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Raintree County

At the Astor

By Thomas K. Schwabacher

Raintree County is just another movie, only longer. Not even a Boston premiere featuring a slinky starlet and a brass band can disguise the sad truth that this film is almost completely devoid of either sense or dramatic impact. The characters and the events that happen to them just are not interesting enough to justify the three and a half hours it takes this thing to grind to a weary end.

Based on a novel by Ross Lockridge, Jr., Millard Kaufman's screen play relates the tribulations of a young Indiana school teacher. In the years just preceding the Civil War he deserts his college sweetheart to marry a designing Southern heiress. After war breaks out, she goes insane, crosses the lines with their young son, and ends up in a madhouse. Whereupon our hero hits upon the questionable scheme of enlisting in the Union Army so he can go south to find her. Of course he does, and after some further unlikely accidents it all ends happily enough.

The dialogue which accompanies these events shows a few infrequent flashes of wit, but for the most part vacillates between the dull and the incredible. "The legend of the Raintree is the age-old tale of man's quest for the unattainable.... It is the very tree of life to him who finds it. Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and its paths all lead to peace, to happiness, to the secret of life itself." The actors deserve no little credit for making this sort of twaddle sound much less unlikely on the screen than it looks in print.

After some years away from motion pictures, Montgomery Clift makes a very creditable comeback in the part of the school teacher. His acting is now characterized by the jerky, uncompleted, but strangely effective gestures which distinguished the work of the late James Dean. If the teacher's actions are still not entirely comprehensible, the fault must be laid to the script and not to Clift.

As the college girlfriend, Eva Marie Saint fills what is essentially a small and not overly interesting character with an agreeable kind of sweetness and light. And Elizabeth Taylor is still the most beautiful film actress today, despite the alarming evidence of a double chin. It takes little charity to forgive her occasional deficiencies as an actress.

But the most engaging performance in the film is contributed by the British actor Nigel Patrick. He plays the part of a dishonest college professor in the best English grand manner and delivers his silly lines with appropriate disdain.

Technically, the production displays all the excellence which comes as a matter of course to Hollywood. There is some fine landscape photography filmed in yet another new process, which is in no way distinguishable from Cinemascope. If a few million dollars less had been spent, if an hour had been cut from the first part of the film, and if a literate writer had been hired, MGM might have come up with a tolerably decent movie. But as a rival to Gone With the Wind--which it obviously is supposed to be--Raintree County just will not do.

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