Tuesday, July 01, 2008


This romantic melodrama set during the Civil War is clearly a Gone With the Wind-wannabe, but it never even comes close, lacking sweep, grandeur, and interesting characters. In a small town in Indiana in 1859, Montgomery Clift is graduating from Pardee Academy and has plans to marry childhood sweetheart Eva Marie Saint. Though Clift is looked upon as a catch, he's also looked on as a bit of a misfit who believes in the existence of the mythical Chinese raintree, supposedly planted in the middle of the town swamp. The person who finds it will find the answer to the mystery of life, and Clift really seems to believe that someday he'll find it. One day, Southern belle Elizabeth Taylor arrives in town and sets her cap for Clift. They have a brief affair which ends up in a pregnancy, so Clift marries Taylor. On their honeymoon, she is shocked to find out that Clift is an abolitionist. Complicating this is some bizarre self-hatred on Taylor's part: she believes that her birth mother was her family's black maid. There's also some mystery about a house fire years ago, and, oh yeah, Taylor has a pathological attachment to her doll collection. When the war breaks out, she returns South and Clift joins the Union Army. Years later, he discovers she has gone certifiably mad. He frees her from an asylum and they make a stab at a new life together, but when he runs for Congress, she is convinced that she is holding him back, so she heads off to the swamp to find the raintree.

There is much more going on, and many more actors in supporting roles, including Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor, Agnes Moorehead, Walter Abel, and Tom Drake, but it all feels like an oddly empty three hours. There are visual echoes galore from GONE WITH THE WIND, including a riverboat honeymoon, a ballroom dancing scene, and a ruined Southern mansion, but oddly for a movie about miscegenation and the Civil War, there are virtually no major black characters. Taylor is fine, but Clift seems like an alien who was beamed onto a movie set and is incredibly uncomfortable there. Maybe he was a bit ahead of his time (I could imagine Sean Penn in a remake), or maybe it was the notorious car crash he was in during filming; his jaw was shattered and he had to have major reconstructive surgery. An oddity I can't really recommend. [TCM]

No comments: