Hatful of Rain, A (1957): Zinnemann’s Oscar-Nominated Drug Addiction Drama, Starring Anthony Franciosa and Don Murray

Fred Zinnemann’s A Hatful of Rain, based on the stage play by Michael V. Gazzo, is a gruesome, well acted melodrama about the debilitating and devastating effects of narcotics addiction on one young person and his loving family.

The frank depiction of drug addiction was striking for its time, though it was Otto Preminger’s Man with a Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra as a drug addicted, which preceded Zinnemann’s chronicle by two years, which broke the taboo.

The tale was adapted by Michael V. Gazzo, Alfred Hayes, and Carl Foreman from the play by Gazzo. Foreman was blacklisted at the time of the film’s release, but the Writers Guild of America added his name to the credits in 1998, 14 years after his death.

Genius composer Bernard Herrmann (best known for his work for Hitchcock) composed such a powerful score that 20th Century Fox asked him to rescore his prelude as the original was deemed “too terrifying”.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

A Hatful of Rain
A Hatful of Rain movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The handsome and likeable Don Murray (Oscar nominated for “Bust Stop” in 1955) plays Johnny Pope, a young Korean War vet, who keeps his addiction as secret from his pregnant wife Celia (Eva Marie Saint, Oscar-winner for “On the Waterfront”) and his boorish but doting father (Lloyd Nolan).

At first, Celia thinks that her hubby’s strange and eccentric behavior is a result of having “another woman in his life. Murray’s brother Polo (Anthony Franciosa) is the only one who knows the truth, and Johnny takes advantage of it, constantly asking his elder, more responsible sibling for money to support his nasty habit.

As the addiction gets increasingly worse, Murray becomes dependent on and victimized by a vicious pusher (Henry Silva). Unable to cope with his secretive private life, he confesses to his wife and father that he’s a junkie.

The movie, shot in black-and-white, goes for realism and emotional intensity, without being overly graphic and exploitative.
In its good moments, the film presents a harrowing portrait of what it means for a dope addict, what it costs in money and other ways, in emotional anguish, and in hurt to those around.

In trying to outdo Preminger’s graphic portrayal of drug addiction in his 1955 “Man with the Golden Arm,” starring Frank Sinatra, “A Hatful of Rain” benefited from the more relaxed strictures of the Production Code.

Columbia’s marketing campaign was built around the fact that the picture dealt with still a “taboo” issue, but “Hatful of Rain” is too theatrical and thus not one of strongest pictures of Fred Zinnemann, who in the same decade made the 1953 superlative Oscar-winning “From Here to Eternity,” and the 1959 well acted drama, “The Nun’s Story.”

Oscar Alert:
Anthony Franciosa was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, but the winner was Alec Guinness for David Lean’s epic adventure “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

The other contenders were Marlon Brando in the interracial romance “Sayonara,” Charles Laughton in the court drama, “Witness for the Prosecution,” and Anthony Quinn in George Cukor’s melodrama, “Wild Is the Wind” (which also co-starred Anthony Franciosa).

Cast

Eva Marie Saint as Celia Pope
Don Murray as Johnny Pope
Anthony Franciosa as Polo Pope
Lloyd Nolan as John Pope Sr.
Henry Silva as Mother
William Hickey as Apples

Credits:

Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Buddy Adler
Screenplay by Alfred Hayes, Carl Foreman, Michael V. Gazzo, based on A Hatful of Rain play
by Michael V. Gazzo
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: July 17, 1957

Running time: 109 minutes