The Rains Came (1939)

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  • directed by Clarence Brown
  • starring Myrna Loy, George Brent, Tyrone Power, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, Maria Ouspenskaya
  • A Hindu doctor’s affair with a British noblewoman is disrupted by a violent flood.

Lily: Naturally. No one stays in Ranchipur during the monsoon.

Tom: No? Only about five million people.

This production had an enormous budget for the time and a coherent novel by Louis Bromfield to rely on for story (assumedly coherent, I haven’t read it), but what ends up on the screen is uneven to say the least and there’s no way around that for me.

Just in terms of its casting, we have presumably zero Indian actors playing any of the hundred or so Indian extras, including a Russian playing an elderly Indian women and a guy from Cincinnati playing an Indian doctor. There’s also a woman from Montana playing a British woman, one who remarkably spoke with nothing of a British accent. This all led to confusion at times and displeasure at others, but the story they ended up with was even more shaky. The Rains Came brushed up against topics like geographic displacement, playboy alcoholism, and a general concept of responsibility, but the redemption angles of these specific characters were never felt. In the end, it was just a very straightforward love story of two couples with a top-notch disaster scene jammed in the middle.

Although her character’s arc wasn’t carried out in any kind of satisfying way, I will never fault or not enjoy the great Myrna Loy on screen, so she helped. Additionally, I enjoyed Brent, Joyce, and the very quiet and fragile Ouspenskaya. I didn’t know anything about Brenda Joyce, but I am surprised to read that she didn’t have much of a career before or after this. She caught my eye as being very fun and alive in the role of Fern and the camera loved her in this film. Along with the monumental earthquake and flood sequences, these four charismatic performances somehow turned the whole flawed production into a nice, enjoyable viewing experience; this all in spite of whatever it was that Tyrone Power was trying to do. Maybe it wasn’t his fault and the task of portraying an Indian doctor was too ambitious. His choices mainly veered toward the stereotypical and it felt like through the whole movie he was, minute by minute, slowly transforming back into a white man. It was as if everyone forgot what was supposed to be happening for some scenes, especially the ones with Loy before she fell ill. In my opinion, you can tell they knew he wasn’t quite living up to his ethnic persona, because the white version of his character started sentences with things like, “I’m Indian, so…,” or “It’s not just because I’m Indian that I’ll advise…” Strange.

The Rains Came, the winner of the first-ever visual effects Oscar, is rightfully best known for its flood and earthquake scene and yes, it was intense, appropriately violent, and huge in scope. It wasn’t flawless as some of the seams began to show, especially among the interspersed cuts of the raging tide overcoming the hundreds of citizens the size of ants, but overall I have to say the large budget showed—there were effects in this film that were rarely if ever seen up until 1939 and the settings they were able to create were convincing and gorgeous. Come to think of it, it might have been one of the first examples of that brand of filmmaking that spends so much effort and money on its heart-pounding visuals, that it misses the target completely on character, story, and emotion. So next time I’m banging my head on the table during a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movie, save for a few of their titles of course (Bad Boys and Independence Day will always make me pump my fist and Armageddon will always make me cry), I now know who to thank for that formula.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

One Response to The Rains Came (1939)

  1. Pingback: The Last of the Mohicans (1920) | classixquest

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