(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriter: Millard Kaufman/based on the novel by Ross Lockridge Jr.; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: John D. Dunning; music: Johnny Green; cast: Montgomery Clift (John Wickliff Shawnessy), Elizabeth Taylor (Susanna Drake), Eva Marie Saint (Nell Gaither), Nigel Patrick (Prof. Jerusalem Webster Stiles), Lee Marvin (Orville “Flash” Perkins), Rod Taylor (Garwood B. Jones), Agnes Moorehead (Ellen Shawnessy), Walter Abel (T.D. Shawnessy), DeForest Kelley (Southern Officer), Jarma Lewis (Barbara Drake), Tom Drake (Bobby Drake), Rhys Williams (Ezra Gray), Myrna Hansen (Lydia Grey) ; Runtime: 168; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Lewis; MGM; 1957)

“At best it’s only mildly interesting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dory Schary, production head at MGM, thought this best-seller 1948 novel by Ross Lockridge Jr. would be his answer to Gone With The Wind. The novel is a long, rambling tale of small-town life in Indiana during the middle of the 19th century. Soon after the book was published Lockridge, at age 33, committed suicide suffering from a long time depression. The chaotic script by Millard Kaufman concerned itself with the unfulfilled hopes and unrealized dreams of a small group of ordinary citizens. The pic is a dreary, overlong, boring epic that looks better than it is. Edward Dmytryk (“Cornered”/”Crossfire”/”The Falcon Strikes Back”) ponderously directed this big-budget romantic epic that cost the studio six million dollars (GWTW cost only five million dollars). At best it’s only mildly interesting, mainly because of its splendid costumes and usage of 70mm cameras–dubbed “Camera 65.” This is the film where star Montgomery Clift fell asleep while driving home at night after a dinner party at the house of Liz Taylor and her then-husband Michael Wilding and hit a telephone pole, causing severe facial and cranial injuries and the need for his jaw to be wired. The fragile actor continued the shoot, when it began again after being shut down for the two months it took him to recover, but with him under great psychological stress, boozing it up and using drugs to help ease the pain (this was the start of his painkiller dependency).

Johnny Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift) has a stern mother (Agnes Moorehead) and a moralist preacher for a father (Walter Abel). At age 20, he graduates at the head of the class and his father expects great things from him. He’s a dreamer transfixed on finding in Raintree County a mythical rain tree, some kind of Holy Grail, which holds the key to life. This legend was told to him by his mentor Professor Stiles (Nigel Patrick), a liberal who is eventually run out of town by the conservatives because he has an affair with one of his students, the wife of Ezra Grey (Rhys Williams). Johnny is thought of as an impractical fool by the locals and especially by Garwood Jones (Rod Taylor) and to a lesser extent by his girlfriend Nell Gaither (Eva Maria Saint). She’s in love with Johnny, but can’t seem to snare him. When a beautiful but vain “Southern belle” visitor, Susanna Drake (Elizabeth Taylor), is in town to settle her family’s real estate matters, she’s attracted to Johnny. After Johnny wins the “fastest man in the county” race on July Fourth, beating “Flash” Perkins (Lee Marvin), she put her hooks into him and leads him to the altar and to her Southern home in New Orleans where the Yankee teacher meets her cartoonish antebellum family that includes brother Bobby Drake (Tom Drake). The abolitionist is repelled by slavery, and is concerned by the increasing evidence of his wife’s mental instability that can be traced to her fire-scarred past. The two are back in Indiana at the onset of the Civil War, and Susanna disappears with their young son. Thinking the only way he’ll have a chance of seeing his son again, Johnny enlists with the Union Army. It mercifully ends somewhere near the mythical tree.

Everyone is rather vaguely portrayed and suffer from being dullards, and are hardly worth investing so much time over. The direction is too stagy, and the soap opera story never catches hold.

elizabeth taylor