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Raintree County

Posted on the 17 August 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Raintree CountyEpics don't come much worse than Raintree County (1957). Edward Dmytryk's try at topping Gone With the Wind tries to bludgeon viewers with soap opera spectacle, but the result is an overblown bore.
Indiana poet John Shaughnessy (Montgomery Clift) abandons sweetheart Nell (Eva Marie Saint) for Southern belle Susannah (Elizabeth Taylor), marrying her after claims to be pregnant. John struggles with Susannah's developing mental instability, while their political and regional affiliations cause tension in the lead-in to Civil War. John initially stays neutral, but when Susannah flees home John joins the Union Army to find her.
Based on Ross Lockridge's novel, Raintree County is hopelessly stilted. Millard Kaufman's script has elements of sickly Southern gothic, especially Susannah's traumatic childhood and creepy doll collection. But the psychodrama's buried by melodrama. John's painfully passive, manipulated by Susannah, disengaged from political arguments swirling about him, blathering about a mythical tree. He's a writer who never writes, a hero who never acts. Supporting players like Nigel Patrick's lecherous professor and Lee Marvin's troublemaker struggle for screen time.
Bloated and digressive, Raintree proves more empty than epic. The first hour offers tedious stage setting, devoting more time to the Professor's womanizing than its ostensible hero. The middle section is equally inert, with John trying to uncover Susannah's trauma. Lavish battle scenes (recycled in How the West Was Won) strew the screen with extras and explosions but feel empty; Dmytryk's staging is slack, without stakes or tension. After 182 minutes of nonsense, the movie collapses into an anticlimactic heap.
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, usually a dynamite pairing, flop. Clift makes a thoroughly dull hero, stiff and surly without variation. Some fault may be attributed to Clift's disfiguring accident during production, but any actor would struggle with this character. Taylor, meanwhile, conveys Susannah's decline through fevered overacting. Eva Marie Saint is completely wasted, a token good girl passively accepting John's betrayal, while Rod Taylor periodically appears to be obnoxious.
Raintree County tries to mix Tennessee Williams with Margaret Mitchell, but the combination fails. With limp story, miscast stars and soggy spectacle, it's a Grade A flop.

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