Sunday 18 May 2008

The Rainmaker (1956)

The rainmaker of the title is a conman played by Burt Lancaster. He takes many names: Bill Starbuck, Bill Smith, Bill Harley, Tornado Johnson, whatever does the trick. He travels the country selling tornado rods that unsuspecting folks buy from him to stick in their roof and protect themselves when the tornadoes that never come through town come through town. He gets run out of the first town we see him in but he soon ends up in Three Point, a southern town afflicted by severe drought.

Three Point is also home to the Curry family. Pop is H C Curry, played by Cameron Prud'homme, but the rest are recognisable. Daughter Lizzie is played by Katharine Hepburn and she's plain and getting a little old and the family have shipped her off to Uncle Ned's to see if one of his kids would marry her. Next in line is Noah, played by Lloyd Bridges who has the gall to get upset when she comes back without a promise of marriage. The most striking line in the film comes when he tells her, 'If we put money in a heifer and she don't turn out, we got to ask questions'. What surprises most is that Kate doesn't turn round and belt him one. Younger brother Jim is Earl Holliman, who would go on a couple to decades later to renown as Angie Dickinson's lieutenant in Police Woman.

And into the Curry family comes Starbuck, where he proceeds to turn everything upside down. Everyone except Jim knows he's a conman but they go along with his claims of rainmaking power for different reasons. Soon Jim's out banging a drum, Pa's painting a big arrow away from the house to keep the lightning away and Noah's tying the hind legs of a mule together. Starbuck's inside stirring up the emotions of Lizzie, the only one left and the smartest one of the bunch.

This is a strange film. It's obviously based on a play because it has that constrained stagebound feel with lots of speeches that sound like they should be delivered to a live audience. It has an extravagant over-the-top feel too, even though it's set in a drought ridden farm and populated by major stars. Burt Lancaster is forgiveable because he's playing a conman and it's appropriate for him to be deliberately larger than life. Lloyd Bridges is forgiveable too because he's deliberately throwing lines out to get a reaction. Unfortunately I couldn't buy Kate Hepburn, because she was such a powerful presence, as actor and woman, that the one thing she couldn't play was a weak woman, full of indecision and lack of self confidence. She doesn't do a bad job, she simply looks like Kate Hepburn pretending to be weak and the concept is almost laughable.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The final image in this film where Burt Lancaster exclaims "RAIN" at the sky as it begins to pour down is arguably the most murderously embarrassing moment in the entire history of cinema.