HomeMovie ReviewsA Hatful of Rain: Script + Hammy Acting Spoil Drug Addiction Drama

A Hatful of Rain: Script + Hammy Acting Spoil Drug Addiction Drama

A Hatful of Rain with Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint.

A Hatful of Rain movie script fails to find cinematic voice as most of the cast hams it up

Based on a play by Michael V. Gazzo, A Hatful of Rain is an interesting attempt at injecting “adult” subject matters – in this case, the evils of drug addiction – into Hollywood movies. “Interesting,” however, does not mean either successful or compelling.

Despite authentic, unromantic New York City locations and Joseph MacDonald’s beautifully realistic black-and-white camera work (and the pointless use of CinemaScope), this Fred Zinnemann-directed melodrama feels stagy as a result of its artificial dialogue and the hammy theatricality of its performers – with Eva Marie Saint as the sole naturalistic exception.

A Hatful of Rain synopsis

Somewhat revolutionary in its day (Otto Preminger’s The Man with a Golden Arm,[1] also about drug addiction, had come out two years earlier), A Hatful of Rain depicts the plight of a young Korean War veteran, Johnny Pope (Don Murray[2]), who has become addicted to morphine after (it is implied) his stay as a patient at a military hospital.

Oblivious to her husband’s addiction, Johnny’s pregnant wife, Celia (Eva Marie Saint), is concerned that her increasingly distant husband is having an affair. Right then, the self-immersed John Pope, Sr., (Lloyd Nolan), arrives in town to make things even more complicated for the young Pope couple and for Johnny’s younger brother, the aimless Polo (Anthony Franciosa, in a role initially offered to Don Murray).

Throughout the course of the film, family dynamics are reshaped as John Sr. discovers that Polo possesses unsuspected generosity and inner strength, while boy-most-likely-to Johnny turns out to be the one in dire need of assistance.

Hard work doesn’t pay

In one revealing scene, John Pope, Sr., laughingly recalls that years earlier, on a rainy day, the young Johnny had taken his hat out while working in a field. Having been told that hard work led to financial rewards, Johnny would do a little work and then he would look for money in his pocket.

Following several failed attempts at finding money, a disheartened Johnny put his water-filled hat back on and got all wet. A hatful of rain was all he got for his hard day’s work. Things obviously didn’t get much better for Johnny after he became an adult.

Prestigious trio of screenwriters fail in translation from stage to screen

Perhaps best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II, actor-writer Michael V. Gazzo adapted his own play for the big screen, along with two-time Academy Award nominee Alfred Hayes (Paisà, Teresa) and the blacklisted Carl Foreman (High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai), whose A Hatful of Rain screenwriting credit would be restored only in 1998.

The trio, or any one of them (it’s unclear who was responsible for what), did a solid job of opening up the play – besides unnecessarily turning a working-class Italian-American family into a lower-middle-class Anglo-American one. On the down side, they forgot to make the characters’ dialogue sound more true to life, a not uncommon occurrence in stage-to-film adaptations of the 1950s (e.g., The Bad Seed, Tea and Sympathy).

A Hatful of Rain Eva Marie Saint Don Murray
A Hatful of Rain movie: Eva Marie Saint and Don Murray as distraught married couple.

Naturalistic Eva Marie Saint out of place in ‘scenery-chewing orgies’

Maybe because nearly every line screams theater!, Anthony Franciosa, Don Murray, and Lloyd Nolan act as if they were performing onstage for those sitting in the last row. As mentioned above, among the four leads only 1954 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) manages against all odds to deliver an unaffected performance.

Had Saint been a lazy actress, she could easily have played Celia – sad, afraid, lonely – as a victim begging for our sympathy. But instead of emphasizing Celia’s victimhood, Saint’s portrayal focuses on her character’s honesty and dependability to excellent effect. The only problem with her naturalistic work is that it seems completely out of place in the film’s scenery-chewing orgies.

Admittedly, the generally capable Don Murray (excellent in films as disparate as Advise & Consent and Endless Love)[3] displays a vulnerable, honest quality that makes Johnny quite likable, and in his “normal” moments Murray’s performance is thoroughly believable. But once the shaking starts, Johnny looks as if possessed by the lambada demon; in no way does he resemble a drug addict desperately in need of a fix. Besides, Murray looks much too healthy and handsome to be convincing as a down-and-out junkie.

