Rain People, The (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 14, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
Rain People, The (Blu-ray Review)


Francis Ford Coppola

Release Date(s)

1969 (May 7, 2024)


American Zoetrope/Warner Bros.-Seven-Arts (Warner Archive Collection)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: F

The Rain People (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


The Rain People is a film about disillusionment, despair and a search for freedom. It focuses on a young woman bored with domestic life who embarks on a road trip to give herself breathing room and time to think about the future. Without a specific destination, she sets out to make sense of her own conflicted feelings about marriage and her role in life.

Natalie Ravenna (Shirley Knight, Endless Love) wakes up early one morning in her Long Island home next to sleeping husband Vinny (Robert Modica, Love Story), gets into the family station wagon, and heads West. She doesn’t know where she’s going. She does know that she’s feeling her independence slip away. She has just learned that she’s pregnant, which further complicates her feelings. She doesn’t know if she wants to fall into a cookie cutter version of complacent wife and mother. She doesn’t know if she wants the responsibilities of parenthood.

We know little about Natalie other than her desire to remove herself, at least temporarily, maybe permanently, from the life she’s living. Her husband is seen only in that early scene of him fast asleep in the pre-dawn darkness and in a few quick flashbacks. We hear him in brief when Natalie calls him from public phones. These conversations convince us that he’s anything but a monster, which adds more complexity to her motivation to secretly bolt.

Early in her journey she picks up a hitchhiker, young former football player Jimmy Kilgannon (James Caan, Thief), for whom she can’t help feeling a humanitarian responsibility that she tries desperately to resist. Later she has a run-in with a cop (Robert Duvall, The Great Santini) who stops her for speeding and takes a romantic interest in her. The runaway wife, the cop, and the hitchhiker ultimately connect in an unsettling climax.

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now), The Rain People is the personal story of a pregnant married woman’s realization that the freedom of her younger years is behind her. Shirley Knight is excellent as the conflicted Natalie. Though Natalie’s sudden “escape” seems completely self-centered, Knight manages to elicit empathy for her as her motivations emerge. Natalie’s relationship with Jimmy is reminiscent of the bond between George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men. In many ways Jimmy is childlike, unable to process situations and others’ motivations, making him easy prey for those who would take unfair advantage of him. Natalie’s sympathy for the lost soul impels her to look out for him while her dread of responsibility leads her to try several times to break off their connection, yet she’s always drawn back.

Knight must fill in what the screenplay doesn’t spell out, and she does this effectively. We first expect there will be some big revelation as to why she’s run off, but no such revelation occurs. It’s left to Knight to express general despair and she accomplishes this through expressions and reactions. In one long, uninterrupted take, Natalie has a phone conversation with husband Vinny and tries simultaneously to let him know she’s OK and to reckon with her reasons for leaving. Rather than hang up after speaking her piece, she stays on the line, listening to her husband’s protests and entreaties to come home while attempting to explain herself. This is a solid piece of acting filled with emotion and one of the best dramatic moments of the film.

James Caan, three years before taking on the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, is excellent as Jimmy. Natalie regards him at first as a casual flirtation, an object for some uncomplicated fooling around, but in a scene in which he and Natalie play Simon Says in a motel room, a scene of foreplay turns into Natalie’s realization that Jimmy suffered brain damage during a football game and was left to fend for himself with a meager compensation of a thousand dollars. From that point Jimmy becomes a gentle burden to her as she attempts to reunite him with his girlfriend, get him a job, and protect him from human predators. Like Lenny in the Steinbeck novel, Jimmy is in many ways helpless in navigating the world and Natalie, like George, becomes his guide. With an expression that combines childishness, dependence, and trust, Caan gives Jimmy heart. Jimmy is the polar opposite of rage-infused Sonny, a testament to Caan’s dramatic range. He totally inhabits the character of Jimmy.

Duvall’s cop, Gordon, is a domineering Lothario who uses his role as police officer to wield his power to eventually strike up a romantic relationship with a not entirely unwilling Natalie. He’s overbearing and prone to anger. Rather than a caricature of a macho jerk, Gordon has his own tragic backstory that makes him relatable.

That’s what makes The Rain People so satisfying. The script takes an odd premise and introduces three very different, but well-defined characters. We believe these people; they never appear to be convenient plot markers. The film’s pace is deliberate but never seems sluggish, since there are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. Coppola incorporates brief flashbacks periodically showing memories of situations the characters are describing. The film has a haunting quality at times, adding a poetic touch that enhances the drama.

The Rain People was shot by director of photography Bill Butler on 35 mm film with spherical lenses, and presented tin the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. On the Blu-ray, clarity and contrast are very good, with details well delineated in motel decor, Gordon’s cop uniform, Jimmy’s bulky clothing, and Natalie’s station wagon. Night scenes retain detail. The color palette is varied but tends toward earthy hues.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear throughout. Ambient noise is heard when Natalie is talking to her husband on public phones. Sound effects include motorcycle engines, bodies being pummeling during a fight, a melee in Gordon’s trailer, and a gun shot. Ronald Stein’s score is often wistful as it accompanies Natalie’s journey.

There are no bonus materials on the Blu-ray release from the Warner Archive Collection.

The Rain People did not do well in its initial release but it definitely put Francis Ford Coppola on the cinematic map. His career would have peaks and valleys through the years, but he would never again create such a personal film. Shirley Knight gives one of her best screen performances. It’s a pleasure to watch a film that deals with real people.

- Dennis Seuling