The Rainmaker (1956)


THE RAINMAKER—–a Kansas farmer (Cameron Prud’homme) has a couple of problems. One is the seemingly endless 1931 drought that’s parching his land and killing his livestock. The other is his outspoken spinster daughter (Katherine Hepburn), who ain’t gettin’ any younger. She inadvertently defeats the best matchmaking plans that her brothers (Lloyd Bridges and Earl Holliman) can concoct with a hopeful suitor (Wendell Corey).  Just as everything seems driest—heeyahh!—along comes ‘Starbuck’ (Burt Lancaster): bellowing, pounding a drum, flashing his teeth, flinging bull mile-a-minute, promising fertile deliverance.


Steered by accomplished Broadway director Joseph Anthony, who was new to films, it was scripted by N. Richard Nash from his own play.  Setbound, talk-heavy, it drags some as a screen experience for 121 minutes, but despite theatrical staginess the cast energy keeps it aloft.


Hepburn was handed her seventh Oscar nomination for Best Actress, a year after a nom for playing similarly lovelorn in Summertime. At 49, technically she’s at least ten years too old for the part here, but her talent at combining at-odds traits overcomes the bump. Her comment: “With Lizzie CurryI was playing me. It wasn’t difficult for me to play those women, because I’m the maiden aunt.” Her out-sized style banged up against her leading man’s own scene-stealing charisma, but once they established a working rhythm, they meshed effectively.


For Lancaster, it’s one of those roles that fit his zestful charm and catlike agility, and serves as a warm-up for his eventual Elmer Gantry. Corey does a fine job as the lonesome bachelor; Bridges and Holliman are a bit much. Best of the supporting cast is Prud’homme: primarily a stage and radio actor, he creates such a likable fella you regret he did not do more than a handful of movies. Everyone’s tonal choices and their speechmaking turns are built around the text Nash created. What it does offer, beyond broad comedy and obvious sentiment, are pungent observations on hopes, faith and dreams, and the generally sober, often sad realities that confront and confound them.  Along with the ecstasy-stifled Kate, it was Oscar nominated for Alex North’s music score.  Elvis Presley did a screen test for the role Holliman got.  $6,000,000 of green rained on acre, planting it #46 for 1956. 121 minutes, with Yvonne Lime and Wallace Ford.


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