Sunday, April 18, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours

The Rainmaker (1956)
Directed by Joseph Anthony
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, Earl Holliman
Grade: B

To all intents and purposes The Rainmaker is a Tennessee Williams adaptation, with its repressed and distorted sexual relationships and small town drama. It has nothing to do with Williams but his presence and influence is nevertheless felt in N. Richard Nash's adaptation (from his own play), the story of a spinster determined to marry and settle down on her own terms. Said spinster, Lizzie Curry, is livened by screen stalwart Katharine Hepburn, fresh from a similarly timid turn as a romanced singleton in David Lean's Summertime the year previously.

Having recently seen Summer and Smoke it isn't difficult to surmise how The Rainmaker emerges as a much more successful outing, staunchly characterised even as it lets Hepburn dally between nobility and self-loathing. "I can't move in these clothes" she exclaims, in a particularly gruelling scene in which she deconstructs herself in harsh self-evaluation while her flabbergasted father looks on. Unlike De Havilland's Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, Lizzie isn't afraid to confront uneasy realities, her long monologues largely well judged by Hepburn, even as they ensure the production is exactly that; a production, accompanied by a try-hard score that sparkles but can't single-handedly cinematise. Hepburn herself is too old to play Lizzie, and regularly reverts to her triumphant Alice Adams to detail the wrenching awkwardness of the single life. She does have some beautifully touching moments, particularly in the earlier-referred scene with her father, and when she rashly flirts with suitor Wendell Corey.

Burt Lancaster's arrival as a lothario professing he can bring rain to a depleted town instigates problems for Lizzie, who develops an attraction for him, compromising her rational romantic ideals. The question of whether Lancaster's Bill Starbuck is a genius or a conman eventually dissipates, but Starbuck's promise provides the basis for The Rainmaker's psychosexual analysis. Has Lizzie been waiting for an outsider to whisk her away from "normality"? Ultimately, as a personality Lizzie often seems too aware of herself, her family dynamic, her social situation, to the extent where she lectures her father, brothers, Starbuck, about relationships without putting anything into practice. It's always easier to say than do, but Lizzie is enough of an informative voice for Anthony as it is, and feels restlessly fetishised to hammer home issues the film could have dealt with through other characters, particularly the decreasingly relevant brother Noah.

By the time the inevitable rain shower ends this frothy romp The Rainmaker has weighed in at two hours of self-conscious longing for happiness, unmistakeably compact in narrative regardless of the frenetic, sprawling way in which Lizzie conducts herself. There's enough here to warrant the film's neuroticism though; The Rainmaker knows better than to cast its net, and is all the better for sticking to and richening its intrepid subject, ingratiating to the end.

1 comment:

Malcolm said...


I'm Malcolm from The Final Oscar ( and I was hoping if you want to join in a smackdown in my blog. It's about the 2008 Nominees for Best Picture. If you want to know more, you could just email me or just visit my post about it:

So, I do look forward in writing with you about this. Please send me your confirmation whether you want to join or not.

Thanks and have a nice day!