When 1956 ended and it came time to look back over the year and give out the various motion picture awards, a low moan could be heard from some critics. The American film comedy, it seems, was showing signs of mortal illness. Perhaps the plaints were a little premature, because the very end of the year brought The Rainmaker, which, while not bright enough to dispell all the gloom about the future of comedy, is still a much better than average motion picture.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the film is that for once Hollywood permitted a playwright, N. Richard Nash, to write a screenplay which did no serious damage to his original. Nash has a pleasant story to tell. It concerns a brash, fast-talking confidence man who rides into a drought-stricken prairie town and promises to make rain. And he makes rain, too, but not before teaching a girl on the verge of settling down to becoming an old maid something about the power of faith in dreams. All this, including the symbolism involved, comes dangerously close to banality--but without ever once touching it, because Nash knows when to keep his symbols in the background and let the story speak for itself.
Another cause for encouragement is the acting of Burt Lancaster as Starbuck, the rainmaker. Like many another motion picture actor, Lancaster began to learn his trade only after he had won stardom. His talent was evident as long ago as From Here to Eternity, but now his education is complete. The present film proves that he can deliver a long and involved speech, and that he possesses enough technique to outline a character with wit and skill and economy. His is an admirable job of acting.
In contrast to Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, who plays the incipient old maid, has been around in starring roles for a long time. However, she has largely been content to rely heavily on a few tricks. For instance, she cries well--first her chin begins to tremble, and then the tears come in a flood. She gives several demonstrations of this somewhat limited achievement in the course of the film. Fortunately, though, the character she portrays is well within her range, and the performance is generally creditable, a fact which may probably be due in part to the restraining influence of director Joseph Anthony. Certainly he and everybody else involved have worked together to produce a fine romantic comedy.