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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"I am not rich or famous,
DVD ReviewWriter Horton Foote specializes in slice-of-life stories chronicling the daily struggles of plain Southern folk. Most are straightforward, uncomplicated tales that never possess a definite beginning or end. They often start in the middle and end there, too, leaving plenty of dangling threads for readers and viewers to contemplate. Plots don't seem to matter much to Foote; for him, it's the characters that count, and the 88-year-old author has crafted a memorable gallery over the course of his long career. (Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful and Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies are perhaps his two most famous creations.) All speak a simple language, and watching them interact, evolve, and struggle with everyday problems is almost always a rewarding experience.
In Baby, the Rain Must Fall, Foote employs his patented style once again, this time in an adaptation of his play, The Traveling Lady. Subtle, sparse, and quietly moving, this low-key and often overlooked drama possesses a lovely flow and mood that keeps one riveted throughout, despite its deliberate pacing and minimal plot. Director Robert Mulligan strikes just the right tone, and never tries to over-tell the story. Yet he brings Foote's pages to life, and, just like he did with To Kill A Mockingbird (which Foote also adapted), masterfully blurs the lines between cinema and literature.
We first meet Georgette Thomas (Lee Remick) and her adorable little daughter Margaret Rose (Kimberly Block) as they travel on a bus toward the sleepy town of Columbus, Texas. Notified that her husband Henry (Steve McQueen), who was convicted of killing a man in a barroom brawl a few years earlier, has received parole, Georgette plans to rekindle their relationship and introduce him to the daughter he has never seen. The family reunion is understandably stilted and awkward, but Henry and Georgette try to forge a life together.
Georgette, however, must compete for her husband's affection. Music is Henry's first and strongest love, and he finds himself torn between his aching desire to pursue a career as a rockabilly singer/songwriter and his burgeoning domestic responsibilities. Georgette fully supports Henry's dream, but convincing the crotchety, domineering Miss Kate, Henry's abusive adoptive mother, is an impossible task. Miss Kate made Henry promise to enroll in night school and learn a trade as a condition of his parole, but Henry only feels alive when he's performing and can't resist the allure of the stage.
The wounds Miss Kate inflicted on the young Henry have never fully healed, and his hatred and fear of the bitter old woman often clouds his judgment. A violent temper and penchant for liquor also conspire to sabotage Henry's precious, but oh-so-tenuous new life. Georgette tries her best to be a steadying influence, and Henry's childhood pal Slim (Don Murray), now the town's deputy sheriff, does what he can to keep his friend on the straight and narrow, but both have trouble controlling Henry's volatile tendencies and soothing his childhood scars.
Life in a sleepy, judgmental Southern town is well-worn territory for Mulligan and Foote, and their experience shows. Few details escape their gaze as they meticulously depict the wind-swept atmosphere and uptight attitudes of rural Texas. Mulligan weaves an intimate spell and rarely breaks it, allowing viewers to feel an affinity with Georgette and Henry that lasts throughout the film. But like the characters it depicts, Baby, the Rain Must Fall stumbles at times. Sketchy details and questionable motivations occasionally cloud the action, and McQueen—who performs three songs, including the infectious title tune—can't lip-synch to save his soul. Yet the literate screenplay, sensitive direction, and impeccable performances make it easy to forgive any faults.
Remick and McQueen act with such natural and heartbreaking grace it's impossible not to identify on some level with their characters. Both contribute mesmerizing portrayals brimming with realism and truth. Remick underplays to perfection, and exhibits a serenity and purity of spirit that adds even more radiance to her classic beauty. She fills her tender, marvelously shaded performance with deep emotion and deceptive strength, and her bright outlook in the face of considerable turmoil and uncertainty is inspirational.
McQueen, however, is the real surprise. His eyes and posture brilliantly convey Henry's inner conflicts and neuroses, while his quiet intensity adds wrenching layers to Henry's desperate ambition, unrealistic dreams, and divided loyalties. This is a different Steve McQueen—gentle, vulnerable, tortured, but still tough and manly—and his admirable work only makes one wish he pursued similar roles more often. Here, he flexes some impressive dramatic muscle, and, together with Remick, molds Baby, the Rain Must Fall into a memorable and moving film.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Ernest Laszlo was one of Hollywood's great cinematographers and his stunning black-and-white photography greatly enhances Baby, the Rain Must Fall. Thankfully, Columbia has fashioned a slick transfer (remastered in high definition) that brings out the film's gritty texture, stark contrast, and rich black levels. Slight grain maintains the film-like feel and compliments the hot, dusty setting, but close-ups crackle with clarity, emphasizing McQueen's anguish and Remick's beauty. Some speckling occasionally intrudes, but overall this is an excellent rendering of a finely photographed film.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Composer Elmer Bernstein performed double duty on Baby, the Rain Must Fall, crafting the distinctive score and writing a trio of songs for McQueen's character to perform. Although monaural, the audio transfer does the music track proud, possessing potent fidelity and solid depth of tone. Dialogue remains easy to understand throughout, even during windy scenes, and delicate effects, such as footsteps, are especially crisp and clear.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Bedford Incident, Fail-Safe, In Cold Blood
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA haunting character study, Baby, the Rain Must Fall may not appeal to all audiences. Its slow pace, downbeat story, and emotional shadings might alienate contemporary viewers weaned on rapid-fire edits and nonstop action. But for those who appreciate flesh-and-blood characters, fine writing, and sensitive performances, I urge you to give this underrated film a chance. A hidden gem, like many of Horton Foote's films, Baby, the Rain Must Fall deserves to be rediscovered. Recommended.
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