Corny, theatrical, overpoweringly florid, and yet strangely and quaintly entertaining at the same time, the 1956 semi-comedic romantic drama The Rainmaker may not be remembered among the finest films from stars Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn -- but it is quite the little time capsule all the same.
I was about 25 minutes into The Rainmaker when I just knew the thing had been based on a stage play. The small handful of settings, the long and frequent bouts of conversation, the broad and obvious emotional cues -- this thing pretty much screamed "stage adaptation." And I was right. N. Richard Nash wrote the original play as well as the screenplay for The Rainmaker. And, for better or for worse, the movie absolutely feels like a filmed stage play.
Bill Starbuck (Lancaster) is a showy and starry-eyed con man who roams the Old West plains, plucking pennies from saps and avoiding the eyes of the law. On his travels Starbuck comes across the Curry farm, where he promptly promises big buckets of rain in exchange for some cold, hard cash.
Lizzie Curry (Hepburn) is a plain jane who desperately wants to get married. It doesn't seem to matter who the groom is, but Lizzie and her papa seem hell-bent on getting this filly hitched -- and quick. (Let's just say The Rainmaker will never be seen as a favorite of the feminist movement.) Despite her insistence that no man will ever love her, Lizzie seems to have two distinct suitors: the newcomer goofball con-man, and an aw-shucks honorable sheriff called File.
And on and on it goes: Lizzy stresses about her impending life of loneliness. Dad tries to cheer her up while a glowering big brother (cruelly) insists that Lizzie just face the facts: She's destined for a lifetime of old maid-ism. Starbuck keeps popping by with false promises and sweet nothings for Lizzie, and Sheriff File hems and haws before finally deciding to woo Ms. Lizzie. But is it too late?
What a strange little throwback The Rainmaker is. It's certainly not funny or dramatic or insightful enough to be remembered as an old-school classic, but the two leads manage to bang out some great work together. On the whole, The Rainmaker carries an aura of corny, theatrical showmanship that should please fans of earnest, old-fashioned moviemaking.
It sure isn't a great film, and it rambles on a lot when it could be getting to the meat of the matter, but The Rainmaker is still pretty entertaining for the most part -- even if you'll be laughing at the movie as much as you are with it.
Video: The film is presented in a rather handsome Widescreen (1.78:1) anamorphic transfer. You can nitpick with some of the darker scenes, but for a movie that's 49 years old, it looks pretty damn solid.
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English or a French dub). Solid, unspectacular, and certainly good enough. Optional English subtitles are available.
Extras: Not a one.
You want to see Burt Lancaster at his goofiest? Then you simply have to see The Rainmaker. It's not much more than an overzealous and semi-cornpone take on The Glass Menagerie, but it's old-school Hollywood fun -- and quite the goofy little cinematic artifact.