Angel On My Shoulder

Monday, November 7, AD 2016


One of my favorite actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood is Claude Rains.  Throughout his career he brought vibrant intelligence and a world weary cynicism to his roles.  From his screen personae, it might be assumed that Rains was an English aristocrat educated at elite English “public” schools.  Actually he was London Cockney, and had a very pronounced Cockney accent and a speech impediment as he was growing up.  He served gallantly in World War I in the British Army in the London Scottish Regiment, rising from private to captain, and being blinded in one eye as a result of a gas attack.

He quickly achieved post war success in England as an actor.  He began acting in American films and became an American citizen in  1939.  His first big hit was the title role in The Invisible Man in 1933.  He went on to achieve stardom with unforgettable roles, such as Prince John in Robin Hood (1938), Senator Joseph Paine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and, doubtless the role he is most known for, Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942):

In 1946 Rains appeared in probably the most unusual role in his career as Satan in Angel On My Shoulder.  The plot involves Satan’s attempt to use a deceased gangster, Eddie Kagle, played by Paul Muni, to discredit a living judge the gangster resembles.  The film is filled with bon mots by Rains, including him asking “What in my domain is that?” in reference to a ruckus caused by Eddie Kagle after he arrives in Hell.  The film has a rather profound sequence where Satan, or “Nick” as he is referred to in the film, expresses his exasperation with God for taking such concern over mortals.  He cannot understand why he loves them.  I suspect that is the case with the real Devil, and that the love of God is a complete mystery to him.  As CS Lewis noted in his The Screwtape Letters:

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3 Responses to Angel On My Shoulder

  • Love your blog! I have been lurking here for some time and enjoy the intelligent discussion it engenders. However, having seen a minor error repeated, I thought I might offer a clarification.
    The UK does not have a “Royal Army,” though it has royal regiments and other institutions attached to it. The British Army is a Parliamentary establishment, a consequence of the English Civil War, and that body has never acknowledged that the Army is the monarch’s; it is theirs…well, Commons’ anyway!
    Thanks again for this great forum you provide, not only for us Papists but for all reasonable people!

  • Thank you for your kind comments Jim. I should have known that since my great uncle Bill Barry served in the British Army 1939-1945. I have made the correction.

  • Thanks Don! If you’ll forgive my own patronizing story….As a frustrated historian and first generation American of Geordy English/Scottish descent on me late Da’s side, who received his citizenship upon discharge from the US Army Engineers by the way, while his older brother served with Monty’s 8th Army in the Royal Signals, I have a great interest in the history of the British Army, though my former study and reading concerned the 19th century German states and that last bastion of catholic culture, Austria-Hungary, inspired in my college days by my late first wife of Hungarian descent. Anyway, a great uncle served in the Great War in eastern Europe with the Royal Scots/No.British Fusiliers (the old 21st Foot), and his brother in the Royal Navy, who lost a leg in the sinking of one of those mine-sweepers in the Dardanelles campaign. The naval service for him was fitting, since my great uncles and their brother-in-law, my grandfather, were all ship wrights in the New Castle area, where, in Hartlepool, they survived the bombardment by the Kaiserliche Marine. The fact that I’m a Papist is due to me Irish American Mum, my father having converted in the late 40’s though he made his confirmation after me; I’m a pre-Vatican II catholic, well just, while he was post.
    My own life has not compared to those of my forbears…bitterness in not getting that ROTC sholarship? St.Crispin’s Day sadly comes to mind….Did I say too much? Ah, what the hell…

    I should add, let’s all pray the right person gets elected today!!!

    Thanks again for a great blog!!!