The Clairvoyant (1934)
Branded as a Madman by a
horrified world...while two women battled for his heart...one offered love...the other a
strange road to power...!
Hexed by the evil eye. Ruled by a female Svengali.
(Gainsborough) 80mins. BW. UK. Aka: EVIL
Credits: Dir: Maurice Elvy; Prod: Michael Balcon & Charles
Bennett; Sc: Charles Bennett, Bryan Edgar Wallace & Robert Edmunds; Ph: Glen
MacWilliams; Ed: Paul Capon; Art: Alfred Junge; Mus: Lois Levy. Based on a story by Ernst
Rains, Fay Wray, Jane Baxter, Mary
Clare, Athole Stewart, Ben Field, Felix Aylmer, Donald
Calthrop, Jack Raine, Margaret Davidge, C. Denier Warren, Frank Cellier, Graham
Moffat, George Merritt, Eliot Makeham, Percy Parsons, D.J. Williams, Ronald Shiner.
Britain's all too infrequent dabblings within the
boundaries of the horror genre gave birth to an occasional film that was on par with
anything that Hollywood could produce at the time, once in a while bettering the more
prolific American studios. However, the taste of the British public was extremely delicate
and many studios played down the horror elements contained within their output.
Apart from Boris Karloff's The Ghoul (1933) and The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936), what little else on offer during
the early Thirties tended to mask the gruesomeness of the stories with comedy or downplay
any supernatural elements by revealing that they were a front for diamond smugglers or gun
What drew the audiences to see
Gainsborough's THE CLAIRVOYANT were its stars. Fay Wray, appearing in her second British film, her first was
alongside Jack Hulbert in BULLDOG JACK (1934), and Claude Rains returning
briefly to his homeland after his recent successes in Hollywood that began with The Invisible Man (1933). The story remains
compelling and well written despite being a familiar theme that had been explored before.
Maximus, The Great, (Claude Rains), is a fake mindreader who with his
wife Rene, (Fay Wray), arrives in England. During his act a blindfolded
Maximus responds to codewords given to him by his wife regarding questions put to him by
the audience, unfortunately his opening night is a disaster until he injures his head and
looks into the eyes of a young woman, (Jane Baxter), finding that he can accurately
predict an unforseeable event. When Maximus meets the girl again they are on board a train
bound for Manchester that he predicts will crash. Sure enough his premonition comes true
and Maximus is flooded with offers to sign him up. When he
accurately forecasts the winner of the Derby, Maximus' reputation is assured, but he soon
comes to realise that his gift is only enabled when in the presence of the young woman
named Christine. At a function he sees his mother's face while in
Christine's presence and is then told the startling news of his mother's death. Wracked
with guilt over his newfound powers, Maximus decides to renounce his gift after a chance
encounter with a stranger who is about to commit suicide.
Later Maximus suffers a
vision of immense tragedy that will occur at the Humber mineshaft and kill hundreds of
workers, but his pleas to the men at the shaft to leave are to no
avail. Later when the tradegy transpires, Maximus is held to blame for inciting panic in
the men. In the courtroom where he is standing trial Maximus announces that over a hundred
men are still alive, trapped under the debris in the shaft. When Maximus'
announcement is proved to be correct, he is found "not guilty" and returns to
America with his wife, leaving Christine, the source of his power behind.
Director Maurice Elvey was perhaps the most
prolific British director of cinema history in a career that spanned from 1913 to his
retirement in 1957. His other entries in the genre include Maria Marten (1913), High
Treason (1929) and The Lodger (1932).
Other pleasing appearances include a
relatively unknown cast of now recognisable character actors including Donald Clathrop,
Jack Raine, and Frank Cellier. Ronald Shiner can be glimpsed during a crowd scene, D.J.
Williams is a member of the jury and a fifteen year old Graham Moffatt, who later found
fame as a prominent stock company member of the Will Hay comedies, appears as a page.
The same story was remade in 1948 as The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes starring Edward G. Robinson.
It is indeed a shame that Britain's
contribution to the genre during the Thirties was so lean. The height of the horror cycle
was twenty years over before this country would prove itself adept in the field with a
slew of horror films from the Hammer Studios made at a time when censorship demands had
relaxed somewhat. However, there are a measure of earlier homegrown horror pieces that
warrant more attention than has been afforded thus far.
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Poster and lobby card stills
courtesy of Ronald V. Borst
Video available (NTSC
only) in the US. click here