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Maximus, a small-time music hall mind reader, has frightening flashes of precognition; but he cannot predict or control them ...until he realizes he has them in the presence of Christine, attractive daughter of a publisher, who makes Rene, his equally lovely wife, wretchedly jealous. But worse trouble comes to Maximus when he's accused of causing a disaster he predicted.Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a superb early film starring Claude Rains, where he gives a performance which is a true tour de force. In it, he plays a stage performer who does a music hall act as a clairvoyant, jointly with his wife, played by Fay Wray. The techniques used for faking the clairvoyant insights on stage are largely those used by Erik Jan Hanussen (1889-1933), Frederick Marion (real name Josef Kraus, born 1892 in Prague, who was known personally by a close friend of mine who assured me of his genuine abilities), and other famous clairvoyants for their stage shows, where the associate asks the blindfolded clairvoyant in a complex code whatever she is holding in her hand, which belongs to a member of the audience. However, Rains has occasional outbursts of genuine clairvoyance (as both Hanussen and Marion also did), something which his grandfather had also had, and which led to his ruin, says her other ominously. This film is based on a novel, of which I have long had a copy, by the Austrian writer Ernst Lothar (1890-1974) set in Germany and entitled DER HELLSEHER (THE CLAIRVOYANT), published in Berlin in 1929. The English translation by Beatrice Ryan came out in 1932, and the film was released two years later. The story in the film however is transposed from Germany to England, and greatly changed. There can be little doubt that Hanussen was the direct inspiration for this tale. Istvan Szabo made his film HANUSSEN in 1988 about the same man, who became Hitler's favourite clairvoyant but was murdered in 1933 by the Gestapo. Perhaps because he had written this revealing novel, Lothar became a banned author in Nazi Germany. Like Hanussen, Rains in the film starts as an obscure performer but through massive publicity becomes wealthy and influential. His fame commences when he correctly predicts a terrible train crash at Manchester, Then he predicts a Derby winner (in the novel it was the 'German Derby', though I know nothing about German racing and cannot say where such a race may have been held before the War, though I have never heard of a 'German Derby' in contemporary times), the odds on whom are 100 to 1. The horse wins, and the whole country becomes hysterical with awe and adulation for Rains. However, as with all clairvoyants, Rains cannot control his 'gift' and despite constant pleas to use it, he is powerless to turn it on and off, as it just comes unpredictably. That is why Madame Blavatsky had to fake things, because you cannot be a medium or a clairvoyant in fits and starts, you have to be continuous in order to satisfy the impatient and demanding public, and no clairvoyants have the ability to do that. The only solution is to intersperse the real thing with faked incidents, but then they are inevitably exposed and discredited. The character Christine, played by Jane Baxter, has a psychic resonance with Rains and when she is present, she triggers his genuine clairvoyant insights. When she is absent, he is rendered powerless in that respect. His wife naturally becomes very jealous, because Christine is highly attractive. Fay Wray, by birth a Canadian, manages a perfect English understatement in the film when, to express her obsessive love for her husband, she says to him while turned away from him: 'I'm rather in love with you.' How English can you get? It is amazing that she managed to get her upper lip unstiffened so that she could go on to appear in KING KONG. Perhaps she was saving her real emotions for a gorilla. Some girls are like that, and we normal guys will never understand what they see in such brutal, coarse and hairy types. (Nor will I ever understand why women like men with rough three-day stubble on their faces, considering how scratched they get when kissing such a creature. It must be some form of masochism which needs to be studied by psychologists. And speaking of ultra-submission, has anyone ever studied the writhing motions of Fay Wray and Jessica Lange when in the presence of King Kong? What does it mean?) But to return to the demure but insanely jealous Fay Wray of this film: one can't but notice how dark her hair is. Surely that is not the Fay Wray we thought we knew. Rains's mother in the film is played by Mary Clare, that great specialist in faces of doom. Here she moderates those talents but does manage some doom and gloom observations and some highly ominous looks, all very effective in building the tension. The film was directed by the talented Maurice Elvey, director of 196 films commencing in 1913, many of which are lost. Elvey often rose to great heights, as for instance in his HINDLE WAKES (aka FANNY HAWTHORNE, 1927) and his film of Stefan Zweig's novel BEWARE OF PITY (1946) where Lilli Palmer plays the girl in the wheelchair with perfect pathos. Here, Felix Aylmer plays the terrifying prosecutor when Rains is prosecuted for causing a mining disaster at Humber Tunnel for ostensibly causing panic by predicting the collapse of the tunnel. But then Jane Baxter enters the courtroom, triggers Rains's genuine clairvoyance again in front of the judge and jury, with dramatic results. The comic actor Graham Moffatt makes his second uncredited screen appearance in this film as a page boy. It was Rains's fifth film and certainly one the best performances of his career. This film is a gem.
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