THE RAINS CAME
This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Myrna Loy.
The Rains Came is quite daring for the era, for there is very little subtlety with regards wanton women and interracial romance. A bit dramatic for my taste, and with some familiar beats, The Rains Came still impresses with its Oscar-winning special visual effects which time has not diminished.
India, 1938. Painter Tom Ransome (George Brent) is content in his semi-retirement, living for drink and women and the visits from his friend, Dr. Major Rama Safti (Tyrone Power). He is friend to all, despite his scandalous reputation. Even the social climbing Mrs. Simon (Marjorie Rambeau) pushes her eighteen-year-old daughter Fern (Brenda Joyce) on him.
Among Ransome's friends are the Maharajah of Ranchipur (H.B. Warner) and the Maharani (Maria Ouspenskaya). Invited to a party he'd rather not go, he encounters Lord Esketh (Nigel Bruce) and Edwina, Lady Esketh (Myrna Loy). A fateful reunion, for Edwina and Tom were once lovers. Whether they reignited their affair or not is subject to debate, but what is not is that Edwina is a bit of a hussy.
She now has eyes for Major Safti, though he appears more interested in his medical profession than in playing doctor with the scandalous Lady Esketh. Eventually, Lady Esketh decided it is time to give up notching the Major on her belt, until a combination monsoon and earthquake devastated the area.
After the chaos of the twin disasters, both the Maharani and Lady Esketh are widowed. Will Tom and Fern find love with each other? Will Edwina find redemption for herself and for Rama to love her?
The highlight of The Rains Came is the earthquake and monsoon, which comes at the halfway point of the film. Winning Best Visual Effects (its only win out of its five Ocar nominations) was no small feat given that it beat out both Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. I think anyone even now would leave The Rains Came wildly impressed with its visual effects as both the ground collapses and is overwhelmed with water from a shattered dam.
This sequence is absolutely astonishing: the chaos of the water drowning hundreds right after the earth gave way is exceptional. I would rank this sequence with the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments in terms of visual power.
I suppose every great romance has to have some kind of disaster, natural or otherwise, bring problems to our lovers. As such, this is where The Rains Came does not completely impress me. In a lot of ways, The Rains Came is nothing new. You have the shameless woman married to the older man, forever longing for someone not interested in her until disaster brings them together.
You even have the standard plot point of the shameless woman reforming and redeeming herself until tragedy comes her way. As such, I felt The Rains Came was pretty standard story-wise. It is a shame that the subplot of how the abusive Lord Esketh gets his brutal comeuppance as the floods race towards his temporary palace while his longsuffering manservant delights in sneering at him gets undercut.
The Rains Came is a product of its time, so people who are bothered by seeing the Irish-American Tyrone Power and more outlandishly the Russian-born Ouspenskaya as Indians should realize that Hollywood was not going to cast actual Indians in these roles in 1939. As a side note, they still struggle with casting Indians as Indians given that Fisher Stevens was able to play one in 1986's Short Circuit.
Leaving the highly questionable or problematic casting to use current terms, their performances were quite good. Power was quite noble as Rama, and despite the inaccurate casting, I think there is something positive in how this Indian is a positive portrayal on film. Same for Ouspenskaya even if we wonder why there is a hint of a Russian accent to our Maharani.
It is a puzzle as to why no one mentioned the interracial romance as being an issue. Even more surprising is that there is a very strong suggestion that Ransome and Lady Esketh had sex at the Maharajah's palace. We have them flirting, then as he lights her cigarrette, the lights go out and thunder rolls. We next see them walking together back into the reception room, where the Maharani adjusts Ransome's tie.
Say what you will about the Hays Office, but this is as open a suggestion of intercourse as I have seen from that era.
Loy is a surprise as the trampish Lady Edwina. She's the antithesis of the elegant, sophisticated lady we are used to seeing Myrna Loy as. Lady Edwina is no perfect wife, but a woman of desires, unafraid and unashamed to fulfill them. The Rains Came gives Loy a chance to play against type, and she did so quite well, even if at times it did feel forced.
It is surprising that despite receiving top billing, it takes a full fifteen to sixteen minutes before Loy appears on screen. However, her performance is on the whole excellent. Her final scene is glorious, and gloriously lit.
Brent seems more amused than anything as the dashing and lackadaisical Ransome. He at least is aware that Fern cannot possibly stay overnight at his place, even if it she ran away and was her idea. That does not prevent him from having a brief kiss with her. I would say that Joyce is the weak link, a bit too mannered and theatrical as Fern. However, it is not a terrible performance.
The Rains Came is elevated by its still-impressive earthquake/monsoon sequence, which is quite visually arresting. In a lot of ways standard fare for romances, and with questionable casting choices, The Rains Came still has a lot for the viewer to enjoy.