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Paramount Home Video presents
The Rainmaker (1956)

"Why is it the things you want are only there for the blinking of an eye?"
- Starbuck (Burt Lancaster)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: July 12, 2005

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn
Other Stars: Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges, Earl Holliman, Cameron Prud'homme
Director: Joseph Anthony

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:01m:18s
Release Date: July 12, 2005
UPC: 097360560640
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-DC+ D-

DVD Review

The promise of two great mid-century cinematic icons together may get you all fired up about The Rainmaker—that is, if you didn't get lost browsing in the John Grisham section—but alas, star power aside, this is a pretty tame affair. Don't get me wrong—I love Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn as much as anyone, but unfortunately there's not a whole lot of magic here, and that's principally because the source material hasn't aged especially well. (Not that it was groundbreaking to begin with.)

The action takes place in Texas farm country, and the area is devastated by an awful drought—no precipitation soon, and the economic consequences will grow even more dire. But there's family business first—we spend our time with the Currys, and father H.C. (Cameron Prud'Homme) has packed his unmarried daughter Lizzie (Hepburn) off to some cousin's, in the hope that she would snare herself a man. Alas, they weren't biting, and the action begins with Lizzie returning home, becoming increasingly resigned to her fate; her younger brother Jim (Earl Holliman) is making time with the tarty Snookie, will older brother Noah (Lloyd Bridges) disapproves of just about everything and everyone. The Curry men have a man in the crosshairs, though: newly single Deputy File (Wendell Corey), a tall drink of water who, they hope, will be well suited to their Lizzie.

And then Starbuck comes to town. Lancaster plays the title role, a con man making outrageous claims that for only a hundred dollars, he can bring a storm that will inspire Noah to get the ark and the animals. Based on a stage play by N. Richard Nash, the movie waits far too long to bring Starbuck into the action—a couple of earlier appearances are Scotch taped into the first act, but they end up stealing Starbuck's thunder rather than building the suspense. Nash's drama plays out sort of like dime store O'Neill—everybody's going to get stripped of some sort of illusion, and Starbuck is the Hickey-like catalyst of their epiphanies. Or something like that.

Katharine Hepburn is one of the great screen actresses, but in a couple of respects she's all wrong for this role. For one thing, she's at least twice the age that Lizzie should be; for another, she's about as convincing a Texan as John Wayne would be a patrician New Englander. (Only six years later, she would play Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, a searing performance, closer to her own age, plumbing the emotional depths that this story just skims over.) Similarly, Lancaster's work here as a confidence man almost seems like a run-up to Elmer Gantry—he's game, all right, and even displays the kind of unexpected grace that we see these days only from Christopher Walken. But Starbuck ultimately feels like more of a plot device than a fully realized character.

Made in a pre-home video age, the film is shot almost entirely in master shots; the almost complete absence of close-ups may have been intended to replicate the feel of the proscenium, but unfortunately on your television it works to keep you from getting involved in the action. I admit to feeling rather curmudgeonly, giving what's at best a lukewarm review to a film that's much loved by some; but memory can play tricks, and this one doesn't hold up well at all under re-examination.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A very poor transfer of a shoddily preserved film. Just about every scene is loaded with imperfections, rips and color distortions—it can be very unpleasant to look at.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Some problematic dynamics, but compared to the image quality, it sounds glorious.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Only subtitles and chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Lancaster and Hepburn's finest hours were no doubt elsewhere; we cherish them as great screen icons, but not because of movies like this one.


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