Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE RAINMAKER – Alex North


November 8, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Hal B. Wallis took notice of the success of “The Rainmaker” play by N. Richard Nash, which had a 125-performance run on Broadway. He believed that its story would translate well to the big screen and so entered a bidding war with RKO Pictures in which he outbid them and secured the film rights for $300,000. Paramount Pictures agreed to finance and distribute the film, and N. Richard Nash was hired to adapt his play. Joseph Anthony was tasked with directing and a stellar cast was assembled, which included; Burt Lancaster as Bill Starbuck, Katherine Hepburn as Lizzie Curry, Wendell Corey as Deputy Sheriff J. S. File, Lloyd Bridges as Noah Curry, Cameron Prud’Homme as patriarch H.C. “Pop” Curry, and Earl Holliman as Jim Curry. Hepburn, who was forty-nine, was terribly miscast as the young Curry daughter Lizzie who was supposed to be in her late twenties. Despite this, she turned in a stellar performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination.

The story is set during the Depression era in the Mid-west farming region of America and follows the travels of Bill Starbuck, a charismatic, swindling rainmaker who has the ignominy of being chased out of every town he visits. He enters the Kansas town of Three Point and by chance comes across the Curry clan whose spinster daughter Lizzie suffers unrequited love from Sheriff File. The Curry’s are desperate as their crops are failing, and their cattle in peril from an oppressive unrelenting drought. Starbuck sees opportunity to con some money and offers to bring rain for $100. The Curry’s are suspicious but desperate, so they agree. What unfolds is truly ridiculous as each of the men have to perform truly inane tasks. Yet Starbuck’s interactions with Lizzie is fateful with both himself and her experiencing an epiphany, which transforms her life. Profits cannot be determined as there is no budget data available. The ultimately film earned $2.1 million. It also secured two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Film Score.

Producer Hal B. Wallis was impressed by Alex North’s score to his previous film “The Rose Tattoo” (1955) and brought him on board to score the film. North understood that he would have to speak to the film’s two narratives; the first involving Lizzie, who feels she is plain, and destined to end up an old maid, and the second involving Starbuck, who is a conman, swindler, and always on the run, one step ahead of the law. Their fateful meeting is transformational, with each experiencing a life-changing epiphany. He also understood that the story takes place in rural small-town Kansas where farming and ranching are a way of life. His music would have to speak to this, and express the requisite cultural sensibilities.

To support his soundscape, North composed three primary themes; Starbuck’s Theme has a duality of expression. When he is genuine and out of his conman persona it offers a warm, comforting and at times waltz-like construct by heartfelt strings. Yet when he is the trickster, it offers a frenetic construct propelled by zesty pizzicato strings, and animated by chattering woodwinds, snare drums and horns energico. The Love Theme is borne by sumptuous strings full of yearning. We discern an undercurrent of sadness as Lizzie feels she is plain and not desirable to men. As such, her theme is full of longing and speaks to what her heart aspires. The Curry Family Theme is carried by oboe delicato, comforting strings tenero, and warm French horns, which speak to their loving familial bond. In the review I adjusted cue order as the album was not sequenced to film chronology. Scenes coded (*) contain music not found on the album.

We open with the Paramount Studio and Vista Vision logos, which are supported by the energetic Main Theme. We segue into the film proper, which is unscored, where we see the charismatic Starbuck selling his “Tornado Rods”, which he purports diverts tornados away from your home. He gifts one to a little girl Belinda, and then after selling several is recognized by the sheriff who shouts “Are you Starbuck?”. He moves in to arrest him and we segue into the “Prologue” a wonderful score highlight, which supports a daring escape by Starbuck from the sheriff and his deputies. An ostinato of alarm ushers in at 0:08 Starbuck’s Trickster Theme, a mischievous construct by zesty pizzicato strings, and animated by chattering woodwinds, snare drums and horns energico. The frenetic music propels his escape through a trap door on his wagon, where he flees to safety. The crowd disperses and the sheriff’s search party run-off in the wrong direction, which allows Starbuck to sheepishly return at 0:58 carried contritely by woodwinds and prancing pizzicato strings as he runs to his deserted wagon and bids a fond farewell to the little girl Belinda. At 1:27 he drives his wagon out of town and as we see him traversing the vast plains of Kansas the roll of the opening credits commences as white script. North graces us with perhaps the score’s warmest and most comforting exposition of Curry Family Theme.

“Arrival In Three Point” (*) reveals Starbucks arrival as he follows source dance music to a fund raiser for drought relief. He stops and watches Snookie Maguire flirting with Jim Curry with amusement as they drive off for a test run of her new bright red roadster. Starbuck is very observant and takes in the town. Next, H.C., Noah and Jimmy all greet Lizzie’s return at the train station. As the Curry’s drive home, warm strings gentile softly carries their drive, arrival and entry into their home. “The Interrogation” (*) reveals the men interrogating her regarding her stay at Uncle Ned’s, who has six sons, three of marrying age. It is clear she feels she is an ugly duckling and North supports with strings tristi. She keeps a stiff upper lip, but within the notes is a palpable yearning. We close with a light and happy Family Theme as everyone says good night and turns in for the night. Oboe delicato, comforting strings tenero, and warm French horns speak to their loving bond.

“The Desolate Plains” (*) opens with grand fanfare Americana as we gaze at the vast Kansan plains. Yet the horns sour and become dissonant, joined by trilling woodwinds, and swirling strings of pain as the camera pans left and we begin to see parched fields strewn with dead cows. Pop Curry and his two sons are deeply concerned as they have lost 12 more steers here and 62 in the gully. “Starbuck Arrives” (*) offers strings grave and woodwinds of alarm, which announce the sight of Starbuck’s wagon arriving. As the men introduce themselves warm strings and innocuous woodwinds play under the dialogue as Starbuck plants a seed in the Curry’s mind that he may have a solution to aid them. Yet he departs before they can inquire. In “Matchmaking” (*) Pop over breakfast tries to sell Lizzie on his plan to fix her up with Sheriff File. She will not have any of it and announces to all what she aspires for in a man. We are graced with a heartfelt, aspirational rendering of the Love Theme by oboe delicato, kindred woodwinds and soft flowing strings. She walks out flustered, yet turns about and declares that she has decided to give it a shot, supported by an aching solo violin, from which bursts fluttering buoyant woodwinds of hope.

In “Sheriff Talk” (*) File’s boss Sheriff Thomas tries talking him into getting a dog to no avail. As he departs comic woodwinds and horns sardonica make light of File as he stretches and tears his shirt. Up street the Curry’s arrive and a clearly smitten Snookie moves in right away on Jimmy carried by flirtatious woodwinds and yearning strings d’amore. Yet he frustrates her desires as they depart for a meeting with Sheriff File. “Tough Talk” (*) reveals the Curry family’s attempt to have File over to dinner has failed, with him decking Jimmy for being flippant. The sons depart but H.C.’s parting words sear as he calls File out for his false narrative that he is a widower (his wife in reality left him and they divorced), and that it is more than his shirt that needs mending. As H.C. rides off, plaintive stings and woodwinds speak to File’s loneliness. “Bad News” (*) reveals the Curry’s riding home carried by the warm strings of the Family Theme. Lizzie asks about the time File is coming, and Noah deflects hat they did not set a time. The theme’s gentility carries his entry into the house where we see an immaculately set table, lemon cake in the oven, and Lizzie changing into her finest dress. Lizzie comes down looking resplendent in a yellow and lace dress, turns on the music box, and kisses the men with giddy happiness. Yet she discerns by their looks that File is not coming, and with a crushed heart, turns off the music box.

“Starbuck’s Story” offers a truly brilliant and masterpiece cue. North conceives a foreboding composition full of darkness and dissonance, an eerie, alluring, and seductive misterioso, which juxtaposes the bright, charismatic and ebullient soliloquy by Starbuck. His music reveals what Starbuck really is when you strip away the charismatic veneer; a liar, an unscrupulous conman, and shameless swindler. It opens darkly with bass grave and violins misterioso as the door slams open, which startles them as Starbuck stands at the threshold. Starbucks’s charismatic salesman soliloquy and story-telling is truly amazing as he pitches himself as a rainmaker for hire at a price of $100. Music after 0:16, which was intended to support Starbuck’s sales pitch was dialed out of the film. It offers waves of dark low register strings grave with shimmering glockenspiel strikes misterioso, which usher in an eerie, formless, ever shifting restless sea of dissonant strings. At 1:43 his alluring theme rises from the depths on portentous strings, dissonant horns, and bassoon grave, alight with metallic accents as he slowly tries to ensnare H.C. At 3:40 refulgent violins shimmer as he sees H.C. wavering. At 4:03 we erupt on a crescendo dramatico, which ushers in a solo violin seducenti that dances over alluring kindred contrapuntal strings. We erupt again at 4:58 as Starbuck ensnares H.C. in his lying web of deceit. H.C. knows he is a conman and liar, yet takes the deal never the less over the strong objections of Lizzie. We close with the solo violin seducenti that dances over alluring kindred contrapuntal strings as Lizzie is aghast as her family falls for this trickster. “Wet Socks” concludes the previous scene with an ebullient Starbuck’s Theme as he sits down and invites himself to dinner! At 0:09 we shift to the sheriff’s office where Sheriff Thomas enters and finds File hanging his wet socks on an indoors clothes line. Newman pokes fun from Thomas’ perspective with a commentary by sardonic horns and pathetic strings. At 0:34 he convinces File to give the Curry’s a phone call and commit to the dinner date. North supports with a folksy Love Theme by violins romantico, which at 0:57 transforms to a danza d’amore full of yearning. He begins to call, but to Thomas’ dismay he hangs up.

“Starbuck and Lizzie” (*) offers another masterpiece cue where the confluence of North’s music and Hepburn and Lancaster’s acting is astounding! It reveals the men dispatched to do pre-rain chores for Starbuck, which affords him time alone with Lizzie. He perceives her vulnerabilities as a buttoned up, unconfident spinster and she sees through him a lying conman and a fake. Strings sinister support her opening salvo that he is playing them for fools. He moves closer and she begins fidgeting, clearly uncomfortable. Slowly strings sour and become dissonant as he probes and exposes that she was stood up tonight. She tries to flee, but he grabs her and asks why she doesn’t like him. North sow swelling tension and anger as she reveals she is mad at how he barged in and took advantage of her family. When she calls him a liar and a fake, she strikes a nerve and he grabs her demanding to know how she knows this. The music shifts to being aggrieved, descending into pain as he relates the hurt and sadness of his childhood. A misterioso rises up as he relates his first rainmaking, when he finally gained acceptance. A crescendo of anger swells as she runs up the stairs and yells; “I don’t believe it!” She flees to her bedroom, but he follows, calling out he fears, and of how she is afraid of life. North sow a tortured dissonance as his words cut deep, eliciting her rage. She again calls him a fake, and he returns with a devastating rejoinder when he says that she does believe in herself, or that she is even a woman. He storms out and strings of devastation erupt as she reels from his words. She is distraught, frantic and a bleak solo violin cries out for her pain. The solo violin full of pain carries Starbuck back to his wagon where the hapless Jimmy dutifully bangs a rain calling drum. The music descends into angry dissonance as Starbuck stops Jimmy and rails that Lizzie believes he is making them out to be jackasses. We close on a grieving solo violin and plaintive woodwinds as Jimmy resumes beating the drum, as he believes in Starbuck.

“Tasks Completed” (*) reveals the curry’s completing Starbuck’s tasks to bring rain; Jimmy beating a drum, Pop painting a white arrow on the ground, and Noah tying the back legs of a mule together. Snookie phones for Jimmy, but Noah hangs up, which angers Jimmy who storms up to his room. North supports the scene with a plaintive statement of the Family Theme, which becomes aggrieved as Noah storms out, frustrated at Jimmy, how Pop runs the house, and Lizzie’s situation. “The Vamp” reveals her bearing her heart to Pop regarding her state of affairs and Starbuck’s criticism. A plaintive flute meanders with a retinue of aching strings, shifting at 1:26 to a cello affanato and then violin as she questions her womanhood. She wonders if she needs to be more like Lily Ann Beasley (the town vamp), as she knows how to “get along”. The music becomes playful and fanciful as she prances about reimagining herself. As she rolls about the floor giggling File arrives, knocks on the door, and we close on a “oops” piano strike.

We segue into “The Gentleman Caller” where we see Pop leave Lizzie and File alone. North supports his tenseness and Lizzie’s discomfort with an awkward rendering of the Love Theme when File declares the real reason, he has come by to visit. The music eventually settles in to a delightful danza romantico for an extended exposition as she opens up to him. In “File Storms Out” (*) Lizzie comes down too hard and critical when File opens up on his divorce. She realizes her error, tries to correct it, but makes it worse flittering and sashaying about nervously, babbling and spouting nonsense. North supports with a silly, comedic rendering of the Love Theme as File storms out flummoxed. “Noah’s Rage” (*) offers one of the score’s most poignant highlights. It reveals him blaming Pop for lying to Lizzie that she is smart and beautiful. Jimmy is pummeled by Noah in a fight, he storms out, and Starbuck comes to her defense. Music enters as Noah tells Lizzie that she is going to end up an old maid. An aching and plaintive extended statement of the Family Theme carries her heartache. As she accepts the bitter truth of Noah’s words, that she will end up an old maid, the Love Theme borne by solo violin doloroso emotes with unbearable sadness. We close on a crescendo of pain as she flees from the house full of tears and with heartache.

“Golden Fleece” reveals Lizzie finding Starbuck in the barn where she thanks him for coming to her defense. He admits that he made up his name Starbuck, abandoning Smith, and tells Lizzie, she should also change names. She asks to what and he says Melisande and proceeds to tell her the tale of the Golden Fleece. We open with shimmering metallic twinkling wonder, which offers a surreal rendering of his theme. At 0:34 a languorous Love Theme enters as he tells Melisande’s tale. At 1:29 he begins acting out the quest for the Golden Fleece with mock sword fights and North dazzles us with playful, frenetic action full of comedic drama. At 1:58 strings romantico support him draping her with a blanket (the golden fleece) and placing a metal funnel (crown) on her head, which brings a smile to her face. Yet it ends badly as she calls his story just another lie, which enrages his as he storms out.

“I’m Pretty” offers another score highlight, which supports a powerful emotional epiphany for Lizzie. She comes to Starbuck in his tac room and asserts that her little dreams for a husband and kids are just as real as his grand ones, even though they will never be realized because she is plain. He unwraps her hair and tells her, that she is pretty, but unless she believes so, no man will. He says for her to say it, and she finally says I am pretty. He keeps shouting say it again, which she does, each time with greater conviction. North supports them with a beautiful, and tender exposition of the Love Theme so full of yearning for perhaps its finest exposition of the film. Slowly, as she begins to believe a kernel of hope rises up and at 1:48 as she finally says I am pretty with convincing belief, Starbuck embraces her and they kiss, supported by an exquisite solo violin d’amore. She collapses in his arms and asks why he kissed her, and he answers because he believed what she said, that she is pretty. She has an epiphany, realizing that they key to her dreams was in her, and that she needed to believe in herself for them to be realized. The Love Theme, now with a confident and hopeful contour, concludes the scene with a wonderful exposition. Folks, this is film music at its finest. “Young Lovers” reveals Snookie’s convertible with its steering wheel locked self-driving on the plain in an endless circle as she and Jimmy sit in the back seat kissing. North supports the lovers with a silly, comedic little ditty. Music after 0:37 was evidently attached to a portion of the scene edited out of the film or dialed out of the next scene. It continues the silliness and culminates with a faux romanticism. Later Jimmy comes home and tells Pop and Noah that he and Snookie are engaged.

Sheriff File comes by and advises that he is on the hunt for a conman called “Tornado Johnson” who is wanted by the state of Kansas. Inside the house Pop and Noah argue about turning Starbuck in, but Pop prevails, demanding that Lizzie have her moment of romance. In “The Tack Room” we open darkly with Noah returning the family gun to the drawer, and then shift to the tack room where Starbuck is tying Lizzie’s hair in a ponytail as she reminisces about her long search for love. She realizes that she always believed she was plain, but now believes otherwise as she gives a thank you kiss to Starbuck. North supports the tender intimacy of the moment with wistful Love Theme, that bears a kernel of hope, which blossoms at 1:08 with an exquisite, achingly beautiful statement by solo violin d’amore. The scene was evidently edited as the dramatic, and deeply moving crescendo of Love, which concludes the piece is sadly not found with the shortened scene. We segue seamlessly into “Starbuck’s Confession” where he asks her if his dreams will ever come true, say that a clap of lightning comes, but never stays. She responds that some things stay forever, like loving somebody, getting married, and having kids, which if you do, means you’ll live forever. North supports their moment with a tender and heartfelt rendering of Starbuck’s Theme as we see him moved by her with the sudden realization of the hollowness of his life. It is time now for him to have an epiphany, which is ushered in at 2:21 warm French horns as he tells Lizzie he has something to say. The music sours joined by the dreamlike metallic accents at 2:42 as he declares that she was right, and that he is a liar, a conman and a fake, and that he never made rain a day in his life. A heartfelt entwining of his theme and the Love Theme unfolds. She tells him that it is so because he lives in his dreams, and he responds that he cannot live outside of them. When she says in reply, perhaps the solution is living between the two, it all becomes clear to him and he asks if she wants him to stay for a few more days. She is overjoyed and as she rushes in to tell her family we soar on a crescendo felice.

“Lizzie Saves Starbuck” (*) reveals Noah informing her that Sheriff File and his men are here to arrest him. She is frantic and convinces them to help her save him, only for him to come out singing “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” and be arrested by Sheriff File. Yet after the family fervently intercedes, File relents and lets him go carried by his spritely theme. He then stops and asks her to join him, only for File to plead with her to not go. Tremolo strings of hope support her indecision as his theme beckons her to a new life as Milisande. She turns down his offer, and decides to live her life not as a one-night dream, but as Lizzie in the here and now for an entire life time. Starbuck accepts defeat, tosses them their $100 and drives off carried by his happy go lucky theme. As she thanks File, the Love Theme joins as lightning cracks, thunder roars, and rain falls. Starbuck comes back delirious with joy, demands his $100 and then departs as they all dance in celebration, with the score concluding with a joyous flourish. Lastly, for the “Flibberti Gibbet” cue, I was unable to discern it while viewing the film, so I assume it was attached to a scene edited out of the film. It features a comic oompah rendering of Starbuck’s Theme. At 0:44 oboe and woodwinds emote the Family Theme, with a hand-off to strings, and then a horn-woodwind ascent from the abyssal depths of the orchestra. We conclude at 1:32 with a return to a more lyrical rendering of the Family Theme.

I appreciate RCA/BMG and Dick Pierce for their effort to showcase Alex North’s masterpiece “The Rainmaker”. The audio quality while good, does not achieve 21st century qualitative standards. Also, with only thirty-two minutes of score, which is less than half the music North composed, I believe that a new recording of the complete score is required to properly appreciate in totality, the brilliance of his handiwork. The film offered two intersecting narratives; the first involving Lizzie, who feels she is plain, and destined to end up an old maid, and the second involving Starbuck, who is a conman, swindler, and always on the run, one step ahead of the law. North correctly perceived that their fateful meeting is transformational, with each experiencing a life-changing epiphany. To that end he composed three primary themes to support his soundscape. Of critical importance was capturing Starbuck’s persona, and in my judgement his frenetic theme perfectly embodies this charismatic, swindling trickster and conman. The confluence of Lancaster’s acting and his theme created an amazing cinematic synergy. The Love Theme flows from a wounded soul, who dreads the prospect of being an old maid, feeling unworthy, unfulfilled, and undesirable with the bitter reality that she is plain.

North astutely created a yearning, and aspirational Love Theme so full of longing which masterfully embodied Hepburn’s superb performance. As with Lancaster, the synergy of music and Hepburn’s performance is exceptional. The warm and folksy Family Theme grounded the film and helped the audience relate to the Curry family, who became our own. Folks, North’s compositions for this film reveal his mastery of his craft. In scene after scene a cinematic confluence is achieved, which I believe ensured Hal B. Wallis achieved his vision. The cues “Starbuck’s Story”, “Starbuck and Lizzie”, “I’m Pretty” and “Starbuck’s Confession” are affirmations of North’s genius, and a testament of the power of film music to enhance a film. I consider this score a masterpiece of North’s early career opus, a gem of the Golden Age, and testament to his genius as the standard bearer of the new generation of composers stepping up in the 1950s. I call upon the film score labels to find a way to bring this masterpiece to new generations of lovers of the art form with a new recording of the complete score. May I live to see that day.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Main Theme; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk3KoNHeqPE

Buy the Rainmaker soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (2:22)
  • Wet Socks (1:40)
  • Golden Fleece (2:40)
  • Starbuck’s Story (6:40)
  • The Gentleman Caller (3:12)
  • The Vamp (3:30)
  • Starbuck’s Confession (4:32)
  • Flibberti Gibbet (2:20)
  • The Tack Room (3:16)
  • I’m Pretty (3:00)
  • Young Lovers (1:44)

Running Time: 34 minutes 56 seconds

RCA/BMG Music 74321489432 (1956/1997)

Music composed and conducted by Alex North. Orchestrations by Maurice de Packh. Recorded and mixed by Al Schmitt. Score produced by Alex North. Album produced by Dick Pierce.

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