Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This Steve McQueen vehicle has just about everything it needs except a little hope. Basically
the story of a fellow we know is doomed practically from the outset, it's a good character study
but an exercise in depression. Lee Remick is her solid self and there's a great kid performance to
link to the talented Robert Mulligan of To Kill a Mockingbird. Steve McQueen gives it his
best shot, but it isn't his finest hour.
Jailbird Henry Thomas (Steve McQueen) is paroled but subject to the whim of his
aged stepmother, Mrs. Ewing (Josephine Hutchinson), a mean spirited woman who has raised
him to think himself a bad seed since childhood. Henry neglects to tell his wife that he's out
and instead pursues his singing career in roadhouses and chasing women. His wife is Georgette
(Lee Remick) and she shows up with her young girl; nobody in town realized Henry was married,
not even his best friend Deputy Sheriff Slim (Don Murray). The problem is that Mrs. Ewing has
every intention of sending Henry back to the pen, for insisting on singing instead of attending
The dirt-town atmosphere is excellent, as is the feeling of being stuck in nowheresville in
dumpy jobs with dispirited people. Lee Remick and the little girl who plays her daughter are a
spark of happiness that we know will be doused eventually by Steve McQueen's slippery, sullen
rock'n roll balladeer. Destiny quickly establishes that he'll be going back to prison
and the family will break up. In a lame version of the same story, handsome and virtuous
widower Don Murray would be there to take up the slack, but this is direct from the pen of
Horton Foote, without interpretation. He's also the author of
The Chase and Hurry Sundown.
Steve McQueen was stretching himself in search of more recognition as a serious actor, and
Baby, the Rain Must Fall surely seemed a good choice. Henry Thomas sings his heart out, has
nightmares about going back to prison and mentally jumps the rails when it looks like it's about
to happen. But there's something lacking in the character. Henry seems totally normal with his
family but skips away irresponsibly and indulges in behavior that's sure to cook his goose, like
attacking roadhouse patrons. He's also a psychotic drunk, and practically catatonic when confronted
by his stepmother, who has only one thing to tell him - he's bad. It's really Remick's film,
practically the same character from Elia Kazan's Wild River, but this time helpless to effect any good.
The setup is really a Texas gothic - Mrs. Ewing has doomed her stepson Henry the same way Mrs
Bates did her son Norman. Mrs. Ewing rests permanently in an upstairs bedroom, up some stairs similar
to the Bates house. To Henry's horror, her "curse" reaches beyond the grave, for she's made the
sheriff promise to return Henry to prison after she passes away. Naturally, under the pressure Henry
behaves in exactly the way to make it look like prison is where he belongs. It's not much fun
watching it happen, knowing Henry and his family will never see the trees they've planted grow into
shade for their rented shack.
Ernest Laszlo's B&W photography is quite beautiful, and Elmer Bernstein has composed a restrained
but effective score, including a title tune that became a hit single by Glenn Yarborough. Unfortunately,
although Steve sings his heart out, his singing voice is dubbed rather obviously. The music scenes
fall flat for this reason. Later pop sensation Glen Campbell (True Grit) can be seen as a
member of Steve's band.
The little girl who plays Lee Remick's daughter is adorable, and together they conjure more
memories of the wistful, elegant Wild River. Don Murray is sincere as the deputy still
stuck on his wife three years gone. Estelle Hemsley is a creepy servant to Mrs. Ewing. The deputy's
mother Miss Clara is played by Ruth White. When White rocks in her rocking chair on her front porch,
viewers who remember her as the wicked old woman who raised Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy will
feel a chill go up their backs.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of Baby, the Rain Must Fall looks great and really benefits from
16:9 enhancement - you can almost feel the splinters in the wood. The clear audio billboards the
score and makes the difference between McQueen's singing and speaking voices all too evident. There
are no extras.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Baby, the Rain Must Fall rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 11, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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