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Rich American socialite Lady Edwina Esketh, who obtained her title by marrying English Lord Albert Esketh, travels to Ranchipur where Albert hopes to buy a prize stallion from the Maharani. Theirs is not a happy marriage and after she meets a prominent local doctor, Rama Safti, falls madly in love with him. He too is in love with her much to the Maharani's disapproval as she has great plans for the good doctor. Also living in Ranchipur is Tom Ransome an old friend of Edwina's who perhaps knows too much about her past. When a natural disaster destroys much of Ranchipur, disease follows forcing Safti to choose between treating the sick or being with Edwina, who is also deathly ill. Written by
Lord Esketh, a British aristocrat, and his glamorous American wife, Edwina, are touring India and staying in the city of Ranchipur, where they are guests of the local Maharani. (The action is supposed to be set in India, even though we see a prominently displayed Pakistani flag in an early scene). Their marriage is an unhappy one and each despises the other. Edwina despises her husband because she sees him as weak and cowardly and because he only married her for her money. (She is an independently wealthy heiress). He despises her because he sees her as cold and heartless; we learn that she has been unfaithful to him with a number of different men. While in Ranchipur Edwina meets and has an affair with a young suntanned Welshman in a turban.
Well, actually Richard Burton's character is supposed to be an Indian, Dr Safti, a physician and the adopted son of the Maharani. Today, the idea of a white actor in "brownface" playing an Indian would strike most people as politically incorrect, but was an accepted practice in the fifties, and at least Burton's performance is a lot less insensitive than that given by Peter Sellers in "The Millionairess" from a few years later. (Sellers was also playing an Indian doctor). Watching the film, I wondered if the use of the Christian name "Edwina" was a veiled reference to Edwina Mountbatten, another independently wealthy heiress, married to a British aristocrat, who visited India and was rumoured to have had an affair with an Indian man, in her case the politician Jawaharlal Nehru. I understand, however, that "The Rains of Ranchipur" is a remake of "The Rains Came" from 1939 (which I have never seen), and that the character had the same name both in this film and in the 1937 novel on which it was based. As the Mountbattens did not come to India until 1947, the coincidence was presumably unintentional.
The Edwina-Safti romance is the mainspring of the plot, but for all Edwina's good looks she is so obviously spoilt, selfish and promiscuous that it is difficult to imagine any man, let alone one as intelligent and idealistic as Dr Safti, falling hopelessly in love with her. There is a subplot involving another romance between Tom Ransome, an alcoholic former lover of Edwina and close friend of Safti, and Fern, the daughter of a local missionary, but this arouses little interest.
The acting is generally undistinguished. Burton, as though embarrassed by having been cast in a role to which he was ill-suited, is horribly stilted and wooden, giving by far his worst performance in any film of his which I have seen. The Russian-born Eugenie Leontovich as the Maharani is no more convincing as an Indian than is Burton. Lana Turner as Edwina and Fred MacMurray as Tom were both capable of much better things than this. Probably the best is Joan Caulfield as Fern. The intention seems to have been to contrast Fern's youth and innocence with the cynicism and corruption of the experienced older woman Edwina, so it is perhaps surprising that Caulfield, who at 33 was only a year younger than Turner, was cast in the role, but she is fresh and youthful-looking enough to succeed in making the contrast an effective one.
The best thing about the film is its special effects. Although "The Rains of Ranchipur" is not a "disaster movie" in the sense that the film-makers of the seventies would have understood the term, an earthquake and the subsequent flood after the earthquake destroys a dam play important roles in the story. These scenes are very well done, are still convincingly impressive even in the era of CGI and the main reason why I have given the film an average mark. Unfortunately, there is little else to make the film worth watching today. Special effects apart, it is the sort of dull, turgid and implausible melodrama which typified Hollywood at its worst during the fifties. 5/10
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