Nitrate Diva: Remembering Colin Clive, the Tragic Hero of the Silver Screen

"I'm no Clark Gable in the matter of looks; I require a good dramatic play before my fatal charm is discernible." —Colin Clive Fatal, indeed. On this day in 1900, Colin Clive came into the...


"I'm no Clark Gable in the matter of looks; I require a good dramatic play before my fatal charm is discernible." —Colin Clive

Fatal, indeed.

On this day in 1900, Colin Clive came into the world. In 1937, he died alone and unhappy in an oxygen tent, succumbing to alcohol-exacerbated tuberculosis. But even in death, his presence lingers.

Clive lives on in the echoes of his broken-reed voice, in the horror movies he despised making, in the dormant celluloid of unreleased films, and in the hearts of cinephiles like myself. He always exuded a nervous energy, both on and off screen, adding an intensity to the passage of time as captured by the camera.

There are many things I wish I could say to Clive. But someone else, Ayn Rand of all people, expressed it best in a fan letter she sent to Clive during his lifetime. She admired his portrayal of a completely heroic human being in the stage revival of "Journey's End" and highlighted the rare beauty he brought to the world. Clive acknowledged her praise, and I hope he internalized some of it. It's a testament to his artistry that he resonated with audiences, even attracting the attention of an accomplished playwright like Rand.

It's ironic that Rand, who championed iron wills and inner strength, found Clive's weaknesses and insecurities so intriguing. Clive's characters, even the most despicable ones, possessed a grace and beauty that suggested they could have been better people, cut off by the cruel twists of fate. It's this duality that drew Rand and countless others to Clive's performances.


Clive has a cult following, a legion of fans who continue to Google his image and hold vigil over his memory. But would he have been pleased or freaked out by our unwavering devotion? It's hard to say. Nevertheless, on what would have been his 113th birthday, let's take a moment to remember his talent and pay tribute to his most iconic role.

In his first film, "Journey's End," Clive reprised his stage role as Captain Stanhope. Directed by James Whale, the film immerses us in the claustrophobic and character-driven world of trench warfare. Despite the limitations of early talkies, Whale masterfully captures the intimacy and emotion of the soldiers' experiences. The film may not be visually groundbreaking, but it allows us to develop a strong bond with the characters.

One standout performance is David Manners as Raleigh, who undergoes a powerful transformation from a fresh-faced soldier to a disillusioned young man. Manners sheds his pretty boy image and delivers a gut-wrenching portrayal of a shattered individual.

Whale occasionally sprinkles moments of filmic brilliance throughout the movie, providing glimpses of his horror-making expertise. But it's the raw and honest depiction of war's impact on the characters' lives that truly resonates. Whale, himself a World War I veteran, understood the essence of trench warfare and conveys it with stark realism.


Clive's portrayal of Captain Stanhope is nothing short of remarkable. From the moment he appears on screen, he embodies the character's weariness and internal struggles. Clive's performance is so genuine that we forget he's acting, a small miracle considering it was his first time in front of a camera.

Stanhope, like Clive's Frankenstein, is a complex and deeply human figure. Both characters aspire to something greater, but their flaws and insecurities hold them back. Clive captures the essence of Stanhope's fractured and fragmented existence, a man desperately trying to hold himself together.

It's worth noting the childlike quality of both Stanhope and Frankenstein. In moments of vulnerability, they revert back to a helpless state, seeking comfort and guidance. Clive skillfully portrays the complexity of these characters, eliciting a range of emotions from the audience.

Clive's modesty about his acting talent was unwarranted. His performances speak for themselves, and he deserves praise for the beauty he brought to the screen. Though we may not have pristine copies of his films, his impact on cinema and his enduring presence in the hearts of film enthusiasts cannot be denied.

I encourage you to watch "Journey's End" and experience the power of Clive's performance for yourself. While the available prints may not do justice to the film's visual brilliance, they can never diminish the emotional depth and artistry that Clive brought to the role of Captain Stanhope.

(Note: You can watch the full movie here, but it's a tragedy that this magnificent film about the tragedy of war has not received the restoration it deserves. In the meantime, I've included publicity stills and materials in this article, sourced from the fantastic Tumblrs of missanthropicprinciple, sullivanstrvls, and colincliveforever. They deserve recognition for their fantastic movie-related images and reflections.)