HORROR HALF-WEEK, Day 3: The Clairvoyant (1934)

(Image via silverdisc.com)
(Image via silverdisc.com)

Maximus (Claude Rains) performs in music halls, where he pretends to be able to read people’s minds and takes their money for it. He calls himself “King of Mind Readers,” and he’s made a decent living off of exploiting people this way.

But Maximus won’t keep faking his clairvoyance for long. He begins to have unpredictable premonitions that actually come true. He soon realizes that he only has these premonitions when he’s around a woman named Christine (Jane Baxter), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy publisher. The two begin spending more time together so he can explore his new-found, truly psychic gift.

Maximus’ wife and assistant Rene (Fay Wray) soon becomes extremely jealous of his supernatural connection to Christine, and things become even worse for him when some of the events he foresees turn out to be great tragedies.

Maurice Elvey directs 1934’s The Clairvoyant, a British mystery which was released stateside in 1935 as The Evil Mind. It is based on the novel “The Clairvoyant” by Ernst Lothar.

This isn’t truly a horror flick, but I decided to include it in this year’s Horror Half-Week because its cast includes a couple of star players of the genre, and because it’s a fantastic mystery.

In part, the film is a somewhat typical love triangle. Maximus is married to Rene. Maximus meets lovely Christine, who he begins spending more time with until she inevitably falls in love with him. This subplot of the story is quite predictable.

However, the film as a whole is elevated by both the spooky half of the plot and the trio of lead performances, with Claude Rains in particular shining.

The film’s mystery lies not in the nature of Maximus’ talents, but in what sort of tragedy will come about for him next, and whether or not he’ll try to rid his life of clairvoyance as a result of these tragedies. Early on he predicts a train accident which actually occurs, and things can only get worse from there, especially with his personal problems plaguing him at the same time. For a while Maximus and the gang are allowed to skate by, using his powers to choose the winner of a horse race and giving psychic readings at swanky dinner parties, but things don’t stay cheery for long.

As for those performances, Rains has become one of my favorite actors. I’ve literally enjoyed watching him in every single film I’ve seen him in, The Clairvoyant being no exception. He brings such a sense of authenticity and believability to all of his characters. As Maximus, he is wonderful, seeming truly confused and frightened by his future-telling gifts. Once he’s accustomed to them he gets a bit big-headed about it. Rains pulls off both the insecure and cocky sides of his character very well. He also frequently uses one of my favorite Claude Rains faces, the “Claude Rains is Staring Through You While He Speaks to You” face (see below).

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Wray and Baxter are both just as great as the two other corners of The Clairvoyant‘s love triangle. Baxter’s role is a fun one because she gets to portray a psychic connection with her leading man, while Wray’s role is equally fun because she gets to portray the jealous wife (which she does very well, with plenty of sass!). Both of the women are solid in their roles, though I think Wray has a slight advantage in terms of screen presence.

The Clairvoyant is not the scary film I thought it’d be when I selected it (admittedly, based on title and Netflix category alone) for Horror Half-Week 2013. However, it is a slightly eerie, very witty and certainly fun watch. It unfortunately seems to only exist in quite low visual quality, but Netflix’s print has decent audio, and regardless of the print quality it’s still well worth watching — especially for fans of Claude Rains!

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