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The Rains Came

The Rains Came(1939)

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Based on the Louise Bromfield novel, The Rains Came is set in the mythical Ranchipur, India, where English rule exhibits itself in the presence of upper class snobs, a minority who view the Indians as servants and peasants. Among the British is dissolute aristocrat Thomas Ransome (George Brent), who has a reputation as a drunkard and a womanizer. Despite this, he is the guest most eagerly sought-after by the social climbing middle-class, who desire to rub shoulders with the nobility, no matter how dissipated. Although he never accepts these invitations, he is surprised into attending an early evening affair held by a fellow Brit named Mrs. Simon, who has hopes to pair him off with her daughter Fern (Brenda Joyce). While Fern has no illusions about the prospects of landing Ransome as a husband, she so detests her life in Ranchipur that she hopes his attentions will sully her reputation enough that her parents will be forced to send her away.

Ransome is saved from his initial encounter with Fern when he receives a summons to the palace of the Maharajah (H.B. Warner) and Maharini (Maria Ouspenskaya) to honor the arrival of British nobleman Lord Albert Esketh (Nigel Bruce) and his young wife, Lady Edwina Eskweth (Myrna Loy). Edwina is a woman with a checkered past, whose conquests included Ransome, and who married the much older Eskweth for his money. But marriage has not put a damper on her activities, and the moment she arrives in town, Edwina makes a play for young, dashing Indian doctor Major Rama Safti (Tyrone Power), who is next in line to the throne. When the Eskweth's departure from Ranchipur is delayed due to the Lord's illness, Edwina is given the time she needs to entice Safti.

But the significance of the romantic peccadilloes of the upper-classes is literally washed away when the rain that the Indians have been praying for to end their drought finally comes—but won't stop. As the monsoon continues to unrelentingly lash away at the city, the townspeople are struck by an even worse disaster: a devastating earthquake that virtually destroys the city, and fractures the local dam, sending a flood to wipe away was is left of the rubble. In the wake of the disaster, as the citizens try to cope with the loss, plague from bacteria infested water begins to spread. In the face of the catastrophe and its aftermath, the characters must face extraordinary challenges that will change each of their lives: Ransome seems to effortlessly drift from his profligate ways as he is called upon to help in the distribution of supplies, and the young Fern copes her new role as his assistant. But the biggest trial is in store for Edwina, whose love for Safti prompts her to volunteer at his hospital, and constantly dealing with the plague victims slowly strips away her upper-crust defenses.

The Rains Came is a lavishly produced tale of redemption through disaster, given an unfortunate timeliness with its release coming on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. The film's first half, before the storm finally hits, is surprisingly frank and knowing in its depiction of the glossy sordidness of the country's social elite, and serves as another example of how gifted writers, directors and actors could sidestep the Production Code and convey their meaning in a way that is forthright without being graphic: for example, the scene in which Brent lights a cigarette for Loy is darn near pornographic, without anything to which the Hayes Office could object. The final third of the film flags a bit, losing some of its momentum as the characters attempt to pick up their lives; but it's hard to imagine how the film could have successfully regained itself after the startlingly realized storm sequence.

The film is most notable for the Oscar-winning special effects, which remain awe inspiring even today, and producer Darryl F. Zanuck's and director Clarence Brown's inspired casting against type, which provides some fascinating performances. Power does nothing but turn down the wattage of his trademark charisma to convey the role of the Indian doctor, and comes across splendidly in the role. Loy, who had been type cast as the "bad girl" in many films in her early career before she broke the mold with her performance as Nora Charles in The Thin Man and After the Thin Man, returns to her roots with a character who is more three-dimensionally wicked. It is great fun to see Nigel Bruce in a part so completely different from his signature role as the bumbling Doctor Watson in the Sherlock Holmes films. Bruce is thoroughly believable as the jealous, demanding Lord Eskweth, and Maria Ouspenskaya gives a perfectly eye-opening performance as the Maharini. The cast is rounded out by an incredible roster of great character actors, including Henry Travers, Jane Darwell, Joseph Schildkraut, and Mary Nash (The Philadelphia Story).

The new Studio Classics edition of the film from Fox has been transfers from source elements that are in surprisingly good condition, through there is a little debris and general wear, and one spot where there is some brief but very noticeable damage, with the image going badly in and out of focus. The audio is also showing some signs of deterioration, though generally it's very good, with very dynamic bass. Included on the disc is an audio commentary with film historians Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard.

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by Fred Hunter