Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE CLAIRVOYANT (1934)

The Clairvoyant, a classy British production, takes no moral or scientific stand on the concept of telepathy. Therefore, believers and non-believers alike will find it alternately consoling and irritating. All in all, an excellent idea.

A charlatan named Maximus and his wife Rene are touring the British music halls with a phony mind-reading act. One night, a sympathetic fan named Christine channels her own real telepathic gift through Maximus, turning his life upside down. 

While his salary and acclaim rise dramatically, his personal life falls apart, as he spends more time with Christine; neither can work without the other. And in their wake lies a stream of tragedy. By the end, Maximus is on trial for the deaths of hundreds of workers in a subway tunnel disaster. They really should have seen that coming, right?

The unanswered mystery looming over the The Clairvoyant's climax is if Maximus predicted these events, or if Christine caused them to happen by using Maximus as her telepathic receiver, for her own nefarious reasons. (Did I mention that her father is the publisher of the biggest newspaper in London?) Max, just hang up on her!

"Hello all you people in radio land. I hope you haven't
made any long-term plans."
The Clairvoyant's poster promises "The Eternal Triangle," but it's more like two-and-a-half sides. While Christine is clearly enamored of Maximus, even behaving like his wife in front of Rene, the love is never returned. He might be spending time with her, but he really is working late -- honest!



The eyes have it.
Director Maurice Elvey heightens the drama with quick edits and extreme close-ups, especially of the always-wonderful Claude Rains (as Maximus). Somehow, in the pre-CGI age, Rains' eyes positively glow when he goes into a trance. Technicians had to work at these things back then. 

Modern audiences would probably find much of The Clairvoyant a bit unsubtle. I think that's the point. This movie is about a phony who discovers that he's the real deal -- and has the body count to prove it. How subtle would their reaction be? Even if their eyes didn't glow.

For its stateside release, The Clairvoyant was re-titled The Evil Mind, probably because the studio didn't think Americans knew what "clairvoyant" meant. But it can also refer to Christine. Almost all the prognostications she sends to him wind up with people killed. And I thought use to have annoying work colleagues.
Cheer up, Rene! You finally found a guy who thinks
the same way you do.

But perhaps that's why Jane Baxter plays Christine with an almost constant look of melancholy, even when she's allegedly happy, as if she can't help but destroy not only Maximus' life, but that of complete strangers. Like I always say: Dames, hunh?



If my wife wore a coat three sizes too big,
 
I'd look pretty stunned, too.
While the making of The Clairvoyant was a brief return home for Claude Rains -- it was only his fourth movie after his star-making turn in The Invisible Man -- it's American actress Fay Wray who plays his wife Rene with a proper British accent. Either Wray was box office insurance for the US release, or she came cheaper than British leading ladies.

These days, when far-fetched "based on a true story" movies are accepted without question, it's refreshing that the entirely fictional The Clairvoyant offers no answers or explanations; the viewer is left to figure out the hows and whys. Like why co-star Athole Stewart was given that first name. I mean, anybody could have predicted that he would grow up with kids yelling, "Hey, Athole!"

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