Movie Review: The Rainmaker (1956)
“It’s about the magic that makes a woman beautiful when she’s wanted by a man!”
The Rainmaker (1956)
Director: Joseph Anthony
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Wendell Corey
Synopsis: A plain spinster is wooed by a conman who promises rain to a town in the grip of a drought.
Now here’s a film that hasn’t stood the test of time. Burt Lancaster (The Gypsy Moths, Zulu Dawn) plays Bill Starbuck, a larger-than-life conman who happens upon a small town in the grip of a seemingly endless drought. Katharine Hepburn (The Little Minister, The Philadelphia Story) is the daughter of a local farmer who sees right through his sales pitch, but who softens towards him as she struggles to come to grips with what looks like a barren, loveless future. Earl Holliman (The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Sons of Katie Elder) and Lloyd Bridges (High Noon, Airplane!) play her over-protective brothers.
More often than not, The Rainmaker belies its stage origins with limited attempts to open out the action and for the most part using sound stages rather than location shooting. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the film is the acting: everyone shouts and hollers at each other in hayseed accents as if they’re in some screwball comedy or a Beverly Hillbillies episode, and I regularly expected them to suddenly burst into song. Hepburn in particular, is horribly overwrought (and about twenty-five years too old for her role), but her often quite terrible performance is completely overshadowed by Holliman’s over-playing as her younger brother. Lancaster overacts too, but at least he brings a genuinely vigorous joie-de-vivre to his role.
There isn’t much of a story to The Rainmaker, either. The town’s drought is a metaphor for daughter Lizzie’s love life, and Starbuck is there to moisten the parts man and nature have so far failed to reach. That Lizzie’s father would approve of her enjoying a romp in the hay loft with this admittedly charismatic but also devilish stranger just so she can at least have something to look back on in the long years of spinsterhood that lie ahead of her is strange to say the least. It’s an attitude that seems at odds with Lizzie’s professed desire to devote her life to domestic servitude to a strong man. Either way, The Rainmaker isn’t the type of film that rewards anything more than passing consideration.
(Reviewed 10th November 2011)