07 May 2016

Robert Barrat: Hiding in Plain Sight

Errol Flynn and Robert Barrat
In a way, it's amazing that the name Robert Barrat isn't known. You've seen this man a hundred times and not recognized him. Barrat, despite his remarkable height and powerful build, would disappear into his roles, assisted by a talent for accents. He could play a comic character, a simple supporting role, a conspirator. a buffoon, or a very scary villain.
He is probably best known by name for his supporting role in Captain Blood, as Peter's friend and shipmate Wolverstone. He's also memorable as the suicidal Captain Von Ferring in Wonder Bar, as the scheming Major Esterhazy in The Life of Emile Zola, as Chingachgook in the 1936 The Last of the Mohicans, as Dawson, the Buffalo Bill-like Wild West showman in Richard Barthelmess' Massacre, as a deceitful Russian officer in The Charge of the Light Brigade, as Paul Muni's rival in Doctor Socrates. In William Wellman's Heroes for Sale, he portrayed a struggling inventor who achieves success and instantly flips from Communism to Facism -- a personification of the director's skepticism about political true believers.
In The Life of Emile Zola

In one year, 1938, he was a kindly rancher in Forbidden Valley, a brutal prison guard in Penitentiary, a revolutionary in Marie Antoinette, a Russian spy in Shadows Over Shanghai,  a scheming post Civil War army officer in The Texans, and a murderous pirate in The Buccaneer. He was equally at home in costume drama, westerns, or in a modern urban scene. He could be funny or extremely menacing in any setting. Indeed, anyone fortunate enough to have seen the rarely shown
In Lilly Turner with Ruth Chatterton
Lilly Turner, one of director Wellman's pre-code shockers, starring Ruth Chatterton, is not likely to forget Barrat's terrifying portrayal of psychotic German sideshow strongman.
He would occasionally get favorable mentions in film reviews, and his name was on the posters sometimes --  but he was basically the ultimate supporting  player. Barrat literally made hundreds of films, and when television came along, he appeared on everything from Mister Ed to Alfred Hitchcock.
In his later years
And  I have to believe that was a satisfying life for an actor who wanted to act; fame is undeniably a mixed blessing, if it's a blessing at all. But plenty of work is not.