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The Rains Came

The Rains Came(1939)

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A lavish and expensive prestige picture, budgeted at $2.5 million, and based on a critically acclaimed novel, The Rains Came (1939) stars Tyrone Power as an Indian doctor in the mythical city of Ranchipur, India. He begins an affair with a married British noblewoman (Myrna Loy) until a massive flood, earthquake and plague disrupt everyone's lives. To complement its huge star Tyrone Power, Twentieth Century-Fox borrowed Myrna Loy and director Clarence Brown from MGM, and George Brent from Warner Brothers. Rounding out the cast is a splendid roster of supporting players including Maria Ouspenskaya, Henry Travers, Jane Darwell, H.B. Warner and Nigel Bruce (cast against type).

It's Power's show all the way, however, as he is costumed stunningly in outfits ranging from turbans and satins to military uniforms and hospital whites. Power's most significant co-star here is probably the special effects, which won the first-ever Oscar® in that category. The picture was also nominated for five further Academy Awards: Art Direction, Black-and-White Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound, and Musical Score.

Myrna Loy later recounted her experience on The Rains Came, specifically some friction with studio chief Darryl Zanuck. Zanuck had fired her from Warner Brothers ten years earlier, saying at the time, "We can't afford you. There aren't enough wenches for you to play." Loy later signed a contract with MGM, and when Zanuck got her on loanout for The Rains Came after every top actress in town had campaigned for the part, Loy was surprised.

Once filming began, she later wrote, Zanuck began to pester her with criticisms. He called her into his office one day and berated her performance but did not offer any specifics. "Well, what do you want me to do?" Loy asked. Zanuck replied, "Show up for work." "That was it," Loy recalled. "He never made any sense, really." The episode made Loy insecure enough to check with Clarence Brown and The Rains Came novelist Louis Bromfield about her performance. Both told her she was fine. Bromfield even said, "I think you're giving the best performance of your career."

"I'll never know why Darryl took things out on me," Loy mused. "Perhaps he wanted to justify the fact that he'd fired me from Warners and I'd become a big success."

Overall, though, Loy described The Rains Came as "a happy film." She loved working with Maria Ouspenskaya and Nigel Bruce ("a darling man we called 'Bunny'"), and she had a good working relationship with director Brown. "He had a deft hand, and I had a lot of confidence in him. 'You know, people don't die with their eyes closed,' Clarence suggested during my death scene. 'Why don't you try dying with your eyes open? You've just got to hold your breath.' I held my breath, staring at some fixed object until I began to see stars and everything started to blur and run together. I was turning a little blue when he finally called 'Cut!' When you trust a director, you'll do anything for him."

Of Tyrone Power, Loy said, "[he] was one of the nicest human beings I've ever known, a really divine man, perceptive and thoughtful... I'm sorry to report that we weren't lovers, but close to it. I loved him, but he was married to that damn Frenchwoman [Annabella]... He had a very strong sense of other people, heightened by a kind of mysticism, a spiritual quality. You saw it in his deep, warm eyes." One day, Loy recalled, Power told her that if he could be anything, he would be "the wind, so I could be light and free and be anywhere I want at any time. I could go all around the world and look in people's windows and share their joys and sorrows."

Cinematographer Arthur Miller had plenty of fascinating recollections about The Rains Came, too. He was asked to replace Bert Glennon early in production because Glennon was not lighting the sets the way Brown wanted. For a grand dinner-party scene, for instance, Brown wanted the furniture and dcor to shine, "and Glennon had made it shadowy and soft." Miller got the brilliant, shiny look Brown was after by spraying the tables and other furniture with oil, and having the silverware polished over and over until everything glistened. "When the old Maharajah died and the veil over the bed blew a little in the wind, I made the whole scene glow as vividly as possible, to suggest a spiritual, transcendent quality."

Miller had photographed Myrna Loy once before, on The Truth About Youth (1930), and he knew some of her tics. He described one exchange which says much about how stars of the time tried to control the technical aspects of their on-screen appearance: "She asked me before we did the test to have a matchbox light with a red gelatin on it shine in her eyes with fifteen candle power. I thought, 'What the hell was the use of that when I already had hundreds of watts shining on her anyway?' And I asked her what she wanted it for. And she said, 'It makes my eyes dark.' Crazy, of course, but I jiggled it around for her and whether she had the light and the gelatin on it or not didn't make any difference! It was all hokum; stars get that way. Luckily, she accepted my point that the light she wanted had no sense, and from then on we got along O.K.

"But oddly enough, I did use the red gelatin once. It's when she takes a drink in the hospital and you know she's become infected with a disease and her face fills with shadows. I just wanted a special kind of look in her face, as though death is coming over her and she doesn't know it. And the gelatin was wonderful for that."

Miller continued: "I became obsessed with rain on that picture; I was always amazed when I left the studio that it wasn't raining. I hate movie rain that falls straight down, and I know that rain never does; it always falls at an angle. I made the prop department adjust the spouts accordingly. I even shot the raindrops so they seemed much larger. You never saw such water in your life! Brent and the others took a hell of a beating on the picture. There was one scene when Nigel Bruce and his manservant were on the landing of their house and the water rushed in and 'drowned' them in one shot, without a cut. And in fact the actors actually took the full force of that, and even had bits of the set flying on to them! They risked their lives, even though the material was balsawood; if it had hit them the wrong way it would have killed them instantly...

"One trouble with the way they handle rain that they don't backlight it. You have to backlight rain or you don't see it; it's just a blur. And all the way in my picture the rain shines; it was the theme of the film."

The Rains Came was well-received, though as Variety said, "the tropical earthquake that well nigh wrecks the mythical domain of Ranchipur is more Zanuck than Bromfield. But it is good cinematurgy.... The simple heroics following the quake are more effective than the earth-rending sequences themselves."

Making her screen debut in The Rains Came is Brenda Joyce. The 17-year-old, whose real name was Betty Leabo, had been discovered by Fox in a fashion magazine. Her last name was changed to "Joyce" after Alice Joyce, the famous silent screen star who at this time was married to Clarence Brown! Joyce received good notices for this film, but her career would be brief. She went on most famously to replace Maureen O'Sullivan in the Tarzan series, playing "Jane" in five films, but she retired after the last of these (Tarzan's Magic Fountain [1949]), got married and settled into a life of anonymity.

The Rains Came was remade in 1955 as The Rains of Ranchipur, starring Lana Turner and Richard Burton.

Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Philip Dunne, Julien Josephson; Louis Bromfield (novel)
Cinematography: Arthur Miller; Bert Glennon (uncredited)
Art Direction: William Darling, George Dudley
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Cast: Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Major Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Aunt Phoebe, Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah).

by Jeremy Arnold

Charles Higham, Hollywood Cameramen
James Kotsilibas-Davis and Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming

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