Rainmaker, The: Joseph Anthony’s Version of Popular Play, Starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster

Paramount (Hal Wallis Production)

Joseph Anthony’s The Rainmaker, from a scenario by N. Richard Nash based on his stage play, remains theatrical in its sensibility, but it offers a major role for Katharine Hepburn in her mid-career, playing one of her spinsters.

Bearing thematic similarities to “The Music Man” and “Elmer Gantry,” the film centers on a con man named Starbuck (played by Burt Lancaster), whose appearance in a small-town in the Southwest has an effect on all of its residence, particularly on Lizzie Curry (Hepburn), a tomboyish spinster. Upon arrival, Starbuck claims that he can bring rain to the drought-ravaged place for the meager amount of $100.

Lizzy’s brothers Noah (Lloyd Bridges) and Jim (Earl Holliman) refuse to believe him and continue to taunt her for being a tomboy and an old maid. Anxious to see her married and settled down, they arrange a date with the town’s lawman, File (Wendell Corey).

It takes Starbuck many efforts to persuade Lizzie that she’s feminine, beautiful, and sexy-anything but plain, as she has been told for years by her family and the town’s folks. Needless to say, the story ends with a melodramatic downpour and Starbuck’s departure for the next town and next con, but we are led to believe that he had awakened in Lizzie instincts and feelings that change her self-perception radically.

Nash’s work got a lot of mileage. It actually began as a TV play, then done as stage play, starring Geraldine Page, before being made for the big screen and then as a musical titled “110 in the Shade,” all under Nash’s helm.

Both Hepburn and Lancaster are miscast. Boasting her New England accent and mannered acting, Hepburn is not convincing as a simple, provincial country girl; she’s also way too old (49) for the part and her partners not only look younger but actually are.

It’s also hard to accept the love affair between them, which suffers from lack of credible characterization and lack of chemistry between the thespians’ acting styles.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 2

Actress: Katharine Hepburn
Score (Drama or Comedy): Alex North

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1956, the winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Ingrid Bergman for her comeback performance in “Anastasia,” in a race that also included Carroll Baker in “Baby Doll,” Nancy Kelly in “The Bad Seed,” and Deborah Kerr in the musical “The King and I.”

The Score Award went to Victor Young for “Around the World in 80 Days,” which also won Best Picture and other awards.


Starbuck (Burt Lancaster)
Lizzie Curry (Katharine Hepburn)
File (Wendell Corey)
Noah Curry (Lloyd Bridges)
Jim Curry (Earl Holliman)
H.C. Curry (Cameron Prudhomme
Sheriff Thomas (Wallace Ford)
Snookie (Yvonne Lime)
Belinda (Dottie Bee Baker)
Deputy (Dan White)


Produced by Hal Wallis
Directed by Joseph Anthony
Screenplay: N. Richard Nash, based on his play of the same title.
Camera: Charles Lang.
Editing: Warren Low.
Music: Alex North.
Art direction: Hal Pereira, Walter Tyler.
Costumes: Edith Head
Special Effects: John P. Fulton