Returning to the great movie year of 1939, I sat down and watched “The Rains Came,” the Twentieth Century Fox film directed by Clarence Brown and starring Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power and George Brent. It’s a melodramatic disaster film with good special effects of an earthquake and a great flood rampaging through the mythical Indian city of Ranchipur. Loy pays Lady Edwina Esketh, a woman of many romantic affairs who possesses a love of money. Power plays a selfless Indian doctor named Major Rama Safti, while Brent plays a womanizing nobleman named Tom Ransom.
Ransom comes to Ranchipur to paint the Maharani, played by Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya. Known to be a lush, Ransom also causes a few scandals while he uses his considerable skills with women. Ransom also knows Lady Edwina Esketh very well, although they only meet in Ranchipur by chance. It appears their re-acquaintance will ignite long dormant romantic sparks until Major Safti catches Edwina’s eye. Things look to be settling into romantic melodrama of the talkiest form until suddenly the movie literally shakes the audience out of their seats with a terrible earthquake, a burst dam and rampaging flood waters. Lady Esketh, Ransom and Major Safti then must all make major sacrifices in the aftermath of the disaster.
The Rains Came won the 1939 Academy Award for best special effects, a remarkable achievement considering it went up against the Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. The flood, which occurred on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, looks very real as it comes crashing down from above the town. Supposedly, the studio sent crew to India to record some music for the film but didn’t actually film there. There is no second unit footage of India to add authenticity to the film.
Overall, the movie seems a little daring for its time. Lady Esketh obviously fools around right in front of her crashing bore husband Lord Albert Esketh (Nigel Bruce). Ransom only half-heartedly rebuffs the determined and love-stricken daughter (played by Brenda Joyce) of missionaries who seem more interested in hob-knobbing with the rich than saving souls. Redemption for everyone eventually comes, as it must for every sympathetic Hollywood character of the period, but at a steep price.
Tyrone Power plays Major Safti in dark makeup with a thin mustache, a turban and a very American accent. Previously he starred in another Twentieth Century Fox disaster movie called “In Old Chicago,” released in 1937 with Alice Faye and Don Ameche. Power gets battered around by nature but manages to always look good.