Once in a while Britain was able to produce a film that could stand up against the polished Hollywood product. Even today The Clairvoyant has remained a lesser known classic of the horror movie genre.
The Missing Link Proudly Presents

The Clairvoyant (1934)
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 MIND.
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 Lothar.
Cast: Claude 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.

Fay Wray and Claude Rains in The ClairvoyantBritain'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 runners.

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.Claude Rains as Maximus the Great in The Clairvoyant (1934)

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.
Claude Rains & Jane BaxterLater 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

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