Happy Birthday Charles Laughton 1st July 1899 - 15th December 1962

Rembrandt is his great part, his matriculation; full of the intimate moments that test an actor’s integrity to the highest…probably the finest acting performance ever recorded on celluloid. - C A Lejeune

Charles was both inteligent and gifted, with an instinctive genius for acting. - Jean Renoir

Apart from ‘Ambersons’, the most exciting experience I have had in the cinema was with Charles Laughton on 'Night of the Hunter’…every day I considered something new about light, that incredible thing that can’t be described. Of the directors I’ve worked with, only two ever understood it, Orson Welles and Charles Laughton. - Stanley Cortez

I have become a teller of stories. I would like to become the man who knows all the stories…When I go into a good book-store or library, I often feel sad when I see the shelves of books that I will never be able to enjoy. I think of all the wonderful tales I will never know, and I wish I could live to be a thousand years old. - Charles Laughton


Happy Birthday Charles Laughton (1 July 1899 - 15 December 1962 ∞ )

Method actors give you a photograph. Real actors give you an oil painting.


Favourite dead not-American actors: an Advent Calendar

Day 6: Charles Laughton 

OH GOD I really can’t express how much I adore Charles. It only took one film, and I was sold. Charles is my perfect dead-actor pub companion. This is how much I love him. I feel that there was something at least a little bit right with the world in the 30s (despite all evidence to the contrary) that someone like Charles could become a worldwide film star. I mean, he’s a ridiculously talented actor, but that’s never been at the top of Hollywood’s list for stardom. 

Just look at him. He’s irrepressible, and yes at times he wanders over into scenery chewing, when he’s not stealing scenes, or raiding the make-up box for increasingly eccentric noses or eyebrows. But underneath that surface deception, he’s a remarkably delicate actor, with a beautiful naturalness about him. Watch any of the slightly creaky films he made in the early 30s and he feels really modern compared to the other actors. He has an almost improvisational style, so that you never know what he’s going to do. Also he is excellent at Northern accents, which is a rarity even now, and uses them subtly - like giving his Javert a hint of his own Yorkshire accent, to show his working-class origins. 

At his best there is no-one to touch him, which makes his own self-doubt all the more bemusing, and sad, especially when he owns the screen whenever he’s on it, and was also a thoughtful and humane director and collaborator. One of my time-machine theatre moments would be to see Charles in The Life Of Galileo, in the 50s, which he re-wrote/co-wrote with Brecht (Brecht’s final post-war reworking of the play). I can only imagine how fabulous he would have been.

Favourite Role: Rembrandt van Rijn in Rembrandt (1936). Not the greatest film, narrative-wise, as it’s more a series of painterly tableaux (designed by Vincent Korda and shot by Georges Perinal) which evoke 17th century Holland to perfection. Charles’ Rembrandt is beautifully drawn; not only is there the great humanity one sees in the self-portraits, but he is adorable. (Also, bonus Roger Livesey as an old beggar.)  

Another good place to start: In fact, start here. Sir Wifrid Robarts in Witness for the Prosecution (1957). A perfect film, full of humour and tension with a marvellous cast, of which Charles is the best, showcasing his whole range. 

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Tells how King Henry VIII came to marry five more times after his divorce from his first wife.

Ah, Henry VIII. Hollywood just loves you. In some ways, I can understand why, but you really are a jerk. This film is kind of odd? It ignores Catherine completely and even skims over Anne Boleyn, deeming them uninteresting in the title cards at the start, but then failing to actually explore the queens it does cover with any sort of depth. That said, it’s shot beautifully, and Charles Laughton is pretty great as Henry VIII, lending both dignity and vulnerability to the role. 6/10.