Raintree County (film)

Raintree County

Theatrical poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by David Lewis
Screenplay by Millard Kaufman
Based on Raintree County
1948 novel
by Ross Lockridge, Jr.
Starring Montgomery Clift
Elizabeth Taylor
Eva Marie Saint
Lee Marvin
Rod Taylor
Music by Johnny Green
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by John D. Dunning
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Release dates
  • December 20, 1957 (1957-12-20)
Running time
182 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5,474,000[1]
Box office $9,080,000[1]

Raintree County is a 1957 American Technicolor melodramatic film set during the American Civil War, directed by Edward Dmytryk.[2][3] It stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, and Lee Marvin.

It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Ross Lockridge, Jr.


In 1859, idealist John Wickliff Shawnessey (Montgomery Clift), a resident of Raintree County, Indiana, is distracted from his high school sweetheart Nell Gaither (Eva Marie Saint) by Susanna Drake (Elizabeth Taylor), a rich New Orleans girl. He has a brief and passionate affair with Susanna while she is visiting. Following her return to the South, she comes back to Indiana to tell Shawnessey she is pregnant with his child. John marries her out of honor and duty, leaving Nell heartbroken.

They move south to live with Susanna's family. He learns that Susanna's mother went insane and died in a suspicious fire, along with Susanna's father and a female slave implied as being the father's concubine. Susanna suspects that the slave may have been her biological mother. Gradually Susanna appears to be suffering from mental illness. She tells John that she faked pregnancy to trick him into marriage.

An abolitionist in the South, Shawnessey cannot fit in and they return to Freehaven in Raintree County before the outbreak of the Civil War. John works as a teacher and they have a child, Jimmy, born at the outbreak of the war. In the war's third year, Susanna develops severe paranoia and delusions. She flees Indiana with Jimmy and seeks refuge among her extended family in Georgia.

Shawnessey is determined to find her and recover his son. He enlists in the Union Army in hopes of encountering his wife and child. After fighting in terrible battles, he finds Jimmy at an old plantation and learns that Susanna has been placed in an insane asylum. He is wounded while carrying Jimmy back to Northern lines, and is discharged from the Union Army. Johnny searches for Susanna, finding her kept in terrible conditions at the asylum. He brings her back with him to Raintree County.

After the end of the war and President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Shawnessey considers his future. Nell urges him to run for political office. Recognizing that Nell and John still love each other, Susanna sacrifices herself and deludedly enters the nearby swamp in the middle of the night to find the legendary raintree. Four-year-old Jimmy follows her. The search party eventually finds her body. John and Nell find Jimmy asleep and carry him out of the swamp, failing to see the tall raintree glowing in the sunlight.



The movie was a "passion project" for Dore Schary, then head of production at MGM. Rod Taylor actively campaigned for his role in the film.[4] Raintree County was shot at various locations, including Dunleith and Elms Court antebellum mansions, Windsor Ruins, in Lorman, Mississippi; Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee near the Kentucky border;[5] and two locations in Kentucky, the Liberty Hall Historic Site on Wilkinson Street in Frankfort and settings in and near Danville.

During filming, Montgomery Clift was injured and nearly killed in a serious automobile accident. On the evening of May 12, 1956, feeling tired and suffering from a hangover, he drove into a telephone pole and wrecked his car. He broke his nose, cut his lip, and fractured his jaw in three places, which had to be wired back together by surgery.[6] Although he spent weeks in surgery and recovery, he returned to finish the film. The physical damage to his face was apparent in several scenes filmed after the accident; the left side of his face was partially paralyzed.[7] His performance in the scenes shot after the accident was also markedly different from those shot before; he began to drink heavily and take a concoction of drugs which made his face more haggard and gave his eyes a furtive look, and affected his attitude and posture.[6]

Edward Dmytryk later revealed in his autobiography It's a Hell of a Life but Not a Bad Living that he found "a hundred containers" of every kind of drug and "a beautiful leather case fitted with needles and syringes" in Clift's hotel room and once found him so drunk that his cigarette had burned itself out between his fingers.[6] During filming in Danville, Clift's behavior grew increasingly erratic and bizarre, ordering his steak "blue-rare" (nearly uncooked) and adding masses of butter and pepper and eating it with his fingers, and running naked through the town, which resulted in a policeman being stationed outside his hotel room door to prevent him leaving during the night.[6]

Elizabeth Taylor also had problems during the production with her period clothing, and on one occasion she collapsed from hyperventilation and was treated with Clift's bottle of Demerol and a syringe, delivered by the doctor. She took over a week to also recover from tachycardia following the incident.[6] On set she was often late for filming and preoccupied with her romance with Mike Todd, who hired a commercial airliner to personally deliver some expensive presents to her in Danville.[6]

Raintree County was the first film shot in a 65-millimeter widescreen process originally called MGM Camera 65, later renamed Ultra Panavision 70; it was also used for MGM's 1959 version of Ben Hur. Although MGM expected to release the film in 70mm, the studio ultimately opted not to as the only projectors at the time were being used to screen Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days.[8] Due to the major delays in filming due to the issues with Clift and Taylor and the extravagant sets, the film was the most expensive US-based film in MGM's history, and Dmytryk never directed for MGM again. Though a success at the box office, it did not recoup its cost.[4] In the credits for the film, the author's name is misspelled as Ross Rockridge Jr.


According to MGM records, the film earned $5,830,000 in North America and $3,250,000 internationally. But because of its high cost, the movie recorded a loss of $484,000.[1][9]

The film today is almost universally panned by the critics and as of June 2014 it had a 11% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[10] Most critics dislike the way it was intended as a Gone with the Wind clone and found the film too long and tedious to watch, although some have praised its cinematography and performances. Geoff Andrew of Time Out called the film an "elephantine bore".[11]

Awards and honors

Elizabeth Taylor was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William A. Horning, Urie McCleary, Edwin B. Willis, Hugh Hunt), Best Costume Design and Best Music, Scoring.[12]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Variety film review; October 9, 1957, page 6.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; October 12, 1957, page 162.
  4. 1 2 Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media, 2010 p54
  5. http://usmarshals.warnerbros.com/mainframe.html
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Raintree County". Movies.tvguide.com. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  7. "Clift upsets Hollywood.". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 20 June 1956. p. 46. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  8. See also "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  9. "Raintree County". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  10. "Raintree County". Timeout.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  11. "NY Times: Raintree County". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-23.
  12. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  13. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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