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Charles Laughton Edit Profile

actor , Film director

Charles Laughton was a British and american film director and actor. Recipient Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award as best actor, for role in The Private Life of Henri VIII. 1933.


Laughton, Charles was born on July 1, 1899 in Scarborough, England. Son of Robert and Eliza (Conlon) Laughton. Laughton, a Catholic and the son of hoteliers, went to Stonvhurst and had to battle against familv opposition to go on the stage.


Educated Stonyhurst College (Jesuit), England. Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, England.


He was led to film acting by his theatre work and by bis marriage to Elsa Lanehester, who w;as making two-reelers. He made a few films in England, including E. A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (28), Comets (30, Sasha Geneen), and Herbert Wilcox’s Wolves (30), before taking the play. Payment Deferred, to Broadway. Although hesitant, Laughton eventudally accepted an offer from Paramount. Inevitably, his looks meant that Hollywood employed him in grotesque roles. His first film in America was James Whales The Old Dark House (32), made for Universal while Paramount searched out parts lor him. In fact, the studio never came to terms with Laughton. He made The Deed and the Deep (32, Marion Gering); White Woman (33, Stuart Walker); lampooned De Mille's The Sign of the Cross (32); was memorable in his episode of If I Had a Million (32, Ernst Lubitsch); and luridly fearsome in Erie C. Kentons adaptation of H. G. Wells’s Island of Lost Souls (33). Otherwise, he was loaned to MGM for the unsuccessful movie version of Payment Deferred (32, Lothar Mendes).

It was in England, for Alexander Korda, that lie achieved stardom, and an Oscar, in The Private Life of Henry VIII (34). He returned to Hollywood, to a personal friendship with living Thalberg and four of his most famous roles: the father in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (34, Sidney Franklin); Buggies of Red Gap (35, Leo McCarey); (avert in Richard Boleslavsky’s Les Miserahles (35); and Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty (35, Frank Lloyd). Ruggles now looks the best survivor of this period, if only because the character is more lowlv and more trulv observed. In masterful parts, Laughton snarls and leers like a show-off who despises movies—or himself for working in them.

And, indeed, Laughton disliked Hollywood; Thalberg’s death was only one reason for his second departure. Back in England he played Rembrandt (36) for Korda and began the ill-fated I Claudius for (osef von Sternberg. The material that survives from that venture shows how far Laughton reached out for a nonrealistic tvpe of acting—a hint that he may have been frustrated by the limits Hollywood set upon his exaggeration. He now joined forces with Erich Pommer to act in and produce Vessel of Wrath (37) and St. Martin ’s Lane (38, Tim Whelan). But after acting in and producing Jamaica Inn (39, Alfred Hitchcock), he returned to Hollywood and worked intensively throughout the war: brilliant as Quasimodo in Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (39); in Garson Kanin’s They Knew What They Wanted (40); It Started with Eve (41, Henry Foster); The Tuttles of Tahiti (42, Charles Vidor); an episode in Duvivier’s Tales of Manhattan (42); Stand by for Action (42, Robert Z. Leonard); Forever and a Day (43, Lloyd); Renoir’s This Land Is Mine (43)—another of his simple, decent, rather shy men. After The Canterville Ghost (44, Jules Dassin) and a very subtle, conscience-stricken man in The Suspect (45, Robert Siodmak), he returned to colorful ogres: Captain Kidd (45, Rowland V. Lee); laying his hand on Ann Todd in Plie Paradine Case (47, Hitchcock); and The Big Clock (48, John Farrow).

Laughton’s decline dates from this period and seems to reflect a growing realization that few films could contain him: Arch of Triumph (48, Lewis Milestone); The Girl from Manhattan (48, Alfred E. Green); The Bribe (49, Leonard); The Man on the Eiffel Tower (50, Burgess Meredith); The Blue Veil (51, Curtis Bernhardt); Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (52, Charles Lamont); Herod in Dieterle’s Salome (53); and Henry VIII in George Sidney's Young Bess (53).

Working more in the theatre again, he made only five further films: tedious in Hobson’s Choice (54, David Lean); overdone, but Oscar-nominated for Witness for the Prosecution (57, Billy Wilder); a good Gracchus in Spartacus (60, Stanley Kubrick); Under Ten Flags (60. Diulio Coletti); finally, with charm and distinction, as Senator Scab Cooley in Preminger’s Advise and Consent (62).


Laughtons is one of the most interesting and trou¬bled careers in the cinema. Possessed by unbri¬dled rhetorical vitality, be was responsible for some of the most recklessly flamboyant character¬izations the screen has seen. At other times, bis doubts crippled him. Recognized in the 1930s as the screen’s principal creator of larger-than-life characters, bis career declined into inconsequen¬tial movies. All too easily, be mocked the parts be w;as playing, thus acquiring a reputation for being unmanageable.

He was an artist with deep, volatile feelings who only occasionally found work in which he could believe. Thus there is an almost brutal contrast in his films between careful invention and unchallenged bam. Like so many large, ugly actors, he was sometimes incapable of escaping the grossly malicious man he often played. Though happily married to Elsa Lanehester (they were good company). he was a homosexual, tortured by the need to be secret and trulv guilt-ridden because of it. So he came to see his own looks as a merited rebuke: he was his own hunchback.

Many of his “great performances” have dated badly, but one achievement grows richer with everv viewing: his only direction, The Night of the Hunter (55), is one of the masterpieces of American cinema. It is proper to give some credit for it to James Agee, Stanley Cortez, and Robert Mitchum, but the Hans Andersen-like clarity of the conception, the extraordinary mythic precision, and the ease with which the film moves from nightmare to lyric—those great Crimes come from Laughton. Better still, the movie brings to life a chill, dewy innocence enough to dissolve the rabid grasp of hatred.


Married Elsa Sullivan Lanchester, February 10, 1939.

Robert Laughton

Eliza (Conlon) Laughton

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester