Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Raintree County" a personal look at a almost Civil War classic

Raintree County (1957) is not a good movie. It was a huge bomb. For starters, it was trying to rival Gone with the Wind by attempting to be the greatest Civil War romance movie ever made (EPIC FAIL!).

At the time it also held the record for being the most expense movie ever made which MGM bragged about during it's production. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake, a overly dramatic Southern Belle from New Orleans who manipulates Northern poet John Shawnessey (Montgomery Clift) into marrying her and leaves behind is true love Nell (Eva Maria Saint). The rest of the film is North vs South and John trying to figure out Susanna's past (SPOILER ALERT: She is nuts!) The rest of the story is a love triangle between Susanna, John, and Nell which sounds a little like another big budget Civil War romance from about 20 years before this one, doesn't it? :)
I do have a special place in my heart for this film because my grandfather was an extra in it and half of it was shot in my home state of Kentucky. The other half was shot in Natchez, Mississippi. I have been to some of the locations where it was shot. Including the Rhodes House in Danville, KY. I could not find a picture of it but it is Eva Marie Saint's house in the movie. I have also been to the Liberty Hall historic site in Danville which served as another location in the film.
The historic town set is also at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville. You can actually walk through the set which has pretty much turned into a antique mall and something to do while you wait for plays to start.

All of these locations are easily recognizable in the film.
My grandad was back from the Korean War and he needed money and having been in some plays in college he was cast in the film as a Union solider who gets shot. He has told me many stories about being in the film....
The first thing my grandad told me about this movie was that he was shocked at how time consuming making a movie is. He also said that he watched Lee Marvin and Montgomery Clift's do 27 takes of a scene where Lee Marvin slams a door in Montgomery Clift's face. The stars and director of the film stayed at the historic Old Crow Inn while filming in Danville which I think was also used as a location in the film.

There was also a night when Montgomery Clift, Lee Marvin, and Rod Taylor (who co-stars) got really drunk and walked down the road naked. I love it! He said that Eva Maria Saint was very nice and talked to him for awhile one day between takes. Between shots another day, Montgomery Clift was standing above the set on a ladder dumped a bucket of water on Elizabeth Taylor. I am sure she was not pleased. He saw Elizabeth Taylor a few times and said that she was very beautiful but extremely short.
During a shooting break is when Montgomery Clift had the car wreck while leaving Elizabeth Taylor's house which left half of his face paralyzed and caused some of his teeth to get lodged in his throat. Elizabeth Taylor heard the car wreck and promptly pulled the teeth out of this throat. What a good friend!

Sadly, my grandad does not have any pictures of his experience. He likes to talk about it a lot which is good because I always love to hear his stories.
While this movie is not a great movie, the plot is a little ridiculous, and in some scenes it's a little cheesy. It has great location shots, wonderful costumes, and all of the actors have a great Southern accents (I know because I have one). I am pretty sure this movie is out of print and very hard to come across but occasionally it will show on Turner Classic Movies. It's no Gone with the Wind but it is worth the watch!

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