Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rains Came, The (1939)

Director: Clarence Brown


Take a trip to Ranchipur, India where a love story flowers in the wake of monsoon season striking the town created by Academy Award winning special effects. The Rains Came is a mix of all the usual styles of Hollywood during the days of late 1930s era cinema, filling the picture with a notable cast, taking audiences to an exotic land, punctuated with romance. The most distinguished footnote of the film would be its accomplishment of being the inaugural winner of the Oscar for special effects, a surprise achievement considering the competition it was up against.

The Rains Came is a drama of a materialistic lady that redeems herself into charitable lady how cares for the sick and impoverished people of an Indian city struck by tremendous storm and earthquake while falling in love with a future ruler of the kingdom. The story opens with a Tom Ransome (George Brent), an artist who moved to India and had made his home in Ranchipur in relative desolation when his former lover Edwina (Myrna Loy) arrives with her wealthy and elderly husband on a visit to meet the local royalty. Somewhat a vamp, Edwina attempts to seduce her former lover, but she discovers an attraction to Major Rama Safti (Tyrone Power), a local leader and future ruler of the land. Her and Safti fall in love while Tom begins a romance with young missionary’s daughter named Fern (Brenda Joyce) when a devastating storm hits the town. Many villagers fall ill and die, including Edwina’s husband. Through the tragedy Edwina gains a new sense in purpose with inspiration from Safti to nurse the many sick natives. Her new found charity finds her to be infected by the deadly illness as well, dying as Safti is pronounced the new ruler of the kingdom, entering a new age for the land.

The picture feels a bit disjointed and all over the place, lacking a true center to the tale, providing many moments that mislead an audience to believe what the point of the movie really is. As the picture opens we follow the tale of George Brent’s character of Tom, who seems to gain the attention of many young ladies around him, including Fern as well the troublemaking ex-lover of his Edwina. However as the tale moves on it is Edwina that becomes the center of the true redemption story , but we, the audience, still poke into the relationship Tom and Fern from time to time. Tyrone Power’s Safti seems rather focused on his work, which lends one to believe he is not interested in Edwina when she makes a pursuit after him, but somehow they become a couple. It is Edwina’s transformation into a caring nurse after the loss of her husband, whom she clearly did not love, and the devastation of the storm that makes her the focus of the tale. The tragedy is that she passes away before she really makes a difference in the community.

Despite all this happening it feels as if dots are not quite connected in my humble opinion. Things just seem all over the place as the triangle of Tom to Edwina to Saftijust do not flow and never really cause any plot or make a true connection. The character of Tom feels the most personable of all the characters. George Brent is stiff, like most movie stars of the late 1930s wielding a hard drink and talking suavely to all ladies, but his story seems to fade off as Myrna Loy’s character takes more screen time in the latter half of the picture. Loy plays against her type in this picture, having established herself as a romantic comedy leading lady primarily from the Thin Man picture. Here she portrays more of a vamp, or seductress, which with her slightly exotic features does pull off, although she was not known for those roles. Tyrone Power, on the other hand, is a major name for the picture, but his character of the Major Safti is very two-dimensional, one that comes off very flat and goes through very little change if any at all, with the sudden ending as he is anointed the new ruler. Knowing that this is the style of picture during this period of Hollywood that many audiences might have enjoyed, it still is difficult for some contemporaries to understand the draw to the story. However the big name actors, good directing, and far off locales were common draws in major motion pictures.

The film becomes clearer to be a story of about the female character when realizing that the film was directed by Clarence Brown, the veteran filmmaker popular for his pictures featuring major female roles, including Anna Christie, Anna Karenina, and Conquest. Brown’s directing results in one of the finest special effects sequences seen in cinema with the overwhelming storm and earthquake that literally destroys Ranchipur. Models, thousands of gallons of water, and clever cinematography create a lasting image of a storm that plows through the town, devastating all in its path. The sequence resulted in the films only Academy Award, for Special Effects. To add to the majesty of the feature the ending of the picture with Safti’s appointment to as ruler adds color to this black and white film.

In its inaugural year as an award, special effects would surprisingly be presented to The Rains Came when looking at its most noteworthy competition in the MGM Technicolor spectacle in The Wizard of Oz. The Victor Flemming directed fantasy movie perhaps received less credibility being that it was not considered a serious drama such as The Rains Came was. Not to be considered disrespect for The Rains Came, but in retrospect The Wizard of Oz is considered more a wall-to-wall special effects picture hailed as a triumph in cinema. However the storm/earthquake sequence from The Rains Came is still a marvelous spectacle in itself setting a new high in special effects depicting natural disasters.

In a noteworthy supporting role is the Russian actress Maria Ouspenkaya who plays the Maharani. Known mostly for her roles as supporting European characters, Ouspenkaya prepared for her role as a member of Indian royalty by studying the Grand Duchess of Russia. She provides her usual unique flair to her role that makes one remember her, even though her role is on the minor side.

The Rains Came was heavily represented at the Academy Awards in categories such as Best Editing and Best Sound Recording, which is deserved for technical merit, but the film overall is a bit forgettable in the inclusive aspect of the year’s best features. As the first winner of Best Special Effects the feature has become an answer to an interesting trivia question in the history of Hollywood cinema.

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