The Rain People (1969)
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Critic Reviews for The Rain People
An overlong, brooding film incorporating some excellent photography.
Coppola's fourth feature, a fascinating early road movie made entirely on location with a minimal crew and a constantly evolving script.
As for Coppola and his world, It's difficult to say whether his film is successful or not. That's the beautiful thing about a lot of the new, experimental American directors.
Like its main character, the movie hits the road with no final destination in mind, and the manic inventiveness that sustains the early passages becomes strained and weird by the end.
Audience Reviews for The Rain People
In the John Huston tradition of losers who take the road to find themsemelves, getting in contact with people with more and deeper needs to their pathetic and meaningless existence. Coppola's first mature plunge in filmmaking hits the right chords. He's both sensitive and crude, when needed for the sake of such a heartbreaking story.
"Rebels on the road" films were all the rage in the late '60s, but "The Rain People" adds a twist: The rebel is somebody's wife, and she's driving a station wagon.
Shirley Knight is newly pregnant, and panicking about the responsibilities of settling down. She has so little sense of identity that she often talks about herself in the third person. While her husband is still asleep, she sneaks away with no clear destination in mind. Soon she picks up a hitchhiker with the ironic nickname "Killer" (James Caan, shorn of his trademark curls). Caan is a former college football star who suffered a career-ending head injury during a game. After some time in a menial job on campus, he left school. He has the vacant demeanor of someone with brain damage (he doesn't even remember how to play "Simon Says"), and others casually mislead and take advantage of him.
Knight picks him up, not realizing how alone and helpless he is. He proves harder to unload than expected, partly due to circumstance and partly due to her sympathy. Multiple efforts to secure him a niche fail (the most vivid sequence involves a sleazy poultry farmer whose overstuffed coop might not be allowed on film today), and Caan continues as her sidekick on a trip to nowhere. In the final act, she encounters a small-town highway cop (Robert Duvall) who becomes crucial to the film's climax.
Francis Ford Coppola's direction is solid, but does not mark him as a future giant. Realizing his story is minimal, he is content with a slow pace, lingering on driving footage and incidental behavior. The first four minutes don't even contain dialogue. His boldest choice is inserting various flashback fragments to fill in details from the characters' past lives -- this device works quite well, in a French New Wave mode. Meanwhile, all three central performances are striking. Caan's work is particularly impressive, given that he's limited to such a small emotional range in a role which easily could turn farcical.
Naturally, the presence of the young Coppola, Caan and Duvall is the most pressing reason to see this minor film (and of course, all three worked on "The Godfather" three years later). Another interesting tidbit is that George Lucas is credited as a "production associate," and in fact made a short documentary called "Filmmaker" about the shoot.
My own favorite touch: the roadside stop with a large sign boasting "FREE PICNIC TABLES."
A languid, gently beautiful film that provides a lot of unique insight into over-explored themes. Coppola does fantastic things with cinematography and editing.
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