Friday, August 05, 2005

"As an actor, Laughton painted a physical portrait," says Maureen O'Hara. The Siren recently acquired and watched a number of movies on DVD that star Charles Laughton, one of the select number of actors she will watch in anything. Absolutely anything, as you shall see. Next post: Jamaica Inn. Posted by Picasa


Diane said...

Physical actor indeed. I loved him in Witness for the Prosecution. Such a great movie.

Flickhead said...

Ever see The Epic that Never Was (1965)? It's a documentary on the making of Josef von Sternberg's unfinished I Claudius, with plenty of footage of Laughton.

More info:

Diane said...

flickhead: I moseyed on over to IMBD and checked outEpic. There it goes on my "Must Watch" list. Not only lots of Laughton, but Merle Oberon. I adore looking at Oberon. She was such a beauty. Thanks for the rec!

Peter Nellhaus said...

I saw Rembrandt a couple of years ago. A very adult film for 1936 post Production code. Korda did a great job making the film resemble the paintings in lighting and composition. No Laughton as actor in my collection, but I do have Night of the Hunter.

Campaspe said...

Diane: Witness for the Prosecution was on my top 100 list, and Laughton is the main reason although everyone is good in it.

Flickhead: I caught only one bit of it, the monologue Laughton delivers as Claudius. It made me ardently wish the film had been completed. That's a performance I would have loved to see.

Peter: I haven't seen Rembrandt, but Night of the Hunter is one of THE great American movies to me.

Exiled in NJ said...

What is fascinating about "Hunter" is the troika of talent that came together: Laughton, Mitchum and Agee, and yet it sank at the box office. I saw it on "The Late Show" around 1960.

The story goes that Laughton hated working with children, so Mitchum did much of that work, which produced something rare in those days or any day: believable child actors.

I've often thought the film should have ended with Mitchum shot in the barn and John throwing away the money; the scenes of the Spoons et al forming a lynch mob seem to be from some other film.

Laughton also made a fine Canterville Ghost!

Exiled in NJ said...

Forgive me for jumping in again, but do find Laughton in "The Suspect" from 1944. It is a fine companion to Lang's "Scarlett Street", and both films feature Rosalind Ivan as the overbearing wife. The confluence of the stars in Hollywood heaven is amazing: eighty years of talkies, and the two best meek middle age men performances come one year apart.

Campaspe said...

Ooh, another great Laughton performance to look at! And I admire Scarlett Street a great deal, too. Thank you very much for the rec.

girish said...

As a Lang fan, I love Scarlet Street, but the Renoir original, La Chienne, is pretty amazing too. Michel Simon (a deeply weird and interesting guy, as we discovered in L'Atalante) is great as the meek one.

Gloria said...

Exiled in NJ wrote:
"The story goes that Laughton hated working with children"

Exiled, The story goes but IT IS NOT TRUE. For some misterious reason, Elsa Lanchester insisted on this in her biographies. Thankfully, we have Preston Neal Jones excellent "Heaven and Hell to Play With" (Limelight Editions, New York, 2002) an extensive record of the making "The Night of the Hunter", and a MUST READ for every "Hunter" lover or, indeed, for every self-respecting laughtonite... A very good book for any film lover at any rate.

In Preston Neal Jones' extensively researched book, the vast majority of witnesses state that Laughton was charming to the children in the film, and was an excellent director for them, as he had a way to understand them and motivate them (there's a couple of pictures in the book with CL playing with the kids: they all look genuinely engaged). What may lie behind the "Mitchum directing" concept was that the little girl found Charlie's british accent odd, so Mitchum repeated her the director's instructions in a more familiar american accent. Other than that, Writer Davis Grubb reports that Laughton, privately, didn't warm to the little girl, as he found her a bit of a stage mother pet... but this was kept well inside, as there is evidence in Mr. Jones' book that Laughton's way of treating the girl during the filming was always gentle and father-like.

In fact, in the book, it is mentioned, that Miss Lanchester had in her files letters from Billy Chapin ("John") and family telling what a fine relationship between child actor and director. Why she insisted in the contrary I can't understand, as she never set foot on the filming set of "Hunter".

You mentioned "Canterville Ghost" and the records of Laughton's relationship with little Margaret O'Brien indicate that they got on very well during the picture, In fact (I quote Mr. Jones' book again), at the end of shooting, Miss O'Brien gave a big farewell hug to Charlie which overwhelmed him. In his record "The Storyteller" Laughton himself told an anecdote about the filming in which they both discussed acting while doing drawings with colour crayons. Doesn't seem an ogre to me.

I guess that the reason behind Miss Lanchester statement is that Laughton wanted to have children, and she didn't. Of course, she was entitled not to have children if she didn't want to, but I believe that she originated the "laughton hated children" urban legend as a form of self-justification. Lots os self-justification (and hubby-deprecation) in her output, so please read her books, as Simon Callow well put it, "with respectful caution".

Laughton was human and, like any human, he may have commited mistakes, but I'm not keen on him being vilified for the wrong reason, or for an unexisting reason.

Regards, everyone