I love Claude Rains. He definitely deserves to be more well-known. He appeared in just as many important films as his peers who attained “legend” status long after their passing. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have the typical leading man good looks. He was short. But so was Edward G. Robinson, and he’s considerably more well known than Rains. For the record, while I wouldn’t say that I found Rains “hot,” in some films, I think he’s quite attractive. And that voice!
Rains played the leading role in films like Mr. Skeffington, The Invisible Man, The Unsuspected, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and The Clairvoyant. And he often played the supporting lead in A-list films like: Casablanca, Now Voyager, Notorious, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and my personal favorite, The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The Adventures of Robin Hood, while a career-defining role for stars Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, it was also a remarkable role for Rains. As Prince John, Rains deviates from his typical sophisticated, dignified persona. Prince John is a despicable villain, drunk with power, eager to rob his subjects blind while his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, is fighting in the Crusades.
Rains’ Prince John is quite flamboyant and a bit of a dandy. He is vain and wears a red-Prince Valiant-style haircut and flashy medieval garb with large embroidered velvet capes and bright colors. He enjoys sitting on Richard’s throne, holding Richard’s scepter. Prince John is a horrible person, very sadistic. He arranges an entire archery tournament with the sole purpose of luring Robin Hood out of hiding and setting up his execution. Prince John seems to relish watching “The Tall Tinker” (i.e. Robin Hood) and the other contestants shoot arrow after arrow, knowing that he’ll have his man at the conclusion of the tournament.
Despite how horrible Prince John is, Rains imbues him with so much panache and so much life that not only is it fun to watch Prince John attempt to ruin the Saxon’s lives, but it’s also fun to watch Robin Hood get the best of him each and every time. Prince John is hilarious, such as the scene when Robin Hood enters the banquet hall with one of Prince John’s royal deer (deceased) draped around his shoulders. I love the scene when Prince John is so excited to see “The Tall Tinker.”
Then of course, Prince John’s undoing at the end of the film is fun to watch as well. For someone who let power go to his head so fast and so hard, he sure gave up easily when Richard banishes him. If one wants to see Rains give a performance like no other, then watch The Adventures of Robin Hood. Plus, you’ll get to see the lovely Olivia de Havilland and my boyfriend, Errol Flynn.