1956) produced nearly 60 films in his career that started in 1923 in Hungary. His break through film was "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933) and there followed a series of historical dramas including "Rise of Catherine the Great" (1934), "Private Life of Don Juan" (1934), and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1934). Korda was known for his cheap production values, which are sometimes evident in this film.
The film is episodic, covering the last several decades in Rembrandt's life, from 1642 to 1669. We get to watch him at his height, the quarrel with his sponsors, the death of his beloved wife, his fall into bankruptcy, his second great love, her death, and his dotage. Through it all the acting is great, but the direction is cold - we are all too aware that we are "watching" a film rather than being involved with it. As such, the film can get tedious at times, because we are not totally absorbed within it.
The NY Times called it a "great, and rich, and glowing motion picture" and "Korda's greatest production to date". But it failed miserably at the box office, and was one reason that Laughton and Korda made no more films together.
Fans of Laughton (and Lancaster) will certainly want to see this film, and this is a chance to see one of the rare Gertrude Lawrence performances. There's also value here for fans of Rembrandt, as the story is, more or less, true to history. But as a film, per se, it lacks warmth and feeling. There are far better bio pics from this period ("Henry VIII", "Elizabeth and Essex").
I don't know anything about the real Rembrandt's life, so I don't know how much of this movie is true, other than the fact that he was a painter. So, 1 star right away for piquing my curiosity and spurring me on to find out more about the real Rembrandt!
Charles Laughton, as always, is great. Early on in the movie he gave a truly moving speech about love (this was shortly before his first wife dies), about how loving her was the equivalent of loving every woman on earth. I can't do the speech justice (short term memory problems), but I do remember it was moving and I will have to search the internet to see if I can find a transcript of that speech! Charles is great throughout the whole movie.
The sparkling highlight comes about 50 minutes into the movie when Elsa Lanchester first appears. My God, this woman was so charismatic! I wish she had made more films and had bigger roles in movies. Elsa is only in the movie for about 25 minutes, and after her character departs I wanted to turn the movie off. If anyone but Charles Laughton was in the lead, I definitely would've stopped watching at that point.
OK, so this will probably get more no votes than yes votes in the "was this review helpful?" category! Sorry!
Bottom-lining it: Good movie, good story, great acting, Charles Laughton excellent, Elsa Lanchester sparkling and captivating! Crappy transfer to DVD. Worth the price of a rental, not sure (at least for me) that it's worth the price of purchasing.
Regarding the message of the movie, one can look at it from two different perspectives. The first as if you had never heard of Rembrandt. The movie effectively develops the man and his plight. But it could be better if started from an earlier stage several years before the death of his wife which is a key point in his development. It could then have developed more his subsequent relationship with his long time housemaid to better understand her confliction with him and his son and later a new maid. It ends poignantly with Rembrandt as an older man in a state of deep reflection and apparent acceptance of his lot. He could have been worse if he did not rely on his appreciation of a greater power than man. He certainly did not have wealth. An epilogue to explain what happened to his children and collection of artwork would be helpful.
The second perspective is from the point of view if you already new who Rembrandt was and familiar with his life and work. In that case this movie if quite to the point and if a good summary of his life. The casting of Laughton is likely the best there could have been then and now. He his a great orator and commands attention of the viewer.