Fay Wray (r) helps Claude Rains after he collapses. Image: TCM

What would you do if you could see future events?

Would you concentrate on winning lottery numbers? Or maybe the outcome of a sporting event?

But what if you foresaw disaster? How far would you go to warn those involved? And what if your warnings themselves inadvertently caused said disaster?

The Clairvoyant (1935), starring Claude Rains and Fay Wray, is a British drama that explores these questions.

Rains and Wray portray a married couple who are stars of a Mind Reading act. They are modestly introduced as:

The Greatest Mind Reading and Telepathic Communication Act
the World Has Ever Known(!!)

While Rains is blindfolded on stage, Wray-the-assistant wades into the audience to solicit random objects. She holds each object aloft and asks, “What have I here?” or “What am I holding?”. The blindfolded Rains guesses the item in question, and he’s never wrong!

Of course, each of Wray’s questions is worded a certain way. So if she asks, “What am I holding?”, Rains knows it’s a wristwatch. If she says, “What have I here?”, it’s a tube of lipstick.

It’s a foolproof act, as long as they’ve memorized the questions, because Wray never accepts weird or unusual items. She simply waves them away.

But!

During one performance, Rains trips onstage and removes his blindfold. He sees a woman (Jane Baxter) in the audience staring at him, and he locks eyes with her. His expression changes, as though he’s being Taken Over by another entity, and with a flat voice he announces two prophecies before he collapses.

The prophecies come true, and Rains realizes he really is a clairvoyant. However, his ability is manifested only when Baxter is present.

Jane Baxter (l) is the Other Woman. Image: Streamline

This film belong to Claude Rains, because he is the title character, and he gives a superb portrayal, because he is Claude Rains.

Yet Wray is no Shrinking Violet. This may be Rains’s film, but she’s not overshadowed by him. Her charm and Stick-To-Itiveness are endearing.

Her performance shows us how an actress can magnify her role. For example, when Rains suddenly becomes popular enough to Name His Own Price, Wray realizes she’s no longer crucial to the act. She tells him her worries with an unusual mix of sadness and relief.

Then there’s Baxter, the Other Woman, who, in her oh-so-innocent way, starts nudging Wray aside: See how successful he is without you?

This would put a strain on any marriage. Never before has Rains had such Opportunity, but Wray needs to know Where She Stands. When she objects to his going to a fancy-pants banquet with Baxter, he gives her a flimsy, condescending promise re: dinner afterwards.

Seriously, Claude Rains?

Wray: “Do you really think you can eat two meals in one evening?”
Rains: “You’re being childish, darling.” (Exits.)

We’re all angry with Rains now – both Wray and we the audience. Two meals in one evening, indeed!

Wray can now see her own future. Her marriage and career are Over: She’s been squeezed out of both. Wray the actress handles this moment of realization beautifully. Her expression changes from despair to determination, and without a word, we know she’s had Enough.

Wray memorizing the List o’ Questions. Image: IMDb

In the mid 1930s, Hollywood actress Fay Wray went to England to make two movies with Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, a major film company in the U.K.

Not only did this opportunity provide travel and the chance to work with actors like Rains, it was a break from her marriage to troubled screenwriter John Monk Saunders. However, it wasn’t long before Saunders arrived in England, too, because producer Howard Hughes sent him overseas to write a film about dirigibles.

The couple would remain in Great Britain for a few more years because Wray started receiving more film offers – and rightfully so. Although she’s regarded as the original movie “scream queen”, she was an actress of depth and range.

We omitted many plot details because we urge you to see The Clairvoyant for yourself. We hope you’ll agree that both the film and Wray’s performance deserve to be better known.

This post is part of FAY WRAY AND ROBERT RISKIN, THE BLOGATHON hosted by Classic Movie Hub & Once Upon A Screen.

The Clairvoyant: starring Claude Rains, Fay Wray, Marie Clare. Directed by Maurice Elvey. Written by Charles Bennett & Bryan Edgar Wallace. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, 1935, B&W, 81 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

36 Comment on “The Trouble with Clairvoyants

  1. Pingback: Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, The Blogathon – Day One – Once upon a screen…

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