THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR was the Christmas release from 20th Century Fox in 1955, capping their 27 feature offerings for the year. They plowed $4,500,000 into the CinemaScope/Deluxe Color/Stereophonic remake of their 1939 Tyrone Power-Myrna Loy hit The Rains Came. Jean Negulesco directed the melodrama this time, with vampy Lana Turner replacing Loy and Richard Burton taking over from Ty as the makeup-enhanced Indian doctor. Fred MacMurray, Michael Rennie and Joan Caulfield round it out.
Like the earlier epic, the script (Merle Miller) is based on Louis Bromfield’s 1937 bestseller,”The Rains Came” and it both incorporates and redoodles scenes written by Philip Dunne from the first version and makes crucial changes from the novel.*
Updating to post-WW2, it’s set in a fictional Indian principality. Careless rich girl Turner and dejected hubby Rennie show up in Ranchipur during the monsoon (cue threatening clouds and plenty of water). Dedicated Hindu doctor Burton falls in thrall with Turner (must be her heaving bosom, since it can’t be her era-standard over-acting) and “drunken idealist” MacMurray (Fred MacMurray ..as a… drunken idealist?) grouses and glowers. Publicity blurbs described Caulfield’s ‘Me,too! I have curves!’ character as a girl “who wanted her reputation ruined”. Her casting just might have been influenced by being married to Frank Ross, who produced this: we can but speculate. Only Nature Itself could
drown out sort out these romantic tangles.
Which was the hook, as the 1939 film was famous for its still-astounding earthquake & flood sequence, which copped an Oscar for Special Effects. Color, 4-track sound and sixteen years of advances still don’t improve on the original, but it’s mostly pretty good stuff which did manage to snag a nomination in the same category this time (losing to the exciting ack-ack run & demolition of The Bridges At Toko-Ri ). The keen destructorama is spoiled somewhat when at a key point the camera speed jumps to silent-movie velocity; the same odd retro goof mars Fox’s same-year The Tall Men during its climactic cattle stampede: will this mystery muff ever be solved? Some of us out here care.
A few exteriors were shot in Lahore, Pakistan (which also stood in for neighboring India when Bhowani Junction was shot around the same time), the rest at the ‘Fox ranch’ in Malibu. It looks good in color thanks to Milton R. Krasner on camera. Hugo Friedhofer gets the score, but he must not have been inspired by the dramatics, as it’s one of his least effective.
Critics were dismissive and the public didn’t respond enough to the blaring advertising which promised “Theirs was the great sin that not even the great rains could wash away!” and “Shattering All Barriers of Race and Time!”. The $5,720,000 gross did not cover the outlay, coming in at spot #31.
The three leads were not having their best career year. Turner, 34 at the time and battling with husband #4 of seven (Lex Barker) was prominent that summer in the soso The Sea Chase and the ridiculous flop The Prodigal (looking hot at least). Fox was pushing their ballyhooed import of Burton after the success of The Robe, but the Welshman was unhappy with their choices and his other 1955 outing, Prince of Players, which had launched the year for the studio, tanked as the first flop for CinemaScope. Despite his stage rep, Burton didn’t find much foothold in films until his brief time at the top in the mid 60s. Slapping MacMurray as the ‘drunken idealist’ is a cheap shot, as he did excel when he played against type (Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny, The Apartment) but his pull flailed badly in ’55, with The Far Horizons on #78, At Gunpoint drawing #101 and There’s Always Tomorrow weeping at #108.
None of them fare well thesping with the writing or direction in a watchable but disappointing 104 minutes. With Eugenie Leontovich, Madge Kennedy and John Banner (Indian by way of Vienna). Don’t miss the 1939 dazzler!
* Philip Dunne in his auto-bio, “Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics”: “All I ever contributed to the remake was the title: The Rains of Ranchipur. The writer and producer, both friends of mine, tactlessly, unkindly and repeatedly informed me that their script was infinitely superior to the one Julien Josephson and I had written, which they dismissed as too old fashioned and corny for our purposes. They decided not to use any of it, and in fact didn’t. Unfortunately for them, in the process they eliminated the most important event of all, the naughty lady’s death, thereby violating the very essence of author Bromfield’s original design. They turned a noble tragedy, corny or not, into a mere romantic interlude and thus achieved what they deserved: a resounding flop.”