Claude Rains did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Howard Justin in The Passionate Friends.
The forgotten husband can sometimes be a thankless part, but Claude Rains knows exactly how to handle this type of thankless part by instead turning such a role into the best part of the film. Early on in the film we see Howard and Mary together. Their chemistry is of course not all like Mary's and Steven's. Rains though importantly shows that Howard very much does care for his wife in an understated but still very affectionate fashion. Although their marriage may have been of convenience at one time Rains portrays an appropriate earnestness in Howard that supports the idea that Howard very much likes being married to wife despite how they may have started off their marriage initially.
A big part of his performance of course comes in his suspicions that Mary and Steven may start their relationship anew. Rains near the beginning has a quick moment where he describes Steven as an enemy before changing to saying he was a friend. Rains is excellent in just this short moment from early in the film because of the playfulness he puts in the statement. Rains shows that there is indeed a concern, but more importantly than anything since Howard is just a normal man he tries to act as appropriately about the situation at first as possible. So Rains properly portrays Howard as basically just trying to laugh off his suspicious.
Of course Howard's suspicions stop being a laughing matter quickly as the signs appear quite quickly that it is a very serious problems. Rains is very effective in his reactionary moments where he notices one particular lie that Mary has told him and Rains carries a great emotional power similar to that found in his performance in Notorious. Of course in this case Rains does not portray it as a defeat as he did so in Notorious as Howard is not nearly as much of defeatist, instead he conveys the heartbreak in Howard properly but behind it a stern resolution to do something about it directly.Rains pretty much steals the entire film once Howard resolves to not put up with being brushed off so easily.
Rains is terrific in all of the scenes where he directly confronts either Steven or Mary over the affair. Rains is excellent in portraying the intensity of Howard's disgust in the way they have been trying to deceive him. He has this great distaste which Rains brings across quite effectively because he does not portray at all like villain, but instead really a righteous man. Rains is so great here because he portrays Howard's disgust not of hate but that of disappointment and sadness over his wife's behavior. The scene where he basically says he never wants to see his wife again. Rains is absolutely heartbreaking because he is able to bring out the conflicting emotions of anger and the love he does hold underneath so beautifully.
This is such a brilliant performance by Rains that I ended up caring more about Howard then Steven and Mary despite being the sort of character that usually gets the short end of the stick in films like this. This film is different though and Rains makes the most of it especially in his last scene where he both saves Mary's life and offers reconciliation. Rains is terrific in just how much tenderness he brings out in Howard as he shows his forgiveness to only be entirely genuine through the warmth he expresses so well in his performance. Its a very moving scene due to Rains's sympathetic portrayal, and this is particularly interesting to watch considering his knack for playing villains. This is a outstanding performance from the great Rains, and I must say I quite enjoyed seeing Rains get the girl for once.