Basil Rathbone, Fortune Hunter

Basil Rathbone alksjdf ksadjf skadlfj Image: Doctor Macro
Basil Rathbone arches an eyebrow before chewing the scenery. Image: Dr. Macro

There’s nothing more chilling than a villain with a large vocabulary.

In the 1937 British thriller, Love from a Stranger, Basil Rathbone plays the kind of villain nobody wants to meet in real life. Rathbone’s villain is handsome, suave and articulate. But he would do anything to get your money – including marrying you.

We first meet Rathbone’s gold-digging character when he arrives to view an apartment for rent. The current tenant (Ann Harding) is moving out because she’s just won the lottery – approximately 10 million in today’s dollars.

As he’s snooping around the apartment, Rathbone comments on the view. It reminds him of a more innocent time, he says wistfully, before he became intimate with war and travel and – ahem – wealth.

Harding, freshly broken up with her fiancé, must sail to France the next day to collect her lottery winnings – and look over there! Rathbone just happens to be sailing on the same ship, and surprises her with French pastries while she lounges on the deck.

Let’s analyze this for a minute. A handsome man brings you French pastries, and insists he show you the glam side of Paris. Really, you can’t fault Harding for falling in love with him.

However, we the audience know that Rathbone is up to no good. Even Harding’s ex-fiancé (Bruce Seaton) warns her, astutely pointing out she knows nothing about Rathbone.

But our man Rathbone is able to dismiss all this negativity. He not only has the vocabulary to manipulate, he has the acting chops too.

In one scene, Harding discovers Rathbone slumped at his desk, head resting on his hands in utter despair. His claims a bank draft has been held up, and now he can’t pay for their new house. Harding insists she pay for the house, and suddenly Rathbone produces all sorts of papers for her to sign. His voice is smooth and reassuring: No need to read this, darling, just sign here.

But Rathbone’s villain is more dangerous than that. We soon become aware of his mental state, and it is not reassuring.

Rathbone laksdjf klsdfj Image: Tout le Cine
Ann Harding realizes the honeymoon is over. Image: Tout le Cine

Rathbone says he’s an amateur photographer and has claimed the cellar in the new house for his workroom. Specifically, he calls it a “dark room”, which is not unusual, but the way he says it, a slight chill goes down your spine.

He tells Harding he plays music when he’s working in the cellar, because his mind spins with noise and memories of the war. “Suddenly the noise changes into the music, turning my first terror into ecstasy,” he cries, beads of perspiration on his face.

It’s as though Rathbone springs a leak after this unexpected confession, and he’s suddenly spouting all kinds of ego-centric philosophies. For example:

  • “A woman’s weakness is a man’s opportunity. Did someone write that? Or did I think of it myself? If I did, it’s good. It’s very good.”
  • “I have great insight. I’m different from other people. For instance, I have a lot of power over women. I’ve always had it.”

From this point on, Harding frequently gives Rathbone the side-eye – and rightly so. Harding’s character is smart and capable, but we’re not certain if she’s any match for Rathbone’s madness.

Love from a Stranger was also released as A Night of Terror. It was adapted from a stage play by Frank Vosper, and is based on a short story by Agatha Christie. It has a rather ridiculous and convenient ending, but Rathbone’s performance is pure entertainment. If you enjoy Rathbone in a sinister role, you’ll want to see this film.

Love From a Stranger: starring Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale. Directed by Rowland V. Lee. Written by Frances Marion. Trafalgar Film Productions, 1937, B&W, 86 mins.



  1. I’ve always loved the name Basil, and it works so well for this character’s look! I totally agree about a villain with a large vocabulary…. I’m going to have to watch this one. It looks like it’s held up really well as a film.


  2. I really want to see this film again. Basil Rathbone is one of my favorite onscreen villain (though he is also my favorite on screen Sherlock Holmes, where he’s actually fighting the villains). Sometimes his villains were more two-dimensional and sometimes they were more complex. This film is one of the more complex ones.



    • I agree that Basil’s villain is more complex here. He actually develops the character throughout the film, doesn’t he, even if it’s to reveal more madness. I knew he was going to be good when I started watching it, and he didn’t disappoint. 🙂


  3. Watched Son of Frankenstein for the first time and discovered Basil in it as the poor son who inherits Frankenstein family castle, and the monster, of course! It was fun to watch poor Wolf(Basil’s character’s name) go from confident scientist and family man to a bit of a crazy scientist…Igor was no help(Bela Legosi) and Lionell Atwill was great as the local police captain, with the wooden arm-it dawned on me that his character was the inspiration behind Kenneth Mars wooden armed police captain in Young Frankenstein.


  4. Great to read about this film which I watched for the 2nd time back in June as part of a Basil Rathbone triple bill on his Birthday. I really like this film and Rathbone is so convincing in this darker role he really was a very fine actor. The only problem with this film is the absolutely ludicrous ending which is a tad unfortunate.


  5. I agree, how can you resist Paris and pastries? Not her fault at all. This sounds very suspenseful! Just Basil’s pictures alone are so creepy. I would love to see this. Thanks for the great description of this movie!


  6. I love that photo of Harding looking like “what do I do with a mad man?!”. Our family just finished watching Terror by Night ( Sherlock Holmes ) and its interesting how Rathbone was able to change characters so well and go from villains to a hero such as Holmes. On a side note, did you know that Rathbone hosted a radio “filler” called The Word Detective where he shared his love of language by explaining the history of a mystery word?


    • Rathbone was amazing that way, wasn’t he – playing hero and villain alike with aplomb. I didn’t know Rathbone hosted The Word Detective. I bet that was a great series. I just an online search but didn’t see any recordings. 😦


  7. There really aren’t many performers who excelled at playing good and bad characters; Basil Rathbone is certainly one of them. He was even good at comedy, though he rarely got a chance to do it (but was funny in THE COURT JESTER and amusing in IF I WERE KING).


  8. I’ve seen “Love From A Stranger” and Rathbone is chilling and creepy all at the same time. He made my skin crawl, and I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. But my girl is the great unsung ANN HARDING…and she was more than up to the task to face the great Rathbone. I’ll not give anything away, but Harding’s fevered pitch at the climax ( climax is right! ) had me at the edge of my seat. Enjoyed this film very much and your write-up as well.


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