The boutique label Twilight Time has added the 1955 CinemaScope production The Rains of Ranchipur to their catalog of limited edition Blu-ray titles. It’s kind of a curious film, featuring some big names of yesteryear—including Lana Turner, Richard Burton, and Fred MacMurray—in an interesting cross between torrid melodrama and disaster film. In fact, the special effects created for the climatic earthquake and flood earned the film an Academy Award nomination. The depiction of catastrophe still holds up surprisingly well.
But before all the mayhem, we’re presented with something of an emotional disaster film. Lord Albert Esketh (Michael Rennie) and his wife Edwina (Turner) are traveling to Ranchipur, a town in India, to purchase a prized show horse. The tart, icy dialogue between the Lord and Lady reveals their marriage to be nothing more than a matter of convenience. Albert was interested in Edwina’s money and Edwina was interested in sharing Albert’s aristocratic status.
Albert has had enough of Edwina’s pampered preening, but the couple makes nice for the esteemed Maharini (Eugenie Leontovich, a Russian actress who sounds more like Bela Lugosi than an Indian royal). The Maharini has a charming private physician, Dr. Rama Safti (Burton, struggling to maintain his dignity while playing “ethnic”), who catches the eye of Edwina. The Maharini regards Dr. Safti as family and wants the spoiled Lady to stay away from him. To his credit, the doctor initially resists Edwina’s advances, but he eventually falls quite hopelessly in love with her.
Meanwhile, Edwina bumps into an old flame, Tom Ransome (MacMurray). Tom was a once-promising engineer, now apparently reduced to status of town drunk (though you wouldn’t know it from his behavior). Tom finds kind of an unlikely kindred spirit in Fern (Joan Caulfield). She hits Tom up for a school tuition loan while trying to inspire him to get off the sauce. She believes in Tom’s ability to redeem himself and truly make his mark. This chance arrives later in the film in an unexpected way. Not only is Tom the most likeable character in Ranchipur, MacMurray makes him the most relatable as well.
The aforementioned earthquake and subsequent flood that strike Ranchipur serve as a physical manifestation of the emotional turmoil surrounding these characters. The natural disaster provides some action and effectively changes the dynamic of the story. Unfortunately it’s not enough to make The Rains of Ranchipur an easy movie to recommend. Director Jean Negulesco keeps the tone appropriately detached. Most of these characters are not easy to warm up to, especially Turner’s bitchy Lady Esketh. It’s hard to believe Albert would’ve ever been interested in her, even for money. Dr. Safti’s adoration seems even less likely. This is one vintage film that seem ripe for a remake (it was itself a remake of 1939’s The Rains Came, the title of Louis Bromfield’s source novel). With a whole mess of tangled emotions and interesting relationships, it would be interesting to see what a modern approach could bring to the material.
Twilight Time offers a very impressive 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer framed at 2.55:1. Color saturation is quite good for a film of this vintage, with the vivid costumes standing out. Most of the film is framed in wide shots and, all things considered, the detail level is suitably high. The source elements weren’t in absolutely perfect shape. There are a few white specs and other very minor anomalies that pop up from time to time. But overall, this is a fine visual presentation of a 57-year-old film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 mix packs a surprisingly robust punch. Dialogue is clear enough to detect subtle ambient changes that suggest when a specific line was taken from a different looping session. Hugo Friedhofer’s lush, Indian-themed score sounds equally strong. The effects during the earthquake sequence are startlingly full-bodied.
Extra features are limited to an isolated score track (presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0), three trailers, and a TV spot. Julie Kirgo contributes a customarily informative essay in the Blu-ray’s booklet. The Rains of Ranchipur is available, while supplies last, exclusively through Screen Archives. Those interested would do well to act sooner rather than later, as Twilight Time only issues 3,000 copies of each of their titles.