1 June 2015

Raintree County

Raintree County 1957
  • Director: Edward Dmytryk
  • Based on novel by Ross Lockridge Jr
  • Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor, Agnes Moorehead, DeForest Kelley
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Elizabeth Taylor – The Mirror Crack’d, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Taming of the Shrew, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cleopatra, Butterfield 8, Suddenly Last Summer, A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Giant
    • Montgomery Clift – Judgment at Nürnberg, The Misfits, Suddenly Last Summer, The Young Lions
    • Eva Marie Saint – The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming, Exodus, North by Northwest, On the Waterfront
    • Lee Marvin – Cat Ballou, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and many more only vaguely remembered
    • Rod Taylor – Inglourious Basterds, The Birds, The Time Machine, The Twilight Zone, Giant
    • Agnes Moorehead – Bewitched, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Pollyanna
    • DeForest Kelley – Star Trek
  • Why?  It has been in my memory since seeing it as a child.
  • Seen:  In the 50’s. Now: May 16, 2015 

After several tries I have finally succeeded in finding and buying this DVD.  I saw the film when I was about seven years old and for some reason the final scene of Elizabeth Taylor dying, or going mad, or something, in her Civil War southern belle frock under a big drooping tree (a raintree, maybe?) in a swamp at the end of the film has stayed with me all these years. I found it tragic and wonderful.
What’s it about? That I don’t remember. I doubt if it will live up to my childhood memories.
But let’s see.
There is a legend in this Indiana county in 1859 about a raintree which will bring….whatever…to the one who finds it but ruin the lives of those who pursue it without finding it. This legend hovers around the small town where intrigues, jealousies and loves abound. Into this comes a beautiful southern belle.
The first half is full of clichés and the story is boring but Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are gorgeous.
Then after an hour it starts getting interesting. Our southern belle Susannah is a racist and a lonely insecure neurotic.  But golden boy Johnny marries her and goes south with her. With the Civil War looming.
Susannah’s madness increases and her secrets emerge. The couple return to Indiana and Susannah spreads her southern belle poison. 
The war breaks out and the years go by.  Things can’t go well and they don’t.
My memory has played a visual trick on me. Elizabeth Taylor is not found sitting under the raintree. Maybe I’m remembering Audrey Hepburn under the tree in Green Mansions.
Raintree County is far too long and there are many flaws. But movies like this one and Shenandoah were undoubtedly instrumental in awakening my dreadful and cynical fascination with the American Civil War and my general passion for history.  It tries to deal with complex questions and it succeeds to a certain extent.
I can understand my childish self being deeply gripped by the film but my mature self is more deeply troubles by the knowledge that Montgomery Clift died young and Elizabeth Taylor had a troubled life.
As for the film itself, I’m glad to have seen it again. It has held up well.

3 * of 5

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