The Rainmaker (1956)


Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges, Cameron Prud’Homme, Earl Holliman, Wallace Ford, Yvonne Lime.

For a long time, it appeared as though The Rainmaker would remain unchecked on my list of films to see before dying. But if a studio is savvy enough to send me a Blu-ray, I’m sappy enough to review it. Why the decades of avoidance? I tend to favor movies told through the lens of a camera, not a typewriter or, worse, a proscenium arch. As a filmmaker, Joseph Anthony was an accomplished stage director. This was to be his first foray into motion pictures, and if the midnight blue construction paper sky that opens the picture is any indication, be on the lookout for a stagebound western that leaves one wishing male lead Burt Lancaster had thrown a chair through a painted flat to let in a breath of fresh air.

Lancaster delivers a one-note performance as Bill Starbuck, a charismatic traveling snake oil salesman working a drought-driven part of the Southwest who, in exchange for $100, promises the Curry family he’ll devote the next 24 hours to conjuring up a cats-and-dogs downpour of biblical proportions. Katherine Hepburn co-stars as Lizzie Curry, the town spinster whose father H.C. (Cameron Prud’Homme) and two brothers, Noah (Lloyd Bridges) and Jim (Earl Holliman), work overtime to marry her off to the best breeding stock their burgh has to offer. Deputy Sheriff J.S. File (Wendell Corey) is the pick of the litter, but there’s a problem: Rather than admitting that his first marriage ended in divorce, he tells the locals his ex is dead.

Lancaster preens while Hepburn burns. If I was uncertain of Anthony’s ability to command a feature, one thing was for sure: A little Hepburn in her ultra-virginal mode goes a long way. With the back of her wrist dramatically pressed to her forehead, she delivers a noisy “pay attention to me” performance, her pearl-clutching bursts of Bryn Mawr rah-rah spiked with enough “gollys” and “jeepers” to thicken (and sicken) the proceedings. Starchy spinsters like Lizzie and The African Queen’s Rose Sayer would eventually lead Hepburn down the decrepit path to Grace Quigley and Eula, the prig who put the “cog” in Rooster Cogburn.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Working from his play, screenwriter N. Richard Nash whipped up a tsunami of obvious symbolism, starting with equating the drought and Lizzie’s barren lovelife. Lizzie can cook and sew, but there’s more to being a woman than that, something extra that doesn’t necessarily involve using the brain God gave her. The worst performances are those that allow an actor to draw attention to her/himself, and Hepburn’s Lizzie is more inflated than a self-basting turkey. Symbols begin clashing with clichés, and in quick time, Starbuck is letting the virgin’s hair down for her. Not surprisingly, the film’s most memorable moment takes place far outside Paramount’s Bronson Gate. It’s in a grassy field where Jim and his cute-as-a-button honey Snookie (Yvonne Lime) rig her red roadster to drive in circles while the young lovers partake in a brief but inventive backseat make out session. Of all the trips the film tried to take us on, this was the only one that proved necessary.

The special features include the trailer and a commentary track by Julie Kirgo that, like Anthony’s direction, devotes more time to the performances than visual storytelling.


Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’


Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton.
Adapted from a play Philip Barry wrote well before he concocted The Philadelphia Story, this comic portrait of the unapologetic rich featured one of the four pairings of Katharine Hebburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn is as full of herself as ever, but this time in charming ways against a story that makes one fully empathize with her character. And Grant, so soon after The Awful Truth “made” him, gets another chance to deliver on his burgeoning screen charm but against a less farcical backdrop.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes the 1930 version of the story. Also included are an often funny back-and-forth from critics Michael Sragow and Michael Schlesinger; excerpts from 1970-72 AFI interviews of director George Cukor; a costume photo tribute; and a welcome essay by Slate critic Dana Stevens.
Read the Full Review


Flicker Alley, Drama, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.
For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations.
Extras: The esteemed Alan Rode and the luminous Julie Kirgo offer a Blu-ray commentary.
Read the Full Review




$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton.

Given a formidable screen team made up of two household names until the day each of them died, it can be surprising to note that the four pairings of Katharine Hebburn and Cary Grant were only restricted to a five-year period: Sylvia Scarlett (1935; box office flop at the time); Bringing Up Baby (1938; ditto); Holiday (1938; middling performance, I surmise); and The Philadelphia Story (1940; smash). The motto of this, I guess, is to keep plugging away, but Holiday has been my clear favorite of the quartet for virtually all of my life, from the first time I saw it as a very young teenager in 1960 or so. Hepburn is as full of herself as ever, but this time in charming ways against a story that makes one fully empathize with her character. And Grant, so soon after The Awful Truth “made” him, gets another chance to deliver on his burgeoning screen charm but against a less farcical backdrop.