A Hatful of Rain Anthony Franciosa Lloyd Nolan Don MurrayA Hatful of Rain with Lloyd Nolan, Anthony Franciosa and Don Murray.

Hammy Lloyd Nolan and The Age of the Vacuum

Anthony Franciosa, A Hatful of Rain‘s Best Actor winner at the Venice Film Festival and Oscar nominee for reprising his Tony-nominated stage role (opposite Ben Gazzara and Franciosa’s future wife Shelley Winters), has some adequate moments, but he is incapable of delivering his stilted lines without sounding, well, stilted.

Lloyd Nolan, for one, doesn’t even try. His is an old-fashioned performance that seems to have been transported from the early, clunky days of sound films to the late 1950s. Nolan relishes in the artificiality of the dialogue, declaiming each word to calculated effect while adding his own grandiose exclamation points as the mayo on the ham.

In all fairness, I should add that Nolan’s character does have one good speech. That’s when he decries The Age of the Vacuum: A time when no one takes responsibility for anything, no one pays attention to anything, no one takes a stand for or against anything. It sounds like the early 21st century, but he’s actually referring to the post-World War II era.

Poignant + disturbing tale ruined by stagy presentation

Although the screenwriters are undeniably responsible for A Hatful of Rain‘s pervasive theatrical feel, most of the blame for the general inadequacy of the cast must go to director Fred Zinnemann, who by that time – he had already won an Academy Award for From Here to Eternity – should have learned how to control his actors.

By letting them run loose, Zinnemann allows the tragedy of A Hatful of Rain – a self-absorbed society’s utter disregard for the fate of a man who fought “to preserve its freedoms” – to disappear under the histrionics of his cast.

Eva Marie Saint valiantly tries to bring a core of truth to the proceedings, but she’s one lone fighter battling hammy actors, a misguided director, and even Bernard Herrmann’s obnoxious jazzy score. In A Hatful of Rain, Saint could easily have become a movie martyr – except that she comes out on top in this one.

A Hatful of Rain DVD
A Hatful of Rain DVD: Fred Zinnemann movie.

The Man with the Golden Arm

[1] Otto Preminger’s box office hit The Man with the Golden Arm starred Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Kim Novak. Sinatra was shortlisted for the 1955 Best Actor Oscar, but lost to Ernest Borgnine in Delbert Mann’s Marty.

[2] In real life, Don Murray was a conscientious objector during the Korean War.

[3] The stage-trained Don Murray received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Joshua Logan’s Bus Stop (1956), starring Marilyn Monroe. Murray lost to Anthony Quinn in Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life. Despite a number of remarkable performances, he would never be nominated again.

A Hatful of Rain (1957)

Director: Fred Zinnemann.

Screenplay: Michael V. Gazzo (as Michael Vincent Gazzo), Alfred Hayes, and Carl Foreman (originally uncredited).
From Michael V. Gazzo’s play.

Cast: Eva Marie Saint. Don Murray. Anthony Franciosa. Lloyd Nolan. Henry Silva. Gerald S. O’Loughlin. William Hickey. Paul Kruger. Art Fleming. Uncredited: Rex Lease. Norman Willis.

A Hatful of Rain movie cast information via the IMDb.

Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint A Hatful of Rain movie image: 20th Century Fox.


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Anonymous 2 -

Bravo, anonymous for recognizing how scarily realisticallly heroin (or morphine, or cocaine or crack) was portrayed.

Yes, it was a 50’s drama, and the thugs were far more entertaining than some dealers are today. However, if you haven’t sat through a detox, it will shock most people to their shoes just how ghastly & awful it is. That alone is generally a serious component in keeping even the most determined-to-quit addict. The real thing is far more awful, and most of the time, if an addict is high-functioning & the people around them aren’t looking for signs, they may not notice until a crucial stage.

My reaction was one of amazement that they got so much of it right. OK, so he didn’t puke constantly for days & days, & method actors were just starting to emerge competently. The over-dramatic music & strange camera use aside, they were pretty spot-on.

