Sunday, September 2, 2012

Charles Laughton - I, Claudius (Must See)

You may have heard that back in 1937 Charles Laughton and Merle Oberon were to have the starring roles in a production of Robert Graves novel—I, Claudius. Claudius, the 4th emperor of Rome, suffered from a nervous condition that caused his head to shake, and he stuttered badly. He also was described as having weak knees that would sometimes buckle on him. Oh, and he drooled when he got excited or nervous. The royal family kept him out of the public eye as much as possible, so great was their embarrassment of him. While they considered Claudius to be a bit of a dolt because of his nervous habits, he was actually somewhat bright and ended up being one of the few halfway decent human beings Rome ever had as emperor. He built the aqueducts and canals that are still there today and wrote his own autobiography among other achievements.

The film halted production after only a few weeks due to Oberon having been injured in a car crash. There are those who claim that Laughton was happy to use this as an excuse to get out of the movie because he didn't like the way he played the role of Claudius, and no doubt it must have been difficult to get the stutter right. (Actually he stammered in it rather than stutter, though he still did a fine job.) Other sources say that he had finally gotten the characterization down correctly and was happy with it after the first couple of weeks.

All of the original footage is still around, and a documentary in 1962 called The Epic That Never Was shows most of the footage. Here's a scene from it where Caligula has been murdered and now the senate must decide whether to allow this buffoon, Claudius (the last adult survivor of the royal family), to become their emperor. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the greatest scenes ever filmed. Surely this would have been the role of Charles Laughton's life, even more so than that of Captain Bligh in Mutiny On The Bounty two years earlier

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