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Rembrandt (1936)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Rembrandt (1936)
DirectorAlexander Korda
Production CompanyLondon Film Productions
A Presentation byAlexander Korda
CinematographyGeorges Périnal
ScenarioJune Head
From the film play byCarl Zuckmayer

Cast: Charles Laughton (Rembrandt van Rijn); Gertrude Lawrence (Geertje Dirx); Elsa Lanchester (Henrickje Stoffels); Edward Chapman (Fabrizius); John Bryning (Titus van Rijn)

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Biography of the brilliant but unconventional sixteenth-century Flemish painter, beginning with the death of his beloved wife, Saskia, and following his disgrace in the eyes of the court.

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Released in 1936, and directed by Alexander Korda, Rembrandt was originally intended as the first of a series of biographies of great painters (no further such films appeared). It was the first film to be shot entirely at London Films' huge new studios at Denham in Buckinghamshire.

Rembrandt was arguably Korda's best film as director, and he was personally upset when it flopped at the box-office, perhaps because it was too 'highbrow' for audiences' tastes. With more depth than his other efforts, it stands up well in the small genre of artist biopics like Vincente Minnelli's Van Gogh study Lust for Life (US, 1956).

More biographically detailed (thanks in part to the thorough research of Charles Laughton, who played the painter) than some of Korda's other historical films, such as The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) or That Hamilton Woman (1941), the film plots an archetypal story of the frustrated artist, misunderstood and finally destitute.

But the cliché is at least true of Rembrandt's life, and it is delivered with wit and sensitivity. The film also takes care to recreate seventeenth-century Amsterdam, with Vincent Korda's design and Georges Périnal's cinematography convincingly replicating the look of the Flemish painting of the period.

Rembrandt was Charles Laughton's first performance for Korda since his Academy Award success as Henry VIII (an attempt to film the French classic Cyrano de Bergerac, with Laughton as the big-nosed romantic hero, was disastrous, with Laughton and Korda arguing on everything from the script to the right false nose for the part). Once again, Laughton delivered a powerful and complex performance of a passionate and volatile man beset by misfortune and the intolerance and misunderstanding of his times.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Saskia (5:25)
2. The Night Watch (4:10)
Rembrandt (7:28)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Biró, Lajos (1883-1948)
Hyde-White, Wilfrid (1903-1991)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Korda, Vincent (1896-1979)
Lanchester, Elsa (1902-1986)
Laughton, Charles (1899-1962)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
Périnal, Georges (1897-1965)
Alexander Korda and London Films