Second Looks: The Rainmaker (for The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon)

I originally reviewed 1956’s The Rainmaker a little over two years ago. In that review I scored the film 4/5, but didn’t go into great detail about the performances, instead focusing on the film’s message and writing.

I’ve been wanting to revisit the film for a while, having not watched in since I reviewed it in 2012, so I figured what better time than in celebration of The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon? Today I’ll be reviewing the film again with special attention paid to Hepburn’s performance.

(Image via Film Affinity)

(Image via Film Affinity)

The film follows Lizzie (Katharine Hepburn), a very smart woman who takes care of the family cattle ranch, where she lives with her two brothers (Lloyd Bridges and Earl Holliman) and father (Cameron Prud’Homme). Having suffered a drought, the family worries about their cattle and about their prospects for the future.

On top of her family’s economic troubles, Lizzie deals with the personal turmoil of unrequited love, harboring un-reciprocated affections for the town sheriff (Wallace Ford).

Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) is a con man who is going from one Midwest town to another acting as a rainmaker, promising the farmers that he can solve the problems of drought by willing rain to fall from the sky.

Each time he pulls off a con, he gets chased out of town, until one day he shows up at the door of Lizzy’s family in Kansas and promises he’ll bring the rain to their land if they pay him $100.

The Rainmaker was directed by Joseph Anthony with a screenplay written by N. Richard Nash, adapted from his own play.

Watching this film for a second time, I see it differently than I did two years ago. At that time I was impressed by the transformation made by the character of Lizzie, with her self-acceptance growing throughout the film.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Hepburn shares many stellar scenes with Burt Lancaster, who is perfectly suited to his role as a charming and persuasive con man. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

This time around, I didn’t see her as necessarily lacking in self-acceptance in the beginning of the film. Rather, she is concerned with her own spinster-dom due to her family’s concern for her. She knows that her brothers and father want her to find happiness and love, and she does want that too, but she seems to accept the fact that she doesn’t have much of a romantic life, dedicating herself to her family and the farm rather than wasting time worrying about romance.

Hepburn’s performance in the role is very strong, and she gives the character a lot of dimension, showing both her strong-willed, independent side and her more lustful, longing side. As the film progresses, Lizzie develops a better understanding of her own vulnerability, and becomes more willing to show that side of herself rather than hiding behind a mask of strength at all times. And as a result of her increased willingness to show her true self, we see her confidence grow.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Re-watching the film, I was struck by the performances of Prud’Homme, Holliman and Bridges as Lizzie’s family, in addition to adoring Hepburn’s performance just as much as I did the first time around. These actors do such a great job of showing how deeply their characters care for each other, even when they disagree.

The Rainmaker is a film that’s a bit over-the-top — more over-the-top than I remember, but still quite moving, and a good watch. I would give it the same rating this time around as I did the first time, thanks to the performances and interesting characters. Katharine Hepburn made many fantastic films, and while I wouldn’t count this as one of her very best, The Rainmaker offers the viewer the chance to discover a lesser-known, but very strong performance by the actress in an underrated film.

Be sure to check out all of the other great contributions to this blogathon at margaret Perry's blog!

Be sure to check out all of the other great contributions to this blogathon at Margaret Perry’s blog!

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9 thoughts on “Second Looks: The Rainmaker (for The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon)

  1. Margaret Perry says:

    It’s hard to discern whether this film is deep or just confused. However, I like the themes discussed and Hepburn’s navigation of the gendered expectations thrust upon her by her family. I think the ending is well-mediated. Thanks for your wonderful contribution to the blogathon!

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    • Lindsey says:

      They make a better pair than I expected, though I wouldn’t consider them one of the era’s greatest screen couples haha. Be sure to let me know your thoughts if you do watch the film!

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  2. girlsdofilm says:

    Hepburn and Lancaster made a better pairing than I originally gave them credit for, but I’m not sure that I actually like this film. I never feel like I really understand it: is it advocating marriage? Or encouraging women to look beyond the gendered roles they are traditionally given? Maybe there’s not an answer, but I prefer my films to have one ;)

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    • Lindsey says:

      This film is definitely more ambiguous than most in its potential interpretations, but since I over-think most of the films I watch, the “confusion” didn’t bug me in either of my viewings haha. I haven’t thought of it as a film that advocates marriage in either of my viewings, but that’s an interesting thought. Perhaps I’ll need to take a third look with that in mind. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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