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The Rains Came
Studio Classics

The Rains Came
1939 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 103 min. / Street Date November 1, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, George Brent, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, Maria Ouspenskaya.
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Special Effects Fred Sersen
Art Direction William Darling, George Dudley
Film Editor Barbara McLean
Original Music Alfred Newman
Written by Philip Dunne, Julien Josephson from the novel The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Directed by Clarence Brown

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

1939's The Rains Came is a big Darryl F. Zanuck soap opera set in a backlot India where Indians are confined almost completely to minor roles. Well-written and excellently directed by silent ace Clarence Brown, it's another case of Fox's reigning heartthrob Tyrone Power doing what he does best, hypnotizing female ticket buyers. Avoiding many clichés (but also clobbered by one or two), the film's big hook is a socko disaster sequence featuring still-impressive special effects.


Ranchipur India awaits the Monsoon rains, with English expatriate Tom Ransome (George Brent) fending off unwelcome attempts by a neighbor to interest him in their daughter. Fern Simon (Brenda Joyce) becomes infatuated with Ransome anyway. From England come Lady Edwina and Lord Esketh (Myrna Loy and Nigel Bruce). He's a curmudgeon that keeps track of her infidelities; unable to get sparks from Ransome, Edwina sets her sights on a handsome local doctor, Major Rama Safti (Tyrone Power). The ruling Maharani (Maria Ouspenskaya) watches all until nature intercedes in the assorted dramas - in the form of an earthquake and a massive flood.

The Rains Came has good casting, with MGM loan-out Myrna Loy satisfying anybody's need for exotic romance. The film gets away with letting her show up at an Indian palace in a dress with no back, sleeves and almost no front. Power is true-blue and sincere as the sensitive Indian doctor. George Brent is much more animated than usual as a man tiring of the playboy life and amused to be pursued by a lovestruck girl half his age. Newcomer Brenda Joyce is not much more than amusing in her first part; her career unfortunately dead-ended six years later when she took over the Jane role in the dwindling end of the Tarzan series.

The movie's only real surprise is its willingness to flirt with a possible affair between Brent and Joyce. Star power drives everything else, as we're interested in seeing Loy and Power get together - she smoulders, he's serene and noble. Star power also nullifies any residual feeling of reality. Accepting Tyrone Power as an Indian is a big stretch, even with actors like H.B. Warner ( an okay Llama in Lost Horizon), Joseph Schildkraut, and Maria Ouspenskaya playing natives alongside him. Ouspenskaya is charming as usual, although it's a bit grating to see her acting as a naughty chaperone to the love intrigues, and we keep expecting her to find a pentagram in somebody's palm. The Rains Came was based on a presumably more serious book; all-purpose movie 'foreigner' Abner Biberman (from Milwaukee) plays George Brent's (naturally) sneaky Indian houseboy with the serious name John the Baptist. Surely the book had an explanation for that.

The film's first stumble is when Power's doctor takes Mem-sahib Loy to a music school, where they listen to a man singing a love song that becomes their bittersweet theme. For all the respect given the Indians the school might be a carnival sideshow. The obsequious Indians treat the visitors like gods while neither Loy nor Power so much as nod in approval at the entertainer for his trouble. The art direction and photography are excellent but The Rains Came's Indian background is unimportant local color for an romance to tickle the fancy of bored Anglo females.

The peripheral casting draws from the best of the Fox lot. Jane Darwell and Henry Travers are nice missionaries, Marjorie Rambeau a troublemaker and Mary Nash a nurse initially hostile to the Loy-Power pairing. Nigel Bruce is Loy's insufferably stuffy husband, the kind that clutter up storylines until removed by convenient natural disasters.

The combo earthquake and flood is a spectacular highpoint obviously planned to top MGM's San Francisco. It's given the works by Fox effects whiz Fred Sersen. The realistic temblor topples plenty of full-scale sets and Sersen provides at least twenty excellent shots combining models with clever mattes as falling walls wipe out scores of fleeing, screaming natives ( Oh, there the Indian locals are, finally). Then we cut to the local dam built just upstream from downtown Ranchipur, compromised by the quake. Perhaps there were dozens of such advanced hydroelectric installations in India in 1938 but this one looks twice as big as Hoover Dam, and it bursts open as if Godzilla were punching through from the other side.

The resulting flood is the second half of a wild 1-2 punch combo that must have had 1939 audiences at the edge of their seats. Sersen's mattes are practically perfect (and aided by a slightly darkened screen). Huge dump tanks of water of the kind used in the previous year's Hurricane are loosed onto miniature sets, with live-action people matted in via clever hand painted roto mattes.Powerful burst of water (pretty good scale, too) surge into streets and courtyards and effectively erase the human victims in one shot. More collapsing buildings and general havoc ensue. Although not the work of montage art that was San Francisco, the sequence is quite a showstopper and is guaranteed to soap opera haters from falling asleep.

The Rains Came is like a three-part dinner menu: First a lot of sultry sinning, then disaster followed by contrition. Nobility is as catching as germs when a plague breaks out in the wake of the flood. The wastrel Englishman becomes a tireless servant, realizing that his worshipful girlfriend is loyal as well. The ultra-noble doctor has to choose between leading his people or running off with Myrna Loy's misunderstood slut, now a widow. In the laziest bit of writing, both the romance and the Production Code are satisfied by a death that intervenes to punish the wicked. In all the suggestive scenes that have come before, nobody is supposed to have slept with anybody. So why does it all still seem rather trashy? Old-fashioned movie fans won't mind.

Fox's Studio Classics DVD of the entertaining The Rains Came will make one forget old murky television prints. Arthur Miller's fine camerawork still impresses, as does the dynamic soundtrack. Tag team commentators Anthony Slide and Robert S. Birchard, fresh from their excellent track on The Razor's Edge, examine the show and its context in appreciative detail, providing insights and observations beyond the usual facts and anecdotes.

The other extras are a still gallery, and a teasing theatrical trailer that tries hard to make Ranchipur seem like Peyton Place.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Rains Came rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent Stereo and Mono
Supplements: Commentary with Anthony Slide and Robert S. Birchard; still gallery, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 30, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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