The Rainmaker (1956) Blu ray Review

4 Stars Intricate character dramedy is worth rediscovery.
The Rainmaker Review

Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn cross paths and strike sparks in Joseph Anthony’s faithful 1956 adaptation of Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker, an intricate character piece that’s both humorous and endearingly moving.

The Rainmaker (1956)
Released: 13 Dec 1956
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 121 min
Director: Joseph Anthony
Genre: Romance, Western
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Wendell Corey
Writer(s): N. Richard Nash
Plot: During the Depression, a con-man promises rain to a desperate drought-ridden Kansas town and marriage to a local desperate spinster.
IMDB rating: 6.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 1 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 10/25/2022
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 4/5

Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn cross paths and strike sparks in Joseph Anthony’s faithful 1956 adaptation of Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker. It’s an intricate character piece that explores the depths of a loving if troubled family thrown out of their accustomed orbits by a traveling conman who offers them alternate viewpoints to their accustomed parched, deadening reality. Long on talk (but very moving talk) and short on action, The Rainmaker offers ensemble work among big stars as a great compensation.

Into the midst of a parched depression Southwest wilting from a prolonged drought comes Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster), chased from one town for selling phony tornado safeguards and now offering Three Points his services as a rainmaker. In addition to their own dying cattle, the Curry family is dealing with its own inner problems: spinster daughter Lizzy (Katharine Hepburn) whose common sense, intelligence, and straightforward way of behaving turns off eligible men who prefer their women flirty and flighty, older brother Noah (Lloyd Bridges) whose innate pessimism makes him see everyone’s flaws and none of their virtues, and younger brother Jim (Earl Holliman) whose slow thought processes and general naiveté make him willing prey for teenage town flirt Snookie Maguire (Yvonne Lime). But family patriarch H.C. Curry (Cameron Prud’Homme) is willing to risk $100 on Starbuck’s promises sensing he can bring something needed for his family apart from the hoped-for cloudburst.

Adapting his Broadway play for the film, N. Richard Nash’s screenplay doesn’t open up the play very much with only one or two sequences set in the outdoors. He certainly gets the film off to a pleasing start with Starbuck’s offering his patented tornado preventatives only to be chased from town by the law setting up his title character conman as a charismatic charmer. With dialogue that gets quickly to the bottom of each character allowing us to know what they need to live more fulfilling lives, it’s strictly a matter of waiting until Starbuck can work his magic on the Curry family and Lizzy’s preferred beau Deputy J.S. File (Wendell Corey) to wake him up to the woman he’s about to lose. Also recruited from the stage version, director Joseph Anthony doesn’t display any particular flair for working behind the camera (he wouldn’t when he directed another stage-to-film adaptation two years later – The Matchmaker), but his set-ups don’t miss anything crucial to the story, and he makes sure especially to keep the camera trained on his two top-billed stars Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn whenever they wax philosophically. In fact, the two stars figure in one way or another into the film’s three most amusing and memorable moments: Lizzy’s hilarious impersonation of the air-headed Lily Ann Beasley flitting her way into a man’s heart, the subsequent awkward encounter between Lizzy and File when he catches the last part of her act (and then chastises her when she tries the act on him for real), and Starbuck’s impromptu version of Hamlet with bits of Greek mythology and Wagnerian opera thrown in for good measure. All of the saga’s emotional moments are well captured, too, as Lizzy learns to find appealing qualities within herself and Jim grows up a little to make his own decisions without an okay from the domineering Noah.

Burt Lancaster may have earned his Oscar for playing Elmer Gantry, but his Bill Starbuck four years earlier is an obvious dry run at playing a charlatan, equally as charismatic and infinitely more charming without the cynical bite that gave Gantry his edge. Katharine Hepburn may have been a bit older than the character was originally written and definitely more tuned to New England in her speech patterns, but she captures Lizzy’s essence: a woman struggling to be all things to all people while remaining true to herself. When she finally lets down her hair and gives in to Starbuck’s fantasies, she is transformed: a miraculous moment and fully worthy of the Oscar nomination she received for her work. Earl Holliman has the showiest role of the three Curry men, and he’s wonderful throughout growing before our eyes into a coltish young man who’ll be able to take care of himself. Cameron Prud’Homme as the loving, sensible father and Lloyd Bridges as the no-nonsense Noah certainly offer strong characterizations themselves. Wendell Corey is all right as the stubborn File while Yvonne Lime purrs and giggles appropriately as Snookie Maguire.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The VistaVision 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. As terrific as one would hope it to be coming from a 6K scan of the original camera negative, sharpness is excellent, and color is dazzling, the reds and blues being particularly eye-popping. Flesh tones are appropriately tan for the hot Southwest in the middle of a drought. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers excellent fidelity and solid sound reproduction. The dialogue is all as clear as a bell, mixed most professionally with Alex North’s Oscar-nominated background score and the various sound effects. There are no issues at all with age-related anomalies like hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film historian Julie Kirgo offers a spirited set of remarks on the movie. She offers background facts on all of the principal participants both before and behind the camera and then watches along with us commenting with excited fervor at the performances and the metaphorical transformations among the characters.

Theatrical Trailer (2:21, HD)

Kino Trailers: Elmer Gantry, The Lion in Winter, The Tarnished Angels, Lonelyhearts.

Overall: 4/5

Joseph Anthony’s The Rainmaker is a literate and literal movie adaptation of a Broadway play that offers stories of characters on dead end paths being offered chances at different outcomes as a result of their interaction with a man of fervent imagination and infinite charm. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release is a keeper with outstanding video and audio making the movie experience a memorable one. Recommended!

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Flashgear

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Thanks Matt for yet another fine and informative review! Great to hear that The Rainmaker looks as good as we would hope for, among the best HD presentations of a VistaVision film that we've had on home video. I can hardly wait to see the new Blu! The Rainmaker is a treasured artifact from the 1950s, and an essential in my book. One of the magnificent Kate's career best.

I can now order it with confidence, which is more than I can say about another KL Blu dropping the same day (which I'll buy regardless, hoping for the best), The Counterfeit Traitor.

Kino-Lorber continues to delight us. I have another order from them on the way right now!
 

uncledougie

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Doesn’t sound like the film is to his taste, but that wouldn’t affect the description of the anomalies he noted. That said, unless it’s a faulty transfer that Kino would consider defective, which it doesn’t sound like this is, it’s the best this movie is going to get on home video. So that’s not going to be a factor other than the possibility of disappointment that the issues weren’t corrected before release. I didn’t detect other early reviews noting a problem, so hoping it won’t affect viewing pleasure. My take on the film is far more positive than the reviewer on YouTube.
 

Justin Ray

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I’m not sure how credible this review is. He talks about dancing and musical numbers. What is he talking about here? The Rainmaker is NOT a musical. I should have my copy on Friday, so I’ll see for myself regarding the transfer.
 

uncledougie

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I’m not sure how credible this review is. He talks about dancing and musical numbers. What is he talking about here? The Rainmaker is NOT a musical. I should have my copy on Friday, so I’ll see for myself regarding the transfer.
I wasn’t clear on that point either. Of course, the story was musicalized as 110 in the Shade in 1963, but this isn’t that. Perhaps he was referring to Earl Holliman’s character, who is somewhat animated at times with his affection for Snookie. A scene with the two of them? Not remembering off the top of my head. But it didn’t ring a bell with me.
 

haineshisway

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The Rainmaker Bluray review at 11:00..... Not Good news for fans of this movie.

Why on earth would anyone post the YouTube amateur reviewing a disc? That's question one. Question two, is this 6K scan off the VistaVision negative (large format) or some 35mm internegative?
 

Robin9

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Why on earth would anyone post the YouTube amateur reviewing a disc? That's question one. Question two, is this 6K scan off the VistaVision negative (large format) or some 35mm internegative?
YouTube is full of so-called reviews of everything from hi-fi equipment to packaged holidays posted by amateurs with large egos and slim knowledge. Why anyone watches them I don't understand.
 

OliverK

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Why on earth would anyone post the YouTube amateur reviewing a disc? That's question one. Question two, is this 6K scan off the VistaVision negative (large format) or some 35mm internegative?

Maybe the youtube "review" was posted for our amusement :)

According to the Kino Lorber Insider The Rainmaker Blu-ray goes back to a 6K scan of the VV negative:


I just checked Park Circus but unlike To Catch a Thief and The Court Jester this version of The Rainmaker cannot be found on that site - would be interesting to know if they produced a 4K DCP.
 
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Thomas T

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Robert Crawford

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I appreciate that. Thanks so much!
Yup, a beautiful video presentation that I'm totally happy with after watching the entire movie. I then sampled Julie Kirgo's audio commentary, but I stopped because I started to watch "The Counterfeit Traitor" (1962) Blu-ray.
 

uncledougie

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I had been holding this to show to my uncle visiting from California. He’s never been a movie goer, so we have introduced him to some of the great films (My Fair Lady) or shown him upgrades of classics (this visit The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca in 4K, both of which impressed him mightily). We watched this last night and I must say I’ve never seen it look nearly this good before; it was just splendid both visually and audibly. The performances may be at a theatrical pitch that modern audiences may find a little jarring, but they’re right on the money for the material and the Hepburn magic makes Lizzy enormously vulnerable and touching, and Lancaster hints at depths and his own vulnerabilities for the character of Starbuck, indeed a precursor of Elmer Gantry four years later. I’ve always had a soft spot for The Rainmaker, and it has been done full justice with this release. The quality upgrade is like seeing it for the first time.
 
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