Friday, April 01, 2011

Revisiting THE RAINS CAME - 1939

Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy
Loy and George Brent

Maria Ouspenskya
Jane Darwall

Henry Travers

Click the title of this post to watch a video. I watched this movie, one of my favorite old movies, a couple of nights ago. It is THE RAINS CAME (1939, Black and White). I streamed it from Netflix, and it is also available on DVD.

The story is based on the novel of the same title by Louis Bromfield, published in 1937. The movie is set in India when the world is on the brink of World War II but doesn't know it. India is still a British colony, and genteel times are still in vogue. The movie is tainted with certain Hollywood stereotypes at the time of 1939, but the movie stars, all dead now, plus the cinematography and the special effects at the time it was made, make it so very special.

THE RAINS CAME, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Clarence Brown, stars Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, George Brent, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Rambeau, Jane Darwall, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner and Maria Ouspenskya. All were in the 20th Century Fox actors stable, and all were well-known stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The movie won an Oscar for its special effects and, again, for the time in which the movie was made, they are spectacular. The story was somewhat ahead of its time, too.

The spoiled wife, Lady Edwina Esketh (Loy), of an older British diplomat, Lord Albert Esketh (Bruce), assigned to the Province of Ranchipur, India, falls in love with a handsome, much-younger Indian doctor, Major Rama Safti (Power). Sparks fly between them. Well, they fly as much as the the Motion Picture censorship code (Hays Code), enacted in 1930, would allow.

Rama comes to love Edwina, and it is okay because by this time her husband has been killed. Meanwhile, a young woman, Fern Simon (Joyce), sets her cap for Tom Ransome (Brent), a British artist/businessman, and friend of Rama.

Turns out that Major Rama Safti has been a favorite for a long time of the Maharajah (W.H. Warner) and his Maharani, played by the wonderful Russian character actress Maria Ouspenskya. The Maharajah and the Maharani have a mission for Rama. They are concerned that Edwina could hinder that mission.

Edwina had some kind of previous affair with Tom, but it is okay, too, because they, Edwina and Tom, broke up a long time ago. They still care for each other but only as friends. Spoiler Alert: Edwina and Rama's love remains unrequited because of tragedy. How it comes about says volumes about the societal mores of the time.

Anyone hankering to see a movie the way they used to make them, when men were dapper and perfect gentlemen; women were beautiful graceful nymphs, while their demeanor demanded utmost respect; this movie is for you, especially if you are a woman.

RAINS is set in India but it was filmed in Malibu Canyon outside Los Angeles. Oh, the magic of the movies.

When I taught part time and did graduate study at the USC School of Cinema, the cinema books and the professors stated that Orson Welles, when directing CITIZEN KANE (1942), was the first director to us "deep focus" and show ceilings in the rooms. I didn't quite believe it. I was sure I had seen both somewhere before.

When I saw THE RAINS CAME for the second time, I marveled at the clarity of the deep focus, and that ceilings were shown in some of the rooms. I cannot say that director Clarence Brown was the first to use these techniques in RAINS, because both movies were in production about the same time, but I can say that Welles probably was not the first.

There were others at the time doing the same thing, but it was the way Welles used both the deep focus and ceilings that set CITIZEN KANE apart, and why today it is still on so many lists of top-ten-movies-of-all-time.

THE RAINS CAME was released in the same time frame as THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND, both in color, a rarity at the time, but as with OZ, mostly in color. Because of that, RAINS got little press and hardly made a ripple in the history of cinema. Walt Disney's FANTASIA, also in color, was released a year later.

Someone was aware of the problem with the release of RAINS because it was remade by 20th Century Fox in color (1955) as THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR, with Lana Turner, Richard Burton, Fred MacMurray, Joan Caulfield, Michael Rennie and Eugenie Leontovich. This version had a big budget and was filmed in Lahore, Pakistan.

All of the original movie is pretty much there, especially the earthquake and the flood. It, too, was nominated for a special effects Oscar, but did not win. Color did not help in that department. I still like the original better, even with its stereotypes and hokeyness, which now makes the original more fun to watch.

By the way, I did meet Orson Welles at the original Universal Studios production complex, not one of their fantasy playgrounds. I had barely arrived at USC and one of my new fellow students took me there to one of those screenings that are followed by Q and A with someone involved in the production. Then, afterward, one shakes hands with the celebrity of the evening and moves right along to the exit.

I was so in awe to be in the same room as Orson Welles, that I did not remember the movie they screened, or who else was there. I still don't. It was like meeting Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. I simply got lost in their eyes.

Later, when I was teaching a German film summer seminar in Germany, I learned that director Leni Riefenstahl said the same thing about her first meeting with Adolf Hitler. Oh, my.

Next up: Here Comes Cannes!


  1. Anyone hankering to see a movie the way they used to make them, when men were dapper and perfect gentlemen; women were beautiful graceful nymphs, while their demeanor demanded utmost respect; this movie is for you, especially if you are a woman.

    This is not why I watched this film.

  2. Okay, Juanita, why did you watch 'The Rains Came?'


Thank you for commenting! Mimi