Rainmaker, The (1956)

Rainmaker, The (1956)

“Once in your life, you’ve got to take a chance on a con-man.”

In the midst of a drought, a spinster (Katharine Hepburn) living with her widowed father (Cameron Prud’Homme) and two grown brothers (Lloyd Bridges and Earl Holliman) finds her life changed forever when a charismatic huckster (Burt Lancester) comes to town selling rain.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Con Artists
  • Katharine Hepburn Films
  • Lloyd Bridges Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Spinsters

Theatrical director Joseph Anthony helmed this dated, stagy adaptation of N. Richard Nash’s successful Broadway play, about a “plain” spinster who learns that she need only believe in her own beauty and femininity in order to snare the ultimate prize in life: a husband. Nash’s screenplay (he adapted his own work) would have us believe that Hepburn’s overly earnest father and brothers care more about marrying her off than just about anything else, despite the fact that she conveniently provides quite a comfortable home life for them. Meanwhile, the entire storyline is groaningly metaphorical, with Lancaster’s over-the-top con-artist bringing the promise of life (a.k.a. “rain”) to a “parched” soul:

and Hepburn’s dimwitted brother (Holliman) conveniently embodying a hot-blooded alternative to Hepburn’s dilemma in his romance with an aggressive local hottie (Yvonne Fedderson). With that said, Hepburn’s performance as a love-starved spinster is often quite heartbreaking, and the premise itself — two painfully shy and/or reluctant individuals need some serious intervention in order to find their way towards one another — is undeniably sweet; indeed, despite the film’s flaws, you can’t help caring what happens to Hepburn’s self-effacing protagonist.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Katharine Hepburn as Lizzie (named Best Actress of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • A sweet tale of reluctant romance

Must See?
No; this one ultimately remains simply a curio, and will likely be of most interest to Hepburn fans.


One thought on “Rainmaker, The (1956)

  1. Not must-see.

    Checking at ibdb.com (the Broadway database) reveals that Nash’s play – even with the amazing Geraldine Page in the lead! – wasn’t really a success (125 perfs., between 3 and 4 months). Ten years later, director Anthony again directed a musical version (‘110 in the Shade’, by the team who wrote ‘The Fantasticks’…and it worked better as a musical) and even that was only marginally more successful (330 perfs. not quite a year).

    Of course, a short run does not necessarily = a bad play. But, good Lord, this story is old-fashioned, and almost impossible to make believable. Time has only made it less so.

    Hepburn and Lancaster are at their best when they have strong directors – who know how to get the most effective performances out of them. Without that, they both tend to over-act. But, with this material, it’s hard to find another option, anyway.

    I was most impressed with the actor playing Hepburn’s father (who I don’t think I had seen outside of this film). He’s the only one in the cast who seems to have found a hook on making his role work.

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