Rembrandt (1936 film)

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DVD Cover
Directed by Alexander Korda
Written byJune Head
Lajos Bíró
Arthur Wimperis
Based onstory by Carl Zuckmayer
Produced byAlexander Korda
Starring Charles Laughton
Gertrude Lawrence
Elsa Lanchester
Edward Chapman
Cinematography Georges Périnal
Edited by Francis D. Lyon
William Hornbeck (sup)
Music by Geoffrey Toye
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • 6 November 1936 (1936-11-06)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£400,000 [1]

Rembrandt is a 1936 British biographical film made by London Film Productions of the life of 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. [2] The film was produced and directed by Alexander Korda from a screenplay by June Head and Lajos Bíró based on a story by Carl Zuckmayer. The music score was by Geoffrey Toye and the cinematography by Georges Périnal. [3]





Alexander Korda had previously worked with Laughton on The Private Life of Henry VIII a hit “on both sides of the Atlantic” [4] —and wanted to re-create that success.

In an article on, Seattle Times critic Sean Axmaker describes the detailed preparations for the film, which included Korda and Laughton's repeated trips to Holland and Laughton's taking up painting and growing a mustache. “There were problems on the set, notably a clash with stage legend Gertrude Lawrence... She was quite the raconteur on set, entertaining the cast and crew, and especially Korda, with gossip and ribald stories while Laughton tried to focus on his part. Laughton had soundproof screens put around the set to keep the chatter and bustle down, but Korda's perceived neglect of Laughton in favor of Lawrence led to a rift between the actor and the director that was never repaired.” [5]

The AFI Catalog offers more detail on the production, including Lawrence's behavior, as well as observations and quotes from Lanchester and Laughton, too numerous to paraphrase here. [6]

Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester plays Hendrickje, Rembrandt's maid and model, who becomes his lover and bears his daughter. Lanchester composed the music and lyrics for “Hendrickje's Theme”. [7]

Critical reception

In a 3 December 1936 review in The New York Times, B.R.Crisler, recommended the picture “in the strongest terms.”: "Charles Laughton and Alexander Korda have produced a great, and rich, and glowing motion picture in Rembrandt... a picture signed all over with distinction, like one of the master's own canvases... the noblest subject and the best likeness—so far, at any rate—in Mr. Laughton's inspired gallery of historical portraits”. Inspired “to raise ... perhaps undignified cheers,” the author pointed to the film's “courageous indifference to ‘romance,’ in the cheap Hollywood sense, its surprising, rather foreign awareness of the facts of life, and its resolute hewing to a line of individual integrity and character”. [8]

In her 15 March 1937, “Shots and Angles” column in Maclean's, Ann Ross recommended the “dignified, informative and beautifully acted picture.” [9]

Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a poor review, describing it as "a series of unrelated tableaux". Greene found that "the film is ruined by lack of story ['line'] and continuity [...] [which is the] drive of a well-constructed plot". Greene gave some praise for the acting of Laughton and Lanchester, but condemned the direction stating "I have called the film reverent, but pompous, I fear, would be nearer the mark." [10]

Time Out writes that although the film was "Less successful at the time than the earlier Private Life of Henry VIII, (it is) a far better film, thanks to a subtle, touching performance from Laughton as the ageing painter...Surprisingly sombre, it lacks a tight plot, but appeals through its vivid characterisation, superb Vincent Korda sets, and Georges Périnal's lovely camerawork." [11] [12]

In June 2018, The British Film Institute praised Rembrandt as “one of the most beautiful period films of its time. Laughton... is on fine form... the cinematography by Georges Périnal elegantly captures not just the painter’s life and times but also replicates the immersive, shadowy textures of his canvasses. One memorable scene, in which the widowed Rembrandt’s libido is reawakened by the sight of his maid walking up to her bedroom, is a tour de force of florid expressionism.” [13]

Leonard Maltin gives 3.5 out of 4 stars to this “Handsome bio of Dutch painter, full of visual tableaux and sparked by Laughton's excellent performance.” [14]

In 2007, Dennis Schwartz gave the film an A-minus: “(This) is a superior film and Korda has nothing to be ashamed of in the way he filmed it without the usual Hollywood action scenes. It features a marvelously spirited and subtle performance by Charles Laughton... Though the film only has a slight plot and there’s not much dramatic tension, it has a grand visual style.” [15]

Rotten Tomatoes lists a 75% rating, based on 8 reviews, for an average of 7.1/10. [16]

The film is mentioned in Len Deighton's 1970 novel Bomber, which portrays an RAF night bombing raid on a German town in 1943. At the RAF bomber station at Warley Fen, as the aircrew prepare for take-off in the early evening, off-duty ground crew attend a screening of Rembrandt at the station cinema. The novel mentions that the turnout is so many, extra chairs are brought in from another building and latecomers sit in the aisles. [17]

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  1. Harper, Sue (1994). Picturing the past : the rise and fall of the British costume film . BFI Publishing. p.  27.
  2. "BFI Screenonline: Rembrandt (1936)".
  3. "Rembrandt (1936)". Archived from the original on 15 August 2016.
  4. "The Private Life of Henry VIII (1934) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  5. "Rembrandt". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  6. "Rembrandt". Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  7. "Rembrandt". Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  8. B.r.c (3 December 1936). "Laughton's Portrait of 'Rembrandt,' at the Rivoli, Bears the Authentic Imprint -- Criterion Items". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  9. ROSS, ANN. "Shots and Angles | Maclean's | March 15, 1937". Maclean's | The Complete Archive. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  10. Greene, Graham (20 November 1936). "Rembrandt". The Spectator . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp.  117, 120. ISBN   0192812866.)
  11. "Rembrandt". Time Out London. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  12. Timeout incorrectly credits Elsa Lanchester with playing Saskia, Rembrandt's first wife, who is never seen in the picture.
  13. "10 great films set in the 17th century". British Film Institute. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  14. "Rembrandt (1936) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  15. "REMBRANDT – Dennis Schwartz Reviews" . Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  16. Rembrandt (1936) , retrieved 28 July 2020
  17. Deighton, Len. Bomber. Grafton Books, 1987. p-273.