Jean Negulesco’s The Rains of Ranchipur is one of those talky melodramas from the 1950s that promises more heat, more passion, and more thrills than it ultimately delivers. In the vivid Deluxe color of its day and on the wide, wide Cinemascope screen, it must have been quite a visual spectacle for movie audiences even if it was somewhat dramatically torpid. Watching it today, it may have lost the full grandeur of its widescreen theatrical release, but the color is still vivacious, and there are stars aplenty at which to gaze.
The Rains of Ranchipur (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 104 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Review Date: November 3, 2012
Lady Edwina Esketh (Lana Turner) and her husband Lord Albert Esketh (Michael Rennie) have a loveless marriage: he married her for her money; she married him for his title. They arrive in the Indian province of Ranchipur to buy some horses, but she’s immediately swept off her feet by the alluring Dr. Major Rama Safti (Richard Burton), and as she had done so often in the past with countless other men, begins to have an affair with him. Despite warnings and even an official censure from the provincial Maharani (Eugenie Leontovich) to let the doctor do his duty for his people, the couple continue their affair and plan to leave India together. A tiger attack on her husband which leaves him hospitalized delays their plans, and then an outbreak of plague and the seasonal rains which become more and more severe throw further obstacles in the path of the young lovers.
Merle Miller’s screenplay and Jean Negulesco’s direction keep emotions throughout at a surprisingly low simmer rather than allowing the two leads (each known for heavy emoting in previous dramas) to plunge headlong into what could have been aggrandized purple passions played out on the big screen. Writer and director have also included a secondary love story regarding professional alcoholic Tom Ransome (Fred MacMurray) and virginal Fern Simon (Joan Caulfield) that’s likewise tepidly developed. (Ransome is also involved in some late reel heroics which get thrown away rather carelessly.) With neither love story offering much in the way of involving developments, we’re left with admiring the gorgeous cinematography by Milton Krasner and some interesting supporting performances. And, of course, there are also the climactic disaster scenes where a combination of earthquakes and the tumultuous rains create cinematic havoc which earned the film its sole Oscar nomination and its major reason for existing (Fox’s original film version of the novel, 1939’s The Rains Came, snatched the Visual Effects Oscar away from The Wizard of Oz that year).
Lana Turner offers a curiously erratic performance: she doesn’t take full advantage of the part’s wildly erotic sensibilities as she would do in her later melodramas for Ross Hunter but seems content to look porcelain-perfect and have one or two good give-and-takes with co-stars Michael Rennie and Eugenie Leontovich. Those two give the best performances in the film: he aware of his shortcomings and refusing to bow to self-pity and she continuously imperious while realizing she holds no real power. Richard Burton underplays his role rather well possibly realizing he’s one of the least convincing Hindi in screen history. Fred MacMurray has an undeniable presence as the drunken playboy, but Joan Caulfield is rather forgettable as the young graduate student newly touched by love.
The film’s Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Much of the imagery is breathtakingly splendid with excellent color saturation (reds and greens come off particularly well) and flesh tones that are wonderfully accurate and appealing. Contrast is consistently maintained, and only a shot or two against rear projection screens have a more digitized look that doesn’t blend well with the scenes before and after. Image quality is also beautifully clean with no age-related artifacts to mar the presentation. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix is remarkably true to its era. There is directionalized dialogue that gives a nice spread to the front soundstage, and dialogue throughout has been well recorded and presented though ADR is sometimes glaringly obvious. There is some ambience heard in the mix (the safari sequence stands out), but most of the spread to the rear soundstage occurs with Hugo Friedhofer’s marvelous background score which gets a terrific treatment in this transfer. Don’t expect the disaster sequences to contain thundering Earthquake-like sound effects through the mix, however. The sound design there just isn’t that sophisticated.
Hugo Friedhofer’s splendid score for the film is given an isolated music track feature presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo. It’s a vivid presentation of this excellent music.
The disc offers three 1080p trailers, all running 2 ½ minutes. There is also a TV spot ad that runs ½ minute.
The enclosed six-page booklet contains a nice selection of black and white and color stills, the film’s poster art on the back page, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic celebration of director Jean Negulesco and some astute observations about the film in question.
3/5 (not an average)
The Rains of Ranchipur is not a great Hollywood melodrama, but its combination of big stars, Cinemascope, and alluring color photography in an exotic locale makes this a Blu-ray well worth experiencing. Only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray disc are available, so those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They can also be reached via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.