Monday, 21 February 2011

Style Icon XI: Robert Donat

Judy Garland once said that when she sang the song Dear Mr Gable (You Made Me Love You), in Broadway Melody (1938), she was really singing it to Robert Donat (1905-1958) and, two years later, in the year that the Technicolor, all-time-blockbuster Gone With The Wind was released, with Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Robert Donat's consummate performance as Mr Chips in Good-bye Mr Chips brought him that year's Oscar for best actor, above several other strong contenders. Walter Matthau once said that he had been in a West End London pub with Donat when a little old lady came up to him and asked for his autograph and then said "You're such a comfort" and, watching the films, it is possible to see what she meant. He didn't make as many films as they wanted him to, owing to chronic, extreme ill health and many film roles that have become classics (such as Willie in Hobson's Choice, actually starring John Mills), would have been his as first choice. Of the films that he did make, Mr Chips; The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) are my favourites; although his last film appearance, as the mandarin in The Inn of The Sixth Happiness (1958), is especially moving: his character fades out from the screen with the words: "We shall not see each other again, I think. Farewell" and Robert Donat died before the film was released. Donat was also a renowned stage actor.
In the still from The Thirty Nine Steps, he is with co-star Madeleine Carroll.The Hawes & Curtis hound's-tooth suit was spoiled in the chase sequence when he was hiding under the waterfall on the moor and Donat made such a fuss about it that Hitchcock had Hawes & Curtis make a new one - but with short trousers.

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