Precipageddon is upon us!

The Rains of Ranchipur

It’s raining in Los Angeles and we’re afraid. Rain does that to us, occurring as it does here so infrequently. Our terra firma is too sun-baked to properly absorb precipitation and there is too much concrete; our storm drains are clogged with leaves and fast food detritus and the rain water pools when it comes down, forming lakes at every intersection and making sluiceways (yes, sluiceways) of the gutters. The natural response of Angelenos to rain is to drive very, very fast, cutting yellow lights in the red and not using turn signals. We can only hope this helps. I am high and dry at the moment and thinking of some of my favorite rain scenes in movies because, as film lovers do, when real life intrudes I go to the movies… 

The Public Enemy

Rain seems to be the perfect complement to crime movies, and it has always been so. Think of the bank robbery in Fritz Lang’s YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937), which was repurposed by Max Nosseck in DILLINGER (1945) and referenced — at least I think so — by Jean-Pierre Melville in the opening frames of UN FLIC (1972). I’ll bring up other examples later but one of the best uses of rain as a symbol of redemption or, more literally, a kind of spiritual cleansing is in William Wellman’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). James Cagney uses the cover of a torrential downpour to exact revenge on the rivals who tried to bump him off and who in fact killed his best friend. I can’t say that Cagney’s character knows this is the beginning of the end for him but he has reached, I think we can all agree, that turning point where he no longer cares how much money he can make… he’s just showing up to settle accounts.

seven-samurai

The climactic battle of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) also takes place during a real toad strangler, as a ragtag squadron of mercenary swordsmen put themselves between poor farmers and a small army of rural bandits. It’s a brilliant, beautiful, invigorating, and all together heartbreaking setpiece, with Kurosawa alternating between sustained, traveling shots and quick cuts that cause the viewer to tense up and release, tense up and release, with the ankle-deep mud forming from the downpour serving as a symbol of bloodshed. We tend to remember this battle as being more bloody than it really is.

Blade Runner

The rain never lets up in Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982) but it’s the ending that really sticks in the mind, bringing together protagonist (Harrison Ford) and antagonist (Rutger Hauer) in a moment of unexpected understanding and empathy. I’ve always felt that Hauer’s final speech (“All these moments will be lost…in time… like tears in rain…”) is a little on-the-nose in this moment because the images tell it all. (Am I crazy or does Hauer sort of apologize to the camera/Ford for the preciousness of this line with that dying smile?). I also wish Scott had dialed Vangellis’ score down to zero during this scene because I think the sound of the falling rain is all the accompaniment we need. But, hey, I still love the scene, all my Monday morning quarterbacking notwithstanding.

King of New York

Heartbreak is also to be had in this scene from Abel Ferrara’s KING OF NEW YORK (1990), whose accumulation of tragedy upon tragedy is Shakespearean in its unapologetic excess. (At a question and answer session after the film’s premiere, the first remark from the press was “This film is an abomination…”) Well, anyway. Here, cops David Caruso and Wesley Snipes take on crime czar Christopher Walken’s top gunman Laurence Fishburne as the sky rains punishment upon the prideful.

Nowhere to Hide

Rain plays a pivotal role in a key scene from the 1998 South Korean crime thriller NOWHERE TO HIDE. Director Myeong-se Lee stages an assassination scene midway up Inchon’s 40 Steps as an autumn rain catches the city by surprise, scattering leaves and salarymen in every direction as everybody tries to take cover. Well, not quite everybody. Keeping a sentinel’s eye on the steps is a cool career criminal Chang (Ahn Sung-kee), whose target is a rival drug lord/legitimate businessman who stands under an awning, hoping to wait out the downpour. The target finally makes his move, popping his little umbrella just as Chang steps up with a short sword pulled. Chang slashes viciously and with lightning speed; as the victim reaches to pick up his fallen umbrella he does not even know that he is dying. Meanwhile the rain is pounding down and, best of all, this entire scene is all underscored by the Bee Gees’ “Holiday.” I kid you not. A wonderful, sensual, painterly scene full of moments and pauses and breaths that sets the rest of this relentless film in motion.

Sorcerer

Blasphemous though it may be for a cinephile to admit but I like William Friedkin’s 1977 WAGES OF FEAR (1953) remake SORCERER more than I do the Henri-Georges Clouzot original. Mind you, we’re talking “by degrees” but still, I do prefer it because the seemingly impenetrable, inescapable, and all together unforgiving South American jungle comes so much more to life for me in the remake than it does in the black-and-white Clouzot film. The best scene in SORCERER is when the protagonists — mercenaries recruited to truck nitroglycerin cross country to extinguish an oil rig fire — must cross a river via a dodgy suspension bridge. I don’t want to get all academic and Bosley Crowtherish but this has got to be one of the most, if not the most, ass-clenchingly tense bits of cinematic business in the history of both movies and ass clenching. The scene is staged well enough not to need the addition of inclement weather but the extra layer does add another level to the scene, as if the exhausted, terrified anti-heroes seeking redemption are being punished for thinking “At least it’s not raining.”

Freaks

Nominally a horror film, Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) feels at its end more closely akin to THE PUBLIC ENEMY in the way it uses a rainstorm as a cover for the protagonists to exact an awful revenge on villainess Olga Baclanova. The visual of the sideshow performers, loyal to imperiled dwarf  Hans (Harry Earles), crawling on their bellies — some of them don’t have much more than bellies to crawl on — is an indelible one, evoking a Whitman’s Sampler of emotions in the review, of fear, of pride (they are good, good friends), and of revulsion. Reminded at every turn of how far short they fall of the presumed apex of humanity, the freaks go to ground to settle Baclanova’s hash, looking all the while like the fragile invertebrates who first wriggled out of the primordial brine to establish a shaky sovereignty on dry land. Thanks to my friend Chad Plambeck for reminding me about this one.

