Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Watch This: Raintree County

First things first: I haven't seen the Season 5 finale of True Blood yet. Just the other day, I tweeted:

Yesterday I happened to stop by Dorothy Surrenders, and I got a little bit of a Season 5 spoiler: Pam and Tara kissed. Yes!

Speaking of kisses, the other night I dreamed Adrien Brody kissed me. I was sitting beside my father at the time, and it was more of a friendly/chaste kiss than anything lustful, but it was still pretty darn nice. So much nicer than the dream I had in which William Shatner kissed me. You know who I really wish Adrien Brody kissed, though? Nick Stahl.
Nick Stahl has a small role as Ed Bead in The Thin Red Line, and Brody plays Cpl. Jeffrey Fife. In James Jones' novel, Bead is a clerk who works under Fife, and the two have an arrangement to take care of each other sexually (even though they both swear up and down that they're not gay). When the 19-year-old Iowan Bead is shot in the side, Bead calls for Fife to come hold his hand. Fife momentarily worries about what the others will think, but instinctively puts his arms around Bead as Bead dies. You won't see any of that in the movie, but in the book, it's a very moving, poignant scene.

I shall return to reading The Thin Red Line after my Jeopardy! tryout, in mid-September.

Speaking of films based on literature, yesterday I watched Raintree County, the second movie Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift starred in together (after A Place in the Sun, before Suddenly Last Summer).

This one's literary backup is a lengthy 1948 novel by Ross Lockridge Jr. I can promise you now, I have no intention of reading the 1000+ page behemoth - I read Gone With the Wind several years ago, and though I quite liked it, I have no immediate need to read another sprawling Civil War epic. Lockridge, it should be noted, is another of my fellow Indiana-born authors; Meg Cabot was born in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. The fictional location, Raintree County, is in Indiana, and the raintree of the title is a mythical plant allegedly planted there by Johnny Appleseed.

The hero, John Shawnessy (Clift), is a dreamy, idealistic, romantic poet and, eventually, schoolteacher in the late 1850s/early 1860s. He and his youthful sweetheart Nell (Eva Marie Saint) are perfectly matched, but his head is turned by Southern belle Susanna (Taylor). As revealed in the trailer, she gets him to marry her by tricking him into thinking she's pregnant - but Susanna has serious mental health problems.

Actually, Susanna has a lot in common with Sawyer on Lost. Her mother, jealous of Susanna's Cuban-born nanny, jumped to the conclusion (perhaps correctly so) that Susanna's father and the nanny were having an affair, shot them both to death, then set the family mansion on fire to cover up the crime, killing herself in the process. Nine-year-old Susanna was rescued by one of the family's slaves. She still has the creepy-looking burnt doll that was saved from the fire along with her.

John makes a valiant effort to make his marriage to Susanna work. When she runs off to the South with their young son during the early days of the Civil War, he decides to join the Union army effort in hopes of finding her. I said:

As a Union soldier, he probably fought against the ancestors of Kentucky-born Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Either way, he finds his son, is wounded, and eventually gets reunited with Susanna, now confined to a mental institution.

He takes her home and attempts to care for her back in Indiana, where after the war he resumes teaching and considers a career in politics. But Susanna escapes into the swamp, where she drowns, a probable suicide. John fears their son may have met the same sad fate, but he and Nell find the unfortunate little boy safe, though grieving his mother, in the swamp.

That's the end of the movie, but I hope that in the book John goes on to a happy second marriage with the still-unmarried Nell. Nell has never stopped loving John.

My favorite scene in the movie? The bathtub. John has agreed to run a foot race against Flash, a friendly rival. Flash has an unusually high tolerance for liquor, and the young, inexperienced John tries to match him drink-for-drink. John's friends then attempt to sober him up for the race by throwing him into a bathtub and throwing cold water on him - and prompting me to say:

Shirtless Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity (take a look here) was perfectly shaved/waxed and had flawless abs. In Raintree County (filmed four years later) he still has fantastic abs, but went with the more natural, unshaven look. Either way, this is a beautiful, beautiful man. I rank Monty's bathtub scene up there with Christian Bale's shower scene in American Psycho - not that we get to see much, but just in terms of how happy it makes me. 


Katrin said...

I like watching True Blood! Can't wait for next season!

Erin O'Riordan said...

I'll be happy when I finally see the finale.

Thanks for stopping by!

Erin O'Riordan said...

So in the book 'Raintree County' (which I briefly flipped through), Susanna is confined to the 19th-century version of a mental health hospital, and John occasionally writes to her but basically abandons her. When he returns to Raintree County, he finds that Nell, who was married, and her newborn baby have died. Johnny also finds his own grave marker in the family plot - he was mistakenly believed to have been killed in the Civil War. It looks good; I might read it some day.