- A Hatful of Rain movie (1957) review: Stagy screenplay and mostly hammy acting ruin Fred Zinnemann’s well-intentioned dysfunctional family/drug addiction drama. In the cast, Eva Marie Saint is the one naturalistic exception.
- A Hatful of Rain earned Anthony Franciosa a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.
A Hatful of Rain movie review: Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of drug addiction drama fails to find its cinematic voice
Two years after the release of Otto Preminger’s blockbuster The Man with the Golden Arm, in which Frank Sinatra becomes addicted to (what is clearly) heroin, Fred Zinnemann’s 1957 dysfunctional family drama A Hatful of Rain is a curious attempt