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

The skies are overcast above Northfield, Minnesota as the Younger-James gang rides into town to rob the bank in Philip Kaufman’s THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972). Before the first shots are fired, those same skies open up full bore and we know, instinctively, how this day is going to end. This wonderful, often creepy revisionist western isn’t out to change our perception of history so much as our feeling for how people lived, what they thought, how they thought, and how poorly aligned expectation was to result. Today would be a great day to watch any of these movies.

What are your own favorite rain scenes?

19 Responses Precipageddon is upon us!
Posted By LD : February 28, 2014 9:19 pm

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is one of my favorites. Thunder announces the impending storm and with the music sets the atmosphere for the movie.

THE BIG SLEEP is another waterlogged favorite. Once again thunder ahead of the storm and refuge in a bookstore and later Bogart in a rain soaked trench coat and fedora.

REAR WINDOW has a shorter scene with rain but it makes what the neighbor is doing even more curious. He isn’t just taking a stroll because he can’t sleep on a warm summer night. And like the previous two, this film is about murder.

My husband requested that I add two of his favorite films, KEY LARGO and Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN.

Good luck!

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) : February 28, 2014 9:29 pm

Your opening description of your fellow citizen’s reaction to the downpour made me chuckle.

Favourite rain scenes.

The rain-soaked routing of the John Doe rally in “Meet John Doe”. One of Capra’s finest moments.

It is raining when the farmers meet at Joe Starrett’s in “Shane”. The outsider, Shane, senses he is not welcome and voluntarily leaves the shelter of the home.

Posted By Doug : February 28, 2014 11:00 pm

Casting a vote for “The Big Sleep” only as the rain helps set the tone for the picture. Big rain the night he rescues Carmen Sternwood from her poor life choices.
I love a good thundershower and talking about rain right now in the middle of Winter makes me wish all the more for Summer.
Any love for “Shh-The Octopus”?

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 28, 2014 11:05 pm

Oh, LOTSA love for “Shh, The Octopus”!

Posted By george : March 1, 2014 12:36 am

It rains in almost every scene in SEVEN (1995).

Posted By Brian : March 1, 2014 12:53 am

The long nasty crawl through the sewer drain that ends in Tim Robbin’s cleansing moment of freedom in the Shawshank Redemption.

Posted By SergioM : March 1, 2014 2:38 am

I honesty don’t know what’s “blasphemous” about liking Sorcerer. I intensely love that film. It’s absoluely brilliant (and yes I’ve seen Waves of of Fear a few times too) and thank God it’s finally coming out on blu-ray in April

Posted By Jenni : March 1, 2014 7:19 pm

The thunderstorm and downpour that forces John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara to cling to each other as they take shelter under part of an entryway of a broken-down Abbey in The Quiet Man.

Posted By george : March 1, 2014 8:45 pm

Nothing blasphemous about liking SORCERER. I don’t think it’s quite as good as WAGES OF FEAR, but it’s still a worthy film and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it.

Posted By jbryant : March 1, 2014 9:13 pm

What’s that one that has Gene Kelly singing in the rain? :)

I thought of Lana Turner’s freakout while driving in the rain in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

Posted By Richard Brandt : March 1, 2014 9:37 pm

On their mutual opening night, I opted to stand in line for SORCERER rather than STAR WARS.

Posted By SergioM : March 1, 2014 10:13 pm

Screenwriter Josh Olsen on Trailers from Hell said just imagine what films could be like today if Sorcerer had been the big hit movie and Star Wars just came and went with no care caring about it

Posted By george : March 1, 2014 10:50 pm

“Screenwriter Josh Olsen on Trailers from Hell said just imagine what films could be like today if Sorcerer had been the big hit movie and Star Wars just came and went with no care caring about it.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK also came out that summer (1977), and was also buried by the STAR WARS mania.

Imagine if NASHVILLE had been the big hit of summer ’75 instead of JAWS. Or if Paramount had not opened Alexander Payne’s brilliant ELECTION one week before the release of PHANTOM MENACE.

Posted By SergioM : March 2, 2014 12:33 am

Imagine if Richard Brooks’ western Bite the Bullet had been the big hit in the summer of 1975 instead of Jaws. There are so many “imagine if’s”

Posted By george : March 2, 2014 1:13 am

Imagine if HEAVEN’S GATE had been a hit in the fall of 1980! It might have kicked off a whole cycle of Westerns that look like DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.

It’s often forgotten that RAGING BULL was also a box-office flop in the fall of ’80. It found its audience on home video and cable TV. But RAGING BULL doesn’t get blamed for killing the “New Hollywood,” because it was always critically praised, while HEAVEN’S GATE was — at least initially — critically reviled.

And, of course, HEAVEN’S GATE cost considerably more to make.

Posted By LD : March 2, 2014 12:08 pm

Adding to my list another movie about murder, LAURA.

Also THE RAINS CAME (remade as THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR). Prefer the former.

THE HURRICANE and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

Posted By swac44 : March 4, 2014 3:17 pm

I think I love Sorcerer and The Wages of Fear about equally, but how do folks feel about the first English remake, the 1958 Howard W. Koch picture Violent Road starring Brian Keith?

Posted By george : March 6, 2014 6:49 pm

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY has a memorable rain scene: a confrontation between James Garner and Julie Andrews.

Posted By robbushblog : March 14, 2014 3:22 pm

George and Mary Bailey’s wedding night in It’s a Wonderful Life.

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