Rain People, The (1969)

Rain People, The (1969)

“I just had to get away for awhile.”

Shortly after an unhappy housewife (Shirley Knight) leaves her husband (Robert Modica), she picks up a former football player (James Caan) with a traumatic brain injury who comes to rely on her as his mother-figure; but when Knight begins a tentative romance with a traffic cop (Robert Duvall), their situation becomes even more complicated.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Francis Ford Coppola Films
  • Housewives
  • Intellectually Disabled
  • James Caan Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Road Trip
  • Robert Duvall Films
  • Shirley Knight Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “in his major works Francis Ford Coppola has relegated his female characters to peripheral roles,” “early in his career he made this sleeper that remains one of the few Hollywood films to deal sensitively with a real woman and her problems.” He asserts that since it’s “about a woman in desperate need of some consciousness-raising,” it “might have been a hit if released about a year later, when the women’s movement really made its first great strides.” The film focuses on a woman who “thinks too little of herself to believe she could be a good mother,” and is “enjoying her first freedom since she was married,” “searching for an extramarital affair” given that this is “her only explanation for why she would have left her husband.”

Peary writes that while “viewers brought up on movie heroines who stick by their men through thick and thin may point angry fingers at Knight,” “this is not Kramer vs. Kramer, where the woman is automatically guilty because her side of the story is never told.” Indeed, “Coppola is very sympathetic toward Knight, even when her actions cause others harm.” He is focused on showing “her immaturity, to show that she is correct in thinking she should have an abortion” — which becomes even more “clear when she picks up a brain-damaged hitchhiker [who is] a surrogate child.”

Peary asserts that “Knight is marvelous”, and names her Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars. He writes that “so much of what we learn about this woman comes not from the script, but from paying attention to the confidence level of her voice, the wetness of her eyes, or how strong or vulnerable her face is at a given moment;” she “properly plays her as a woman undergoing metamorphosis, hopefully for the better.”

Peary adds that “Robert Duvall also gives a standout performance as a highway cop who brings Knight back to his trailer one fateful rainy night,” and points out the “strong use of locales” and “fine [cinematography] by Bill Butler.”

Note: Be sure to look for “associate producer” George Lucas’s short film about the production of this movie, entitled “Filmmaker: A Diary By George Lucas,” which offers intriguing glimpses into the challenges of making a road film like this on a relatively small budget.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Shirley Knight as Natalie
  • James Caan as “Killer”
  • Robert Duvall as Gordon
  • Bill Butler’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual early outing by a master director.


  • Important Director
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Rain People, The (1969)

  1. Rewatch 7/5/21. Agreed; must-see, as a satisfying early work by Coppola.

    As posted in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “The rain people are people made of rain. And when they cry, they disappear altogether – because they cry themselves away.”

    ‘The Rain People’: If you look at the career of Francis Ford Coppola – esp. considering things like ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ – ‘TRP’ may seem like a very uncharacteristic flick for the writer/director. Where did this movie possibly come from in his psyche? Yet, in a way, it has a certain dramatic eccentricity that gives it kinship to the comedic eccentricity of his ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ from 3 years earlier. There might be a bit of ‘One from the Heart’ in there, too.

    It’s Coppola’s take on a road movie – but also his take on accepted norms, and what happens when those norms are revealed to be illusions. It pits a dysfunctional someone (Shirley Knight) literally on the road (supposedly) to self-discovery against both someone incapable of the concept of self-discovery (James Caan) and another person who couldn’t give a shit about same (Robert Duvall).

    Emotionally messy, it’s nevertheless accurate about certain types outside the margins of what works. I esp. like its artful use of flashbacks that complicate and resonate.

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