Joseph Kearny -

What spoils it is its deadly, dull earnestness and the cliché characterization with a father favoring one son over the other…

Peter Radcliff -

Today we are much more sensitive to the “over the top” acting that Andre describes. Acting today is much more natural — even stage work is toned down. Bette Davis said about acting today, “See, you mustn’t have *any* idea that *anybody* knows the camera’s on them at all. You see: it’s just life…And I think it should be a *little* larger than life.”

Don Murray is hit or miss for me. I frankly found him so completely over the top in Bus Stop it was ridiculous. But I loved him in Advise and Consent.

joebatch -

I just watched this movie on Fox Movie Channel and i have to say i do
not agree with the critics at all. I enjoyed it for for it was and for
the time it was made in (the 1950’s).I also thought all of the actors
were dead on in their roles.T his is why i so seldom look at reviews
before i watch a movie because if i had seen the reviews on this i might
have denied myself to watch what should be a classic.

Andre -

First for all, thanks for the long comment.
Actually, I have had first-hand experience with drug addicts. But not heroin (or, as in the movie, morphine) addicts, I must admit.
impression watching “A Hatful of Rain” was that Don Murray was way down
the line, and that’s why his healthy, robust appearance felt
Frank Sinatra seemed more believable — both in terms of
looks and performance — in Otto Preminger’s similarly themed “The Man
with the Golden Arm,” released two years before “A Hatful of Rain.”
“demonic possession” bothered me because, unlike Sinatra, Murray seemed
(to me) to be acting. (Though he’s usually an impressive actor.)

Anonymous -

I can see how this film would get some poor reviews. I agree that the film does have more of a theater like quality in its writing and even in the actors performances. But I think you might be missing a huge part of the story. You say, “By letting them run loose, Zinnemann allows the tragic truth of A Hatful of Rain — a self-absorbed society’s utter disregard for the fate of a war veteran — to disappear under the histrionics of his cast.” Although this is an important part of the story, to me it is not the WHOLE story. I think this is an honest portrayal of what really happens in the life of an addict. Most people grow up with a basic understanding that abusing drugs is wrong. So when a person finds themselves with a drug problem it is something they hide. They are ashamed and full of guilt. They try to cover up and make everything appear normal. People in their lives that are close to them tend to cover up and make excuses for them because they know deep down the value of the person outside of their addiction. Because addiction is progressive it becomes increasingly harder to cover up and people start getting suspicious. You talk about the histrionics of his cast but drama is a common attribute of an addict and the friends and family members. It goes with the territory.
You obviously have no firsthand experience with addicts. This is clear by your expectation that a “junkie” would not be handsome and healthy looking. The thing is, most addicts start out that way. There are different stages of addiction and as it progresses the addicts health, looks, finances and relationships start to deteriorate.
As for you description of Murray’s depiction of withdrawal looking like he is a possessed by a demon , well that is actually an accurate depiction of what an addict goes through. My understanding of Heroin withdrawal is that every bone in your body feels like it is on fire. So as long as the heroin is in the persons system the withdrawal goes away but as they build a tolerance they need the drug more often and in higher quantities just to keep from getting sick. They also become delusional in withdrawal.
My husband was addicted to crack 8 years ago and is in recovery today with 6 years clean. When I first found out that he was an addict I didn’t think it could be that bad because he had been working a heavy labor job 7am-5pm for the last 2-1/2 years, he didn’t miss a days work, looked healthy, never said a mean word, helped with the house and kids and brought home a full paycheck. He didn’t spend his weekends or evenings out with his friends, he was home with me and the kids every night. As he continued using in that 2-1/2 year period I began to get suspicious because he would get phone calls and be secretive and than say he had to go somewhere. Like the wife in this story I thought my husband was having an affair, because like you I thought a drug addict acted and looked a certain way. As my husbands disease progressed he started to fit that expectation I had of what a “junkie” acted and looked like. To me that is the only missing piece of this story, the progression and deterioration.
To me this story is about relationships and the dynamics that play out within a family when one of its members is addicted. It can’t possibly tell the whole story because there are so many stories of addiction and they vary in many ways. But bottom line is that addicts don’t choose to be that way event though they may make bad decisions that cause them to end up there. And they are loved by their family and friends who recognize in those desperate moments that they are sick and need help.
I would love to know more about what the common thinking was about addiction in the time the film was made. I found it interesting that someone would make a movie on this topic during a time when as far as I knew addiction wasn’t really discussed openly.


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