Alexander Korda’s Rembrandt (1936) marked Charles Laughton’s first British picture since his Oscar-winning turn in Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)—and it’s not only Culture with a capital “C,” it’s a film obviously meant to appeal to Laughton’s actorliness. You can almost hear Korda’s Hungarian-accented pitch—“So what if Leo McCarey let you recite ‘The Gettysburg Address’ last year in Ruggles of Red Gap? Phooey! I’ll turn you loose on large slabs of the Old Testament.” There’s no way Laughton would have turned that down—even if what Korda really was after was another hit like Henry VIII. Problem was the earlier film had been somewhat satirical and audiences responded to the humor. Rembrandt offered very few laughs and was largely a basic biopic—a solid, often stylish and very good-looking biopic, but a biopic all the same. History wouldn’t repeat itself. Today, however, it’s possible to take a more kindly look at the film for what it is, rather than for what it isn’t.
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