Adapted from a play Philip Barry wrote well before he concocted The Philadelphia Story, this earlier comic portrait of the unapologetic rich had been previously filmed in 1930, and one of the things that makes this Criterion release so exceptional is the earlier picture’s bonus inclusion here — that is, the entire movie — in a pristine print. More on this later, but the earlier Holiday plays surprisingly well considering its filming so shortly after the transition to sound, though it’s no match for the subtle fluidity director George Cukor brings to the disc’s main-event second version. (Of the Hepburn-Grant quartet, Cukor directed all but Howard Hawks’s Baby). His creativity extends to taking advantage of Grant’s well-known early history as a circus acrobat even down to a wonderful capper at the end, and — in the “who knew?” department — the ability of a memorably featured player Lew Ayres, who plays Hepburn’s alcoholic brother, to play the harmonica. I don’t know if Ayres got the credit he deserved at the time — he did get a National Board of Review acting citation for 1938 — but it’s a much revered performance today by movie journalists who know what’s-what and what’s-not.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In a premise that may have played better in 1930 than ’38 because it took a while for the effects of the Depression to hit the so-called common man to hit with full effect, this period alternative to Wild Boys of the Road centers on a New York family residing in a block-long apartment that advertises conspicuous consumption accrued cash at all costs, though only two of its four members really go along with the program. One is the banker patriarch played by Henry Kolker in a keenly nuanced tightrope performance that conveys rigidity but not inhumanity, and the other is his younger daughter (Doris Nolan), who has always lapped the same Kool-Aid. The movie’s one flaw for me is that down-to-earth Grant could meet Nolan on a skiing trip and regard her as something akin to the ends of the earth, while at the same time, Hepburn keeps touting how wonderful her younger sis is and how close the two have been all of their lives. Instead, Nolan’s is a real chill-pill performance; this is one element where the ’30 version (directed by Edward H. Griffith) has it over the Cukor, thanks to what Mary Astor brings to the later Nolan role (the former’s pre-Code lingerie isn’t exactly a deterrent).

Grant shows up at family digs and begins by knocking and entering at the kitchen, where his schmoozes with the staff immediately peg him as an unpretentious good guy, even if he does labor (as a novice) in the same world of high finance that engendered the wealth for his future in-laws, to say nothing of  their Old Money ancestors. What he finds is an apartment elevator that goes up to the fourth-or-wherever floor and and at least one room that, in today’s terms, could all but hold the Kennedy Center Honors. From a film lover’s point of view, the joint is another tribute to Columbia Pictures longtime art director Stephen Goosen, who had just won an Oscar for Lost Horizon (he’d get another nomination here) and later did the hall of mirrors sequence to conclude The Lady From Shanghai. In terms of the plotting (Daniel Ogden Stewart screen-adapted, as he later would with Philadelphia), all this only serves to intimidate Grant — until he’s invited to an immaculately kept-up playroom (and favorite room of the siblings’ late mother) that emerges as the one civilized respite. The fact that Hepburn basically lives there exclusively during the day is probably an instant tip-off that Grant is likely courting the wrong sister.

Even so, Hepburn wants to throw an intimate (like, five or so people) engagement party, which kind of becomes a supremely delightful extended set piece when the figure increases maybe 50-fold, which allows the story’s elements to come together. One extreme is represented by Grant’s best buds — an academic couple (Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon) who don’t fit in with the rest, and good for them; I have never forgotten the bit from that first young-teenaged viewing of Horton handing his galoshes to one of the servants when making his entrance to the party (I also remember my mother, with whom I was watching it, laughing hard at this). The other extreme is Henry Daniel and Binnie Barnes — he from the same family cloth and begrudgingly willing to set Grant up with all the right people that any character named Seton Cram — could any fictional moniker be better? — would value. (Have you ever seen a movie in which Daniel walked into a scene, and you were instantly assured?)

As another peppy bonus extra, a pair of Michael’s who turn me into a glut on the market — critic Sragow and Schlesinger — do an often funny back-and-forth for about half-an-hour, a format I always enjoy when Criterion elects to do it. They’re arguably a bit hard on the original film’s staginess and Oscar-nominated Ann Harding’s “stagey” performance, but within the confines of the drawing-room genre and when the film was made, it’s one of the more absorbing early talkies I’ve seen recently. Edward Everett Horton has the same role, so it’s fun to note some subtle differences — and though I’d never even begin to rate Harding’s performance over Hepburn’s, she is much more “my type” when it comes to life’s basics (but that’s just me).  The day-and-night difference between both versions is Grant vs. Robert Ames, who reads his dialogue sympathetically enough but is one of those ubiquitous early-’30s actors who’s too old for his role and then compounds this problem by looking older than he even was during filming (40 or 41). In keeping with this, he died in 1931 of delirium tremens, which I didn’t even know was something that could kill you (as opposed to, say, cirrhosis). Amazingly, he had 13 features and one short subjects in release between 1930-32, though I wouldn’t have wanted to be the poor guy assigned to go to the trailer and say, “Five minutes, Mr. Ames.”

Follow us on Instagram!

Other extras include excerpts from 1970-72 AFI interviews of the great Cukor back when he still had all his marbles (when I met him at the AFI in the ’80s, he didn’t), where he talks a lot Hepburn and writer Stewart, both of whom he worked with frequently. There’s also a costume photo tribute and a welcome essay by Slate critic Dana Stevens, who terms the film was a box office dud — in contrast to the Sragow-Schlesinger riff, which characterizes its performance as “all right.” In any event, I love hearing the two Mikes  really sticking up for what is my favorite Hollywood movie from 1938 after The Adventures of Robin Hood (The Lady Vanishes is, of course, British, and Bringing Up Baby has always put me off, though I suppose that one last re-evaluation before I enter that great multiplex in the sky is inevitable). Holiday is Criterion in 4K, so it’s almost definitely inevitable that I’ve never seen it looking as good in my life.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’

Criterion’s January 2020 Slate Includes ‘Fail Safe’

The list of Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases for January 2020 includes Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, George Cukor’s romantic comedy Holiday, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat, Sidney Lumet’s nuclear-war thriller Fail Safe, and a Blu-ray edition of Lumet’s Tennessee Williams adaptation The Fugitive Kind.

Arriving Jan. 7 on DVD and Blu-ray is 1938’s Holiday, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The special edition includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include Holiday (1930), a previous adaptation of Philip Barry’s play, directed by Edward H. Griffith; a new conversation between filmmaker and distributor Michael Schlesinger and film critic Michael Sragow; audio excerpts from an American Film Institute oral history with director George Cukor, recorded in 1970 and ’71; a costume gallery; plus an essay by critic Dana Stevens.

Due Jan. 14 is 1960’s The Fugitive Kind, bringing together four Oscar-winning actors: Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward and Maureen Stapleton. The Blu-ray includes a high-definition digital restoration, approved by Lumet, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Extras include an interview from 2009 with Lumet; Three Plays by Tennessee Williams, an hour-long 1958 television presentation of one-act plays, directed by Lumet and starring Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant, among others; a program from 2010 discussing Williams’s work in Hollywood and The Fugitive Kind; plus an essay by film critic David Thomson.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Arriving Jan. 21 on DVD and Blu-ray is 1963’s Le petit soldat, Godard’s examination of the use of torture in the Algerian War. The special edition includes a high-definition digital restoration, approved by cinematographer Raoul Coutard, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, and a new English subtitle translation. Extras include an interview with Godard from 1965; an interview with actor Michel Subor from 1963; an audio interview with Godard from 1961; plus an essay by critic Nicholas Elliott.

All About My Mother, from 1999, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 28 with a new 2K digital restoration supervised by executive producer Agustín Almodóvar and approved by the director, with a new English subtitle translation, and 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a 52-minute documentary from 2012 on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar; actors Penélope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth and Antonia San Juan; production manager Esther García; and author Didier Eribon. Other extras include a television program from 1999 featuring Pedro Almodóvar and his mother, Francisca Caballero, along with Cruz, San Juan, Paredes and Roth; a 48-minute post-screening Q&A in Madrid from 2019, featuring the Almodóvars and Paredes; plus an essay by film scholar Emma Wilson. The Blu-ray will include an interview with Pedro Almodóvar and a tribute he wrote to his mother, both from 1999.

Also due on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 28 is 1964’s Fail Safe, starring Henry Fonda as the U.S. president and Walter Matthau as a trigger-happy political theorist. The special edition includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an audio commentary from 2000 featuring director Sidney Lumet; a new interview with film critic J. Hoberman on 1960s nuclear paranoia and Cold War films; “Fail Safe Revisited”, a short documentary from 2000 including interviews with Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and actor Dan O’Herlihy; plus an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri.