The Rain People (1969)

R | 102 mins | Drama | 27 August 1969

Cinematographer:

Wilmer Butler

Editor:

Blackie Malkin

Production Designer:

Leon Ericksen

Production Company:

American Zoetrope
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HISTORY

Writer-director-producer Francis Ford Coppola first approached actress Shirley Knight with the idea for The Rain People at the Cannes Film Festival, according to the 23 Nov 1969 LAT. Coppola had had Knight in mind for the leading role, and surprised her by following up eighteen months later, to let her know that the script was finished. As stated in the 18 Jun 1969 DV, Knight was actually pregnant with her second child while portraying the pregnant “Natalie Ravenna.”
       An item in the 1 Feb 1967 DV listed The Rain People as one of Coppola’s upcoming projects, to be made as part of his current production deal with Warner Bros.—Seven Arts, Inc., along with The Conversation (1974, see entry) and a screen adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter. Casting was underway as of mid-Feb 1968, and an item in the 22 Feb 1968 DV stated that Knight, James Caan, and Rip Torn would co-star, with rehearsals scheduled to begin on 26 Feb 1968. The production budget was listed as $750,000 in the 25 Jun 1969 Var. According to the 21 Oct 1969 LAT review, Warner Bros.—Seven Arts production chief Kenneth Hyman agreed to fund the picture despite knowing only “the wispiest plot outline,” and allowed Coppola complete creative freedom.
       Principal photography began on 2 Apr 1968 in New York, as noted in the 19 Apr 1968 DV and 24 Apr 1968 Var. Throughout the production, which travelled across roughly eighteen states over the course of several months, Coppola employed a ten-person crew, made up ... More Less

Writer-director-producer Francis Ford Coppola first approached actress Shirley Knight with the idea for The Rain People at the Cannes Film Festival, according to the 23 Nov 1969 LAT. Coppola had had Knight in mind for the leading role, and surprised her by following up eighteen months later, to let her know that the script was finished. As stated in the 18 Jun 1969 DV, Knight was actually pregnant with her second child while portraying the pregnant “Natalie Ravenna.”
       An item in the 1 Feb 1967 DV listed The Rain People as one of Coppola’s upcoming projects, to be made as part of his current production deal with Warner Bros.—Seven Arts, Inc., along with The Conversation (1974, see entry) and a screen adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter. Casting was underway as of mid-Feb 1968, and an item in the 22 Feb 1968 DV stated that Knight, James Caan, and Rip Torn would co-star, with rehearsals scheduled to begin on 26 Feb 1968. The production budget was listed as $750,000 in the 25 Jun 1969 Var. According to the 21 Oct 1969 LAT review, Warner Bros.—Seven Arts production chief Kenneth Hyman agreed to fund the picture despite knowing only “the wispiest plot outline,” and allowed Coppola complete creative freedom.
       Principal photography began on 2 Apr 1968 in New York, as noted in the 19 Apr 1968 DV and 24 Apr 1968 Var. Throughout the production, which travelled across roughly eighteen states over the course of several months, Coppola employed a ten-person crew, made up of technicians from New York, Chicago, IL, and Los Angeles, CA, and local hires in various towns and cities. The 25 Jun 1969 Var noted that an exception had been made by the International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (IATSE) to allow such a crew to be devised. Six production vehicles made up the caravan, which followed a largely unplanned route. In driving scenes that showed Shirley Knight behind the wheel, the actress chose which turns to make, with no preset destination. Likewise, although the film was scripted, actors improvised within scenes. Filming sites included areas of Pennsylvania; Winchester, VA; Harmony Falls, WV; Nebraska; and Colorado.
       On 5 Jun 1968, a news brief in DV announced that Rip Torn had dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts, and that Robert Duvall would replace him. Torn had not yet appeared in any scenes; thus, no re-shoots were necessitated.
       Although the 25 Jun 1969 Var claimed the film was shot in three-and-a-half months, James Caan said in a 21 Nov 1969 LAT interview that production lasted five months, during which time he experienced a nervous breakdown due to the arduous nature of the shoot and his difficulty portraying “Jimmie ‘Killer’ Kilgannon.” The actor reportedly reached a point “where he wasn’t thinking, wasn’t using his mind or was not even conscious of acting.” During a weekend-long break, he flew to see a doctor in Los Angeles, and when the film ended, he promptly began psychotherapy.
       John Harkins was listed as a cast member in the 26 Apr 1968 DV. The following month, a 14 May 1968 DV news item noted that, while in Winchester, VA, Coppola tried to cast Barbara Anne Eisenhower, a beauty queen and the granddaughter of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but she declined.
       In an interview published in the 27 Nov 1968 DV, Coppola claimed to have devised or innovated several pieces of equipment on the shoot, including “a new blimp, [a] new 1,000-ft. magazine for his Éclair cameras and [a] new quartz light” as well as a new lighting tool designed “to work with umbrella reflectors” in order to “adequately illuminate an entire room.”
       The rough cut had a running time of four hours. In the 25 Jun 1969 Var, the film’s soundtrack was described as problematic, partly because the picture was mixed at 100% volume at a small studio facility Coppola had recently established in San Francisco, CA. Unbeknownst to him, the industry standard was to mix films at 50% volume “and then compensate in the transfer.” Thus, when the soundtrack was sent to Los Angeles for final prints, it was accidentally augmented to 200% volume. Some intentional problems were also mentioned, such as loud airplane and toilet flushing noises, which Coppola had purposely recorded at a level that would mimic real-life noise interruptions. Coppola explained that he shot most of the picture with a zoom lens because he “saw it as a foreground movie – the relationship between two characters.” He also noted that since he was “doing so much with sound,” he wanted the visuals to have a singular focus and be clearly linked to the soundtrack.
       On 29 Mar 1969, a preview screening was set to take place at the Media Centre in Houston, TX, with Coppola in attendance as part of a “Visiting Directors Series.” Soon after, the film was chosen as the opening-night attraction of the Warner Bros.—Seven Arts International Film Festival in Freeport, Bahamas, scheduled to begin on 15 Jun 1969. Also in Jun 1969, the picture won the first prize Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain, the 25 Jun 1969 DV noted. Theatrical release took place at the Trans-Lux East Theatre in New York City on 27 Aug 1969, and at the Picwood Theatre in Los Angeles on 22 Oct 1969.
       Critical reception was mixed. While the 18 Jun 1969 DV review called The Rain People “overlong” and “brooding,” the 28 Aug 1969 NYT praised it as “a relentlessly good-looking, accurate-feeling movie without the patronizing paranoia toward the American heartland…that is so much in fashion these days.” Actress Shirley Knight expressed disapproval with the final film in the 23 Nov 1969 LAT, stating her opinion that Coppola had not accomplished what he had set out to do, and instead had shifted the focus of the film, mid-way through, from “human reactions and relationships” to plot machinations. Knight partly blamed the failure on Coppola’s tendency to surround himself with “a lot of people who continually told him that he was a genius.” As noted in the 25 Jun 1969 Var, the crew contained several of Coppola’s friends from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he had gone to graduate school several years earlier.
       The film was listed in the 4 Jan 1970 LAT as one of film critic Charles Champlin’s top twenty movies of the year, and James Caan received an Actor of the Year award from Duke University’s drama department, as stated in the 23 Jan 1970 LAT.
       The 7 Sep 1969 LAT mentioned Coppola’s concerns that he might not be able to do another risky film like The Rain People if it performed poorly at the box office. Within four weeks of release, a 29 Oct 1969 Var box-office chart listed the cumulative domestic gross in select markets as $163,929. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Feb 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1968
p. 14.
Daily Variety
26 Apr 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
14 May 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1968
p. 8.
Daily Variety
27 Nov 1968
p. 1, 16.
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Jun 1969
p. 6.
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1969
p. 3.
Daily Variety
25 Jun 1969
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
20 Aug 1969
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
26 Feb 1969
Section C, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
7 Sep 1969
Section Q, p. 32.
Los Angeles Times
21 Nov 1969
Section D, p. 1, 20.
Los Angeles Times
23 Nov 1969
Section A, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jan 1970
Section P, p. 1, 16.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1970
Section E, p. 10.
New York Times
28 Aug 1969
p. 46.
Variety
14 Feb 1968
p. 66.
Variety
24 Apr 1968
p. 22.
Variety
12 Mar 1969
p. 12.
Variety
25 Jun 1969
p. 3, 29.
Variety
29 Oct 1969
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOUND
Sd montage
PRODUCTION MISC
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
Participating in production
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 August 1969
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 27 Aug 1969; Los Angeles opening: 22 Oct 1969
Production Date:
2 Apr--late Jul or early Aug 1968
Copyright Claimant:
American Zoetrope
Copyright Date:
1 October 1969
Copyright Number:
LP37990
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22121
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Long Island, New York, pregnant housewife Natalie Ravenna deserts her husband. While driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike she picks up former college athlete Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon. Touched by the revelation that the young man has suffered brain damage during a football game, the housewife drives the athlete to West Virginia, where he has been promised employment by the father of his former girl friend. The family, however, is repelled by Kilgannon, and Natalie persuades him to accompany her to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she tries unsuccessfully to drop him off. In Nebraska she places the youth as a handyman at a reptile zoo. Speeding from the town she is apprehended by widowed motorcycle policeman Gordon and subsequently fined by Justice of the Peace Alfred, Kilgannon's treacherous employer. When the athlete releases abused animals from their cages, Alfred fires Kilgannon, exacting $800 from the young man's $1,000 savings. As Gordon entertains Natalie in his mobile home, the couple is observed by the athlete and the policeman's adolescent daughter Rosalie. When the officer attempts to make love to the housewife he is assaulted by Kilgannon. Alarmed, Rosalie shoots and kills the ... +


In Long Island, New York, pregnant housewife Natalie Ravenna deserts her husband. While driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike she picks up former college athlete Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon. Touched by the revelation that the young man has suffered brain damage during a football game, the housewife drives the athlete to West Virginia, where he has been promised employment by the father of his former girl friend. The family, however, is repelled by Kilgannon, and Natalie persuades him to accompany her to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she tries unsuccessfully to drop him off. In Nebraska she places the youth as a handyman at a reptile zoo. Speeding from the town she is apprehended by widowed motorcycle policeman Gordon and subsequently fined by Justice of the Peace Alfred, Kilgannon's treacherous employer. When the athlete releases abused animals from their cages, Alfred fires Kilgannon, exacting $800 from the young man's $1,000 savings. As Gordon entertains Natalie in his mobile home, the couple is observed by the athlete and the policeman's adolescent daughter Rosalie. When the officer attempts to make love to the housewife he is assaulted by Kilgannon. Alarmed, Rosalie shoots and kills the youth. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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