The Rains Came to Ranchipur

February 1, 2013 | By

In the alternate Spanish version, Richard Burton plays a Ranchipurian vampire who sucks the life from Lana Turner until Michael Rennie drives a wormwood stake through his heart, simultaneously freeing Lana and the rest of the cast who've been hermetically sealed in teardrop cocoons for future nourishment.

Louis Bromfield’s 1937 novel, based on his time in India, was twice adapted for the silver screen by Twentieth Century-Fox, and the two versions – almost separated by two decades worth of shifting mores and the censor’s allowances of what constitutes good and ill-bent screen behaviour – are to some degree almost different films.

The story of a monsoon, earthquake, and flood hitting the fictional province of Ranchipur is identical, as are the core characters comprised of a wealthy trollop snagging the attention of a high-placed doctor, but character nuances, and most notably a sense of humour, are almost lacking in the bigger, brighter 1955 version which Fox produced in the original 2.55:1 CinemaScope ratio.

The Rains Came still holds its own as an engaging drama and artifact of how Hollywood still regarded European (especially British) colonial India as a good thing, bringing a level of civilization that apparently never existed beyond the borders of Central Europe.

What seems prevalent in Rains – and this is purely from a subjective take – is a sly criticism of the arrogance that ran through colonial powers in believing their languages, religion, government structure, and social structure was the best. Whether the critique was present in the script is unknown, but even the hint of some sobering subtext makes Rains superior to blatantly pro-colonial celebrations like Gunga Din (1939).

It’s not a wholly wholesome portrait of the East India Company, and its unusually provocative display of illicit love, and characters wanting hard sex sets it apart from the 1955 remake, renamed The Rains of Ranchipur, where melodrama literally steeps on screen.

Ranchipur’s biggest flaws are its timing – in the fifties, a woman wanting a fling apparently automatically reduces her sense of independence – and a mediocre script that distilled the original drama down to an almost play-like structure. The epic scope of Bromfield’s story only exists in the excellent Oscar-nominated special effects, and Hugo Friedhofer’s score, which never devolves into musical clichés; the elegance of the underscore arguably stops whole scenes from reeking of melodramatic mush.

In both film versions, the role of Dr. Rama Safti – the hot Indian stud – was played by a white dude, and Tyrone Power’s interpretation is less affected in spite of having more scenes where Safti exposes trollop Lady Edwina to local culture. In the ’55 version, Richard Burton sometimes clicks, but his occasional catatonic poses – aka, vintage Burtonisms – add a little fromage value to scenes that otherwise play a little flat. The remake’s a mixed bag, but definitely worth a peek for the stellar cast in what’s more of a traditional disaster epic than exotic melodrama.

The two reviews  – the 1939 [M] and the 1955 [M] versions – were written as comparative pieces, dissecting the changes and the blunders which made one film pale under the shadow of its lesser known cousin. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Ranchipur features a stunning HD transfter, and although Friedhofer’s isolated score is in spatially enhanced mono (only 6 cues are known to survive in stereo), the 4.0 soundtrack mix is gorgeous – the music and sound effects boom with clarity, and the directional dialogue placement is an amusing leftover of Fox’ original audio designs for its own version of surround sound.

The 1939 version was released by Fox on DVD back in 2005 and is in need of a major overhaul, so hopefully as Fox revisits select titles for BR, The Rains Came will make that crossover into HD so fans can really appreciate its visual effects and superb B&W cinematography.

Those wanting Alfred Newman’s excellent 1939 score are sadly out of luck – there’ no album culled from surviving archival sources – but most of the 1955 score is available via Kritzerland in a great Friedhofer double-bill. I didn’t have time this hectic week to get a review out, but perhaps this weekend.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

Tags: , , , , ,


Comments are closed.