Release Date(s)1955 (November 13, 2012)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
The film was titled The Rains of Ranchipur, but that’s to say nothing of the floods, earthquakes, explosions and storms (literally as well as metaphorically speaking) that burst from the screen in the 1955 melodrama. Splashy, colorful and emphasizing its far-away setting, Ranchipur has just received a Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, putting the focus not only on the film but on its sweeping score by the underrated Hugo Friedhofer (The Best Years of Our Lives, An Affair to Remember).
Largely shot in and around Lahore, Pakistan, the film from melodrama specialist Jean Negulesco centers on the haughty Lady Edwina Esketh, played to the hilt by a still-luminous Lana Turner. Lady Edwina and her cuckolded husband Lord Albert (Michael Rennie) have travelled to far-away Ranchipur, India, where he intends to purchase a show horse from the wise, aged Maharini (Eugenie Leontovich). Complications ensue when Edwina meets the noble Dr. Rama Safti, played with quiet distinction by Richard Burton, and a high-stakes game of romance plays out under the Indian sky. The film’s print ads promised that it would “[shatter] all barriers of race and time […and sweep] everything before it in its torrential path!” The Rains of Ranchipur certainly tried to live up to such hyperbolic proclamations.
The casting of Caucasian actors like Burton and Leontovich in Indian roles today may give some viewers pause, but their casting ultimately (and only) succeeds because of the actors’ commitment and essential dignity. It’s all the more impressive considering that the screenplay by Merle Miller (Kings Go Forth) doesn’t steer clear from plot contrivances in grandly romantic fashion. The calculating Edwina (described by her husband as having “all the money in the world but no heart”) wastes no time in seducing Dr. Safti, as they steal away in private and speak of unrequited love. Burton’s unmistakably rich voice lends grace to a role in which he would not have been cast in a more enlightened time, and he meets his match in Turner’s pouty Edwina. Her sultry, breathy tones and his clipped diction heat up Miller’s over-the-top dialogue exchanges.
Subtlety isn’t a word typically associated with director Negulesco, even when speaking of his best films such as Three Coins in the Fountain and Johnny Belinda. Thus, everything about Ranchipur is big, other than the rather well-calibrated performances. Fred MacMurray is a particular standout as Tom Ransome, a local ne’er-do-well with a drinking problem and a girl problem. The girl is his ardent admirer Fern (the winsome Joan Caulfield), who is determined to find his inherent goodness. MacMurray, before The Apartment and My Three Sons, brings his usual likeability to the role which is very much of its time; at one point Fern tells him of her future plans and he asks, “Besides, have you ever seen a lady Ph.D.?” The romantically-green Fern makes a sharp contrast to the chilly Edwina. Turner has one notably histrionic breakdown (in the rain, natch) in which she acquits herself about as well as could be expected.
Negulesco ratchets up the tension in the brisk, 105-minute film whenever Turner and Burton share the screen together, and he’s aided admirably by Hugo Friedhofer’s fine, stirring score. As with all of Twilight Time’s releases, the primary special feature is an isolated score track, showcasing the range – from lilting to rousing, and with more than a touch of the exotic – of his work. (For those interested, the soundtrack has also been released on CD by the Kritzerland label.) Working in tandem, Negulesco and Friedhofer don’t pull any punches in depicting a land of threatening snakes, attacking tigers and smoldering passions. When Tom finally falls for Fern, the music sighs tenderly; when natural disaster strikes, Friedhofer accentuates it.
The climactic disaster sequences justly earned The Rains of Ranchipur an Academy Award nomination for special effects, and no opportunity for destruction is avoided in this CinemaScope extravaganza. Water fills the streets of Ranchipur, waves crash and the Maharani’s lands are all but destroyed, but somehow the viewer feels as if the tumultuous storm that is Edwina has brought it all on. The film’s conclusion is all but inevitable from the first frames, and the premise of two lovers from different worlds is one that has been utilized by Hollywood over and over again right through the present day. But the memorably tense scenes of destruction are still among Ranchipur’s biggest assets. They look splendid in the new 1080p high-definition transfer in the original 2:55:1 aspect ratio. Grain is evident, and there are occasional, minor blemishes, but detail is good and the colors pop as they should.
Audio quality on Twilight Time’s release is also exceptional in DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0. A product of the early days of multi-track stereo in full-length movies, the dialogue in Ranchipur bounces back and forth ostentatiously from channel to channel in synch with the actors’ onscreen movements. This adds a unique component to viewing the film. And needless to say, Friedhofer’s big, bold score is presented to its best advantage. The isolated score is in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. English SDH subtitles are provided.
The only other special features included on the disc are a couple of trailers (one in both black-and-white and color) and a brief TV spot: “It’s raining stars in The Rains of Ranchipur!” It’s those stars, though, who save the unabashed, big-budget, star-filled Hollywood melodrama from its weepiest, most overblown excesses. If lavish spectacle with an exotic flair is your cup of tea, you just might want to get caught in these torrid Rains.
- Joe Marchese