Well, I bet you’ve seen at least two Colin Clive movies, haven’t you? I swear, when I was a kid bitten by the monster madness which was the first seed of my current love of classic movies Colin Clive was bigger to me than Gable, Cagney, or any other leading man of the period. C’mon, the guy was Dr. Frankenstein and about the only actor bigger than that to an 8-year-old would be Karloff himself.
The IMDb credits Colin Clive with having appeared in just 18 movies from the time he and director James Whale reprised their stage hit, Journey’s End, on film in 1930 until his death in 1937. Whale, of course, directed Clive in both Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), plus used him one other time in between, in One More River (1934).
Colin Clive cements his horror film credentials as Stephen Orlac in Mad Love (1935), a pianist who has the hands of a murderer grafted onto him after a horrific train crash. The hands, experienced in knife-throwing but too clumsy for the piano, start taking over the once stable Orlac with help from the maniacal Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) who’s obsessed with winning Orlac’s wife (Frances Drake) at any cost.
But none of Colin Clive’s 15 other films were horror movies, something which would have shocked that worshipful 8-year-old version of myself. You can find a couple of them over on YouTube at the time of this writing.
Clive plays Rochester in Monogram’s flat 1934 Jane Eyre starring Virginia Bruce in the title role. Bruce seems an unfortunate choice, not coming across convincingly in any scene requiring anything but total exuberance, while Clive manages to carry the second half of this short, 62 minute, production. This Jane Eyre really made me feel for poor Rochester as I wished he had a nearby choice for companionship other than Bruce’s Jane or the somewhat shrill Blanche Ingram, who’s nonetheless played well by Aileen Pringle. Clive is most effective, as should be, in the final few minutes of the picture, when he’s blinded and despaired.
In History Is Made at Night (1937), a love story starring Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer, Colin Clive plays a monster. When Irene Vail (Arthur) leaves her husband Bruce (Clive) while in France, he responds by sending his chauffeur over to Irene’s hotel room to set her up in a compromising position. Seemingly just neurotic at first Clive’s Bruce is soon an all-out sneering and leering lech when his plan is foiled by Paul Dumond (Boyer) a native Frenchman who overheard Irene’s troubles from the next room over. Dumond posing as a jewel thief whisks Irene away, and while their interaction began innocently Bruce already suspects what’s not to come until later—that Irene is having an affair with the handsome Dumond.
Despite a committing murder in an earlier scene, Clive is at his most despicable after forcing a reunion with his wife, who is understandably appalled. Clive storms toward Arthur, puts a hand around her throat and hisses “I’ll kill you,” before tossing her to the floor. Later in the film Clive gives cool orders which pull the trigger on a potentially catastrophic climax. His Bruce is not the typical cuckolded husband of 1930’s cinema, he’s very much more.
Colin Clive only appeared in one other movie after History Is Made at Night, 1937’s The Woman I Love, before his death that same year at age 37 from pneumonia complicated by his alcoholism.
Kate Gabrielle covered History Is Made at Night on Silents & Talkies.
An excellent biography of Colin Clive was posted on Frankensteinia, The Frankenstein Blog, on the anniversary of his birth in 2009.
While there are an endless number of Frankenstein collectibles out there, a search of my own image archives of vintage movie cards and collectibles yielded only the two Colin Clive items shown on this page. In fact, my search for “Clive” sadly saw Colin outnumbered by approximately 20-to-1 by Clive Brook!
Okay, I couldn’t close without embedding this:
Colin Clive, born January 20, 1900. Died June 25, 1937.