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01 September 2012

Clive Brook

English film and stage actor Clive Brook (1887-1974) worked first in the British cinema and then in Hollywood. The suave, handsome, distinguished leading man is best remembered as Marlene Dietrich’s love interest in Shanghai Express (1932).

Clive Brook
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 63.

Clive Brook
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 484.

The Perfect British Gentleman
Clifford Hardman Brook was born in London in 1887. He was the son of opera singer Charlotte Mary and George Alfred Brook, a landowner of a goldmine. Clive was educated privately. He worked as a journalist and insurance agent, returned as a major from service in the First World War, then made his stage debut in 1918. His stage experience included Oliver Twist, If I were King, and The Importance of Being Earnest. From 1919 he also played in British films, while also working on the London stage. He appeared in such silent films as Trent's Last Case (1920, Richard Garrick), Sonia (1921, Denison Clift) with Evelyn Brent, A Debt of Honor (1922, Maurice Elvey) with Isobel Elsom, The Sheik (1922, George Wynn) in the title role, A Tale of Two Cities (1922, W. Courtney Rowden) based on the Charles Dickens novel, The White Shadow (1923, Graham Cutts) and Woman to Woman (1923, Graham Cutts) both starring Betty Compson and written by Alfred Hitchcock. Brook became a popular, suave leading man, the perfect British gentleman with a stiff upper lip. He occasionally played villains as well.

Clive Brook
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5459/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Defina.

Clive Brook
British postcard, no. 4010/1. Photo: Defina / First National Pictures.

Clive Brook
German postcard by Ross Verlag no. 4010/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Defina / First National Pictures.

Sherlock Holmes
In 1924 Clive Brook went to America where he continued his successful career smoothly. Employed by the Thomas Ince Corp., he started to work on the film Christine of the Hungry Heart (1924, George Archainbaud) with Florence Vidor. This was followed by more silent films as The Woman Hater (1925, James Flood), and Seven Sinners (1925, Lewis Milestone) with Marie Prevost. He moved to Paramount Studios in 1926 and took part in such remarkable films as Barbed Wire (1927, Rowland V. Lee) starring Pola Negri, Hula (1927, Victor Fleming) with Clara Bow, and Underworld (1927, Josef von Sternberg) - in which he produced one of his best screen interpretations. As the educated Rolls Royce Wensel brought low by drink and redeemed by the casual generosity of a gangster, Brook makes use of every shading of expression in his sensitive face, conveying more with fewer words in one glance than anyone else in the cast. Another great film was The Four Feathers (1929, Merian C. Cooper, Lothar Mendes) with Richard Arlen and Fay Wray. He rounded off the 1920's with The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929, Basil Dean) - the first of three films in which Brook impersonated the famous detective with a non-traditional tweed cap and long side whiskers.

Clive Brook
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5656.

Clive Brook and Billie Dove
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5416. Photo: Verleih: Philipp & Co. / First National. Publicity still of Clive Brook and Billie Dove in Yellow Lily (1928, Alexander Korda).

Clive Brook
Dutch postcard, no. 653. Photo: Filma.

Stiff But Effective
Clive Brook made a smooth transition into the talkies with his attractive, clipped accent. One of his best remembered appearances is opposite Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg). He was a bit stiff but effective as the British Army doctor who was once Shanghai Lilly's lover. Brook remained a top draw until at least 1934. He returned to Britain in 1935 and continued appearing in films for the next decade. Among these films are The Dictator (1935, Victor Saville) with Madeleine Carroll, Love in Exile (1936, Alfred L. Werker), Action for Slander (1938, Tim Whelan), Convoy (1940, Pen Tennyson), and The Flemish Farm (1943, Jeffrey Dell).

Clive Brook
Dutch postcard, no. 632.

Clive Brook
British postcard. Photo: Paramount.

Clive Brook
British postcard. Photo: Paramount.

Crowning Achievement
Clive Brook adapted the comedy On Approval by Frederick Lonsdale and produced, directed and starred in the film version, On Approval (1945) with Beatrice Lillie, Googie Withers and Roland Culver. The costumes were by Cecil Beaton. It was Brooks' crowning achievement. For the rest of his career he concentrated on stage work, with occasional appearances on British television and radio. In 1949 he presented the radio series The Secrets of Scotland Yard. He made only one more film, The List of Adrian Messenger (1963, John Huston). Clive Brook died in London in 1974. Until his death he was married to to his former co-star, Mildred Evelyn. Their daughter, Faith Brook is an actor as was their late son, Lyndon Brook.

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Dave Curbow (IMDb), AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb

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