Charles Laughton's portrayal of the great Rembrandt is itself a masterpiece, full of sensitivity, pathos, whimsy, a lustful eye for the women who caught his fancy, and the eccentricities of a genius who lived way beyond his means and owed more than he owned to his creditors.
Rembrandt loved much, and suffered many personal losses, but his paintings became more luminous and full of emotional depth as the years went by. Laughton is also made to look much like the master, with his wispy mustache, and the resemblance to the famous self-portraits of the last ten years of his life is remarkable.
The film begins when Rembrandt is 36, in 1642, with the passing of his beloved wife Saskia, the model for so many of his works, and is followed by the controversy over his magnificent and enormous "The Night Watch", which was unveiled the same year. I never imagined this picture to be so huge and powerful.
The details of seventeenth century Amsterdam are marvelous, and I especially enjoyed seeing how the studio of the time was set up, with pigments in bottles, and canvas tied to a stretcher frame.
The film belongs to Laughton, and his magnificent performance, but the supporting cast is great, with Elsa Lanchester as Hendrickje, Gertrude Lawrence as his housekeeper and common law wife, and John Bryning as Titus, the only one of his four children with Saskia that survived.
Remarkably clear for its age, with very few crackles in its lovely cinematography by Geoffrey Toye, its years are more noticeable in the soundtrack (by Georges Perinal) than visually. Meticulously directed by Alexander Korda, this film should be seen by all art aficionados, and those who love Rembrandt's work, as you will love it even more after seeing this film. Total running time is 85 minutes.