RAINTREE COUNTY runs 188 minutes in its original ‘Roadshow’ format, and is generally shown shorn of twenty. Even with the trimming, the 1957 Civil War melodrama remains $5,474,000 worth of hot air, directed with painful tedium by Edward Dmytryk.
Indiana boy Montgomery Clift ditches sweetheart Eva Marie Saint for impregnated (and unstable) Southern belle Elizabeth Taylor. His abolitionist leanings naturally don’t help him fit in with her crowd downriver, and the cannons of national disunion help blast open the rot at the heart of their scandalous relationship. Deep breath.
The whole affair—scripted by Ross Lockridge, Jr. off his 1948 novel—rests on the downcast shoulders of hollow-eyed Clift, whose already fractious personality was further splintered by a disfiguring car wreck during production. He’s there, and he’s not. *
Liz, as Scarlett 2.0, bats her eyes, pouts, heaves her bosom, flutters and eventually pitches a hissy-fit in a tour de force finale that will, depending on your tolerance or mood, either have you applaud or open the windows to air the place out.
Some good supporting players pitch in, and there are well-appointed production values, brightly shot by Robert L. Surtees camera on locations in Kentucky, Tennessee and on the Dunleith and Elms Court antebellum plantation mansions in Mississippi. Nothing says gracious living like free labor.
Big scale battle scenes briefly inject some energy, and there is also a jot of juice provided when Lee Marvin is on hand. He has a drinking contest and foot race with Clift that can provoke unintentional horselaughs.
Critics dumped on it, yet the Oscars nominated Taylor for Best Actress (she lost to Joanne Woodward playing another disturbed lady in The Three Faces Of Eve) and the film for Costume Design, Art Direction and Music Score. A gross of $9,080,000, came in 5th for the year, but costing as much as it did that still went $484,000 red for MGM. The same year the studio also tripped up with another attempt to re-ignite their Civil War luck from Gone With The Wind, the florid Band Of Angels, with Clark Gable.
In support are Nigel Patrick, Rod Taylor, Agnes Moorehead, Walter Abel, Jarma Lewis, Tom Drake, DeForest Kelley, Rhys Williams, Russell Collins, James Griffith and Gardner McKay.
* Booze and a suitcase full of needles and pills added to Clift’s fraying, which included running naked through town during filming. Reconstructive surgery and recovery from the car crash had already set the production back nine weeks. Meanwhile, Liz—who likely saved Clift’s life at the accident scene by reaching into his throat and removing a couple of his teeth—was having her own war between states, being extravagantly wooed by Mike Todd, and suffering through tachycardia after she hyperventilated and Monty’s doctor treated her with a syringe of Demerol.