When it comes to cinematic kitsch, Judge Bill Gibron thinks this quantified romance is ripe!
Kitsch and political incorrectness in India.
While we all love to complain about remakes, Hollywood has been handpicking through its past for decades. From Cecil B. DeMille more or less revisiting his entire silent career for a larger, more profitable payout to numerous takes on A Star is Born and Love Affair, when Tinseltown grows tired of trying to mine originality, it reverts back to what worked (or sort of worked) in the past. Take The Rains of Ranchipur. Based on a novel by Louis Bromfield and originally made as The Rains Came back in 1939, this 1955 Cinemascope "epic" deals with sizzle, sex, scandal, and the soul-crushing certainty of Mother Earth. It's also manipulative, melodramatic, and features Richard Burton doing his best (or is it "worst") Delhi doctor imitation. All the while, sweet Sweater Girl Lana Turner plays a "heartless vixen" who apparently is hotter than a bowl of phall. Toss in an earthquake, a flood, and Fred MacMurray as a disillusioned drunk and you've got old-school studio sleaze at its most campy and capitulating. And it's fun, fun, fun 'til Jehovah decides to muck things up.
Turner is Lady Esketh, who along with her lame husband Lord Esketh (Michael Rennie, The Day the Earth Stood Still) is in India on the premise of buying a prized show horse. The couple stays with an elderly Maharani (Eugenie Leontovich, Homicidal), and it's clear their marriage is headed for divorce. After reconnecting with a former childhood chum and fling (MacMurray, Double Indemnity), Lady Esketh falls for a kindhearted doctor named Rama Safti (Burton, The Medusa Touch). Initially, the scholarly, internationally-known physician rebuffs her advances, but as with all good souls unfamiliar with the wanton ways of Western women, he can't resist. Lord Esketh soon learns of the relationship and is actually more or less okay with it. Then everyone else turns on the smug strumpet. Naturally, God intervenes in the form of a huge disaster, pushing everyone to the brink of human endurance while guaranteeing that at least one main character will have a massive change of heart. Weeping ensues. Audiences go away satisfied—at least morally speaking.
The Rains of Ranchipur is really nothing more than a bad Harlequin narrative come to life. It's got the ineffectual husband, the harpy whore of a wife, the good natured dupe who falls for the frau, and just enough local color to remind us that everything is happening outside the confines of "cultured" civilization. Toss in a few ancillary actors and you've got a handful of hankies material. It's the perfect formula for seasoned sap expert Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda, Three Coins in the Fountain), his ability to weave manipulative marital ridiculousness into surging soundstage flood waters as effortless as ever. Turner, expertly thrusting her bosom out to provide the unfortunate male audience member some eye candy, is so viciously unlikeable and loathsome here that it's hard to support her adultery. Burton, basically believable as a foreigner, is also a virtual saint. He's so unselfish and devoted that even we feel bad when Lady Esketh makes cow eyes at him. While turgid and boiling all plot pots over, The Rains of Ranchipur is still fun-trashy and tasteless at times, but fun nonetheless. This is how movies were made back in the day and none are more expertly antiquated than this ripe bit of classic cheese.
For the Blu-ray, Twilight Time does an excellent job here. The gorgeous 2.55:1, 1080p AVC encode looks amazing, with minimal age artifacts and eye-popping colors o'plenty. Of course, the new technology does not favor the old kindly—meaning that obvious greenscreen moments and middling miniature work are even more noticeable here. As for the sound, The Rains of Ranchipur had one of the rare multichannel mixes at the time, and this disc recreates it expertly. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track does a great job of serving the lush score's needs while the rest of the ambient noise is handled well. Dialogue can be a bit ditzy (it doesn't always stay front and center), but for the most part, this is a solid sonic presentation. Sadly, the extras underachieve. The only added content is an isolated score (good) and a series of trailers and TV spots (meh).
Rejecting the novel's original downer ending for something a bit more "upbeat," The Rains of Ranchipur would be the kind of movie John Waters would champion back before Divine went to the big plus-size shop in the sky. It may seem like Lana Turner lite, but when you consider the playful, romantic ripeness present and the overall baffling bodice ripping, it's a hoot. And it also proves that, when bereft of ideas, Hollywood will hokum up even the most well-meaning remake.
Not guilty—a two-hanky goof with more cheddar than a English cheese
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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