Episode 31 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn lets her hair down and rolls in the hay with Burt Lancaster.
It makes a certain kind of sense that The Rainmaker, which is the last of Kate’s Spinster Films, should be the most archetypal of this phase of her career. N. Richard Nash’s screenplay about a silver-tongued conman (Burt Lancaster) who promises water to a town and love to an old maid (Kate) works almost as a genre checklist: Lonely Single Woman? Check. Scenes establishing that most folks find her plain? Check. Handsome outsider who sees the beauty in her? Check. Life affirming rendezvous? Check. Throw in a metaphor about the drought-stricken land and Lizzie’s lovelorn heart, and you have The Rainmaker.
Make no mistake, Lancaster and Hepburn elevate The Rainmaker. Their acting styles clash--Kate’s Old Hollywood manner butts against Lancaster’s charismatic, physical style (which he’d later hone for the incredible Elmer Gantry). Apparently, the two actors disagreed on the set as well. As a result, though both are compelling, they’re never connected in their scenes together. This works in the film’s favor. It’s completely believable that Starbuck and Lizzie are two people who can love each other for a night, but don’t like each other enough to truly fall in love for good. Their dreams are too different; they don't see each other for who they really are.
The best thing about having a film as unsubtle as The Rainmaker is that it relies heavily on its stars, both in acting talent and in star image. Much of this series has been devoted to identifying, attempting to dissect, and--as often as not--flat out worshipping Katharine Hepburn’s star qualities. We’ve touched on everything from Kate’s beauty to her tomboyishness to her charisma and comedic chops, but we’ve neglected one physical trait which was as defining to later Kate as her famous cheekbones: her hair. More specifically, this is about Katharine Hepburn’s hairography, in the key scenes where she unwound the topknot and let it all hang loose.
My official Katharine Hepburn Hair Theory after the jump