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Early Coppola with sublime cast that most folks never got to see (a pity).
There's some wonderful things going on in this one - Shirley Knight's best
performance (an underrated actress), a road trip in the late 1960's, James
Caan very restrained and moving, Robert Duvall in a part he was born to play
(edgy, lonely, motorcycle cop), and a touching script with F. Coppola behind
If this had been made five years LATER by some nobody, it would have been a smash (so much for timing). Anyway, I recommend this to all people who don't need outer-space explosions and bad mother-in-law jokes or a billion dollar budget to sit for a few hours and watch a story unfold. Give this one a chance if you can find it!
In some scenes in the Rain People, Francis Ford Coppola's precursor to
his hey-day of the seventies, there is the mark of a similar situation
to 1969's Easy Rider, but not exactly in the same reference frame. Here
we have a drama about disconnected people from society, in some ways
alienated by the choices or by limits imposed by one mean or another.
It's one of those rare original dramas where some scenes stand alone as
Even with such a low-string budget and a very freewheeling, so to speak, attitude about filming the movie, Coppola is able to capture everything that needs to be said through these clearly defined characters and the curved, unexpected degrees of one character versus the helplessness of another, or vice versa, or both. And, as one might be inclined seeing as how it is very much about the cutaways of suburban life of the 1960s, it has that escapism of the film mentioned before, but of a more concrete, near timeless quality with the drama and the underlying issues. In a way, if Bergman were on route as a quasi-guerrilla 20-something filmmaker out to get the strange truths of everyday outsiders, this might be it.
But along with all of the very direct and sometimes self-conscious photography (though also with a more documentary approach at times, akin with its indeterminable characters), the actors all fit into place. Shirley Knight, an actress I'm not too familiar with, has a complex, diverging role as a pregnant wife running off in a sort of existentialist conundrum of what life is there to have. There are moments of some awe-inspiring acting by her, and one of my favorites (if not my favorite) is when she is on the telephone calling her husband the first time. Such a tense scene on both ends, and in every small gesture and inflection of a word so much about her is spoken with so little.
It's extraordinary in ways that mirror others in Coppola's films. Then comes in the character of 'killer' played by James Caan. This, too, is a dangerous character to take on, as it is a mix of childish bewilderment and amusement with scarred memories. Think Forrest Gump if he didn't make it past the football and wit. It's one of his best, actually, by being the most minimalist- for a guy who's usually playing tough guys in movies, here's one that also is part of the crux of the story and of Knight's character. Also very good in a supporting role is Robert Duvall as a cop with a rough side and rather checkered past; kind of an early sample of other defected characters he would play later on in his career.
So the characters, and what Coppola risks in having an uneasiness running in them, are really what make up the film, as whatever story there is it is definitely not resolved in the usual way you might think or expect. The last ten or so minutes are like others in Coppola's work, where the specific tragedies on all sides are undercut by the emotional- and psychological- implications this will leave on the principles are amplified to the sublime and sad.
This is, for its time, brave on the part of what is trying to be represented (in both the freedom as well as the flaws and ambiguities) in the subject matter. And the style of the picture adds a fragmented kind of view onto it all with quick flashbacks that are graphic and self-contained in a contrast with the longer shots in some crucial scenes. It's a road movie of its period, but its also got a lot more working than it would under another filmmaker with less chances to take on the nature of these outcast characters. One of the best films of 1969.
Newly-pregnant Knight bolts from husband for non-specific reasons which are
apparently self-related. On the road, she becomes entangled with Caan,
brain-damaged former football star, and Duvall, wacky but abusive cop. The
type of movie that could only have been spawned in the 60's. Worth a look
for its non-formula plot and for early performances by future stars.
Disappointing resolution does not take away too much from rest of flick, which shows an interesting slice of life.
This early Coppola work is overlong and erratic, but it is not devoid of praiseworthy qualities. The cinematography is excellent and the characters are memorable. James Caan is very convincing as the mentally handicapped hitchhiker. Also, because this film was shot on location all over the Eastern U.S., it offers an interesting, authentic look at America in the late 1960's. The title phrase does not have a significant meaning in the overall story, but only comes up during a conversation between the two lead characters (Caan and Shirley Knight). The way Coppola develops the characters by using short, dream-like flashbacks is very clever. In general, this film is not in the same class as Coppola's later work, but it's a solid character-driven story.
Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed this stunningly personal story of a married woman's flight from her husband--and the reality that perhaps the youthful glee and excitement of her younger years are behind her. We learn little about this woman's marriage except that she has been feeling her independence slipping away as of late; she's also recently learned she's pregnant, which has further complicated her heart (she doesn't want to be a complacent wifey, despite the maternal way she speaks to her husband over the phone). She meets two men on her journey: a former college football hero who--after an accident during a game--has been left with permanent brain damage, and a sexy, strutting motorcycle cop who has a great deal of trouble in his own life. The clear, clean landscapes (as photographed by the very talented Wilmer Butler) are astutely realized, as are the characters. Shirley Knight, James Caan, and Robert Duvall each deliver strong, gripping performances, most especially since these are not very likable people in conventional terms. Some scenes (such as Knight's first call home from a pay-phone, or her first night alone with Caan where they play 'Simon Says') are almost too intimate to watch. Coppola toys with reality, turning the jagged memories of his characters into scrapbooks we've been made privy to. He allows scenes to play out, yet the editing is quite nimble and the film is never allowed to get too heavy (there are at least two or three very frisky moments). It's a heady endeavor--so much so that the picture was still being shown at festivals nearly five years later. Some may shun Coppola's unapologetic twisting of events in order to underline the finale with bitter irony, however the forcefulness and drive behind the picture nearly obliterate its shortcomings. *** from ****
Francis Ford Coppola's first 'personal' film, completed and released in 1969, was the last movie he made as a mostly unknown, up and coming director before The Godfather, and is in stark contrast to both that film, and the rest of his uneven career. It's ostensibly a road movie involving a disconnected young woman bored with domestic life, and pregnant with a child she isn't sure she wants, fleeing the trappings her dull marriage and hitting the open road in search of freedom. Along the way she befriends a nice man, an ex-footballer player that suffered brain damage from a traumatic head injury, played in unexpectedly subtle fashion by a young James Caan, and decides to 'help' him, despite becoming frustrated with his simple ways. Her efforts to rid of him always fail, either by guilt or chance, and eventually lead her directly into the hands of an emotionally wounded cop(Robert Duvall), who has ideas of his own. The plot is threadbare, but Coppola does a great job at detailing the emotional life of these characters, and uses editing techniques to relay back story that were not at all common in American films of the time. Shots are simple, yet extraordinarily effective, conveying both the moody desolation of the open highway, and the emptiness of American suburban life, infused with a gentle melancholy provided by the film score. Coppola also deserves credit for addressing the issue of domestic discontent from a woman's point of view in the culturally turbulent 60's. Overall, a fairly low-key film that is not what audiences have come to expect from Coppola, but one that is a minor triumph in its own quiet, unassuming way. 7.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS** Simple movie about simple people who's problems are far
too complex for them to handle.
Natalie aka Sara Ravenna, Shirley Knight, has become overwhelmed with married life and the fact that she's now pregnant is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Taking off from her homes in Long Island New York Natalie has no idea where she's going but hopes to find peace and tranquility somewhere in the heartland of America. It's on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that Natalie picks up hitchhiker Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon, James Cann,who seems as lost and confused as she is. As Natalie, calling herself Sara at the time, soon finds out Jimmie had suffered a serious brain concussion while playing football on his collage team and has been reduced to such a simple minded individual who's so passive that he lets everyone, including later in the movie Natalie, step all over him.
Sympathetic at first Natalie becomes very annoyed at the self pitying Jimmie for not standing up for himself and letting himself be used as a doormat by everyone he comes in contact with in the movie. Not knowing what to do with the child-like Jimmie Natalie finally gets him a Job in far off Nebraska as a cleaning man at the Reptile Jungle pet market owned and run by, Mr. Alfred, Tom Aldrege. Being the both kind and simple-minded person that he is Jimmie lets all the animals out of their cages causing havoc at the pet store and has him fired by his boss Mr. Alfred.
In the meantime Natalie who thought that she was finally through with Jimmie ends up back at the Reptile Jungle when she's given a speeding ticket by traffic cop Gordon, Robert Duvall. It seems that Mr. Alfred is also the acting county judge and is the person that Natalie is to pay her traffic fine to. While all this is happening Gordon-the cop- had developed a strong liking for Natalie and wants to get her in the sack, at his trailer home, the first chance he can. Gordon a widower with a uncontrollable 12 year old daughter Rosalie, Marva Zimmet, needs a mature woman-with lots of lovin'- to make him forget his many social and psychological problems and Natalie is exactly the medicine that the doctor ordered!
***SPOILERS*** Wild and shocking final with Gordon going completely out of his mind and attempting to rape Natalie, who refused his drunken advances, which has Jimmie finally get out of his self-pitying stupor and came to her rescue. There's no happy ending here with Natalie saved from being both manhandled and raped by Gordon but Jimmie, who was bouncing Gordon around like a Ping-Pong ball, ending up dead for all his good and noble efforts.
Jimmy by far was he most tragic and sympathetic person in the entire movie. All Jimmie wanted was a friend to talk to and spend time with and all he ended up getting was the sh*t end of the stick. By everyone even the one person who at first treated him with kindness and understanding Natalie Ravenna! In the end Jimmie even though he was treated like dirt by everyone despite his willingness not to offend even those who stepped all over him came out as the most likable kindest as at the same time heroic person in the entire film.
I have a letter from Ms. Knight, who went to college with my older
sister. In it, she tells of the hardships of making this film. She,
herself, was pregnant--an interesting conjunction with the movie's
plot--and the novice director was unsure, fairly green, and having
great difficulties with all the decisions, logistics, etc. They were on
the move all the time, and it was a very difficult shoot.
The film, however, with a strong debut for James Caan, remains effective and affecting. It's a great showcase for the talent that Ms. Knight has demonstrated her entire career--on television, in movies and on the stage, where she won the Tony for "Kennedy's Children."
This film has aged well.
Shirley Knight plays Sara Ravenna, a Long Island housewife who runs
away from her marriage when she discovers she is pregnant. She plans to
drive into America's heartland and start anew. Along the way she picks
up a friendly hitchhiker (James Caan) who calls himself 'Killer.' Soon
she discovers that the good natured 'Killer' is actually brain damaged,
and by picking him up she has unknowingly taken on a huge
responsibility. The two of them drive all the way to Nebraska, where
Sara gets Killer a job helping out at a roadside reptile farm. It is
here that Sara meets Gordon, a local cop, and soon things go horribly
wrong for everyone.
This is a powerful drama about people disconnected from society, alienated by the choices they make or by the limits imposed on them by others. Even with such a low budget and a very freewheeling attitude, the film is able to capture everything that needs to be said through these clearly defined characters. Shirley Knight has a complex, diverging role and there are moments of some awe-inspiring acting by her. One of my favorites is when she is on the telephone calling her home to her worried husband the first time. It is such a tense scene on both ends, and in every small gesture and inflection of a word, so much about her is spoken with so little. Then comes in the character of 'Killer' played by James Caan. This character is unlike any I've ever seen him play, and he performs wonderfully. It's one of his best performances as he is very restrained and moving.
The way Coppola develops the characters by using short, dream-like flashbacks is very clever, adding a fragmented kind of view onto it all. The quick flashbacks that are graphic and self-contained contrast well with the longer shots in some crucial scenes. Also, because this film was shot on location all over the Eastern U.S., it offers an interesting, authentic look at America in the late 1960's.
I haven't seen many other films starring Ms. Knight, I'm only familiar with her more recent work on television, usually playing a nagging mother in law or a dotty old woman. It was great seeing her so young, beautiful, and so wonderfully subtle in this movie. It's also kind of a shame that James Caan went on to be typecast as the 'tough guy' for the rest of his career, because this film evidenced that he is capable of so much more than that.
On the road, driving aimless westward, New York housewife Natalie
Ravenna (Knight) finds out her unexpected pregnancy and needs some
alone time, so she leaves her asleep husband a note and a breakfast,
then starts her peregrination all by herself.
Coppola's fourth feature and he was 29 when the movie is shot, THE RAIN PEOPLE is an unsung gem prior to THE GODFATHER (1972), using extreme close-ups, mood-reflecting camera-work, Coppola retains a sober and intuitive acumen to guide Natalie on a liberation trip where she battles between her maternal instinct to a former college footballer Jimmy (Caan) and her flirtation with a macho highway patrolman Gordon (Duvall), to an end where an impending crime of passion arrives as a fatalist blow to a woman who is brave enough to go out on a limb, flout social conventions and abides by her true feelings, no matter how fickle they are.
Caan's Jimmy, whose nickname Killer turns out to be rather ironic, first appears as an ingenuous hitchhiker, a suitable object for some uncomplicated dalliance, but in a tantalising segment of playing Simon Says in the motel room, the libidinous foreplay of dominance and obedience hits a sudden swerve when Natalie realises Killer is a simpleton suffering from brain damage during a match, and now is discharged from the college with a compensation of a thousand dollars. Since then, Killer becomes a sweet burden to her, his sweetheart refuses to take him in, he botches the job she finds for him, what can she do with him? She has her own issues to deal with, especially when Gordon comes into her life, she cannot hold the responsibility to take care of Killer anymore, his affection for her can never be reciprocal and the world is too cruel a place for him, he will be eaten alive. The upshot is a bit rash to plunge Killer to the locale of the trailer park, but it strikes home with an emotional upheaval mirrors our own lament of the departed innocence and a pure soul.
The cast is extraordinary, two-times Oscar nominee Shirley Knight imprints an indelible mark with her pyrotechnic rendering and James Caan is never so unassumingly moving, whereas Robert Duvall is virile and menacing, yet, Gordon's own tale-of-woe implies the duplicity of his character, a worldly-wise kind but fatally flawed.
In the form of a frivolous road movie, THE RAIN PEOPLE is an in-depth examination of a woman balking at a life-altering moment, how she has to come to term with the responsibility of bringing up a new life in this world (will she keep the baby? it is an open question, but the ending suggests yes), through her chance-meeting with a child-like Killer and also sharply chastises a morally downgrading society, male-chauvinistic, avaricious and wanting of sympathy. It is a wonderful movie which is criminally underestimated by its time but has no difficulty to pick up new audience, not just as a footnote of Coppola's massively hallowed THE GODFATHER and its sequel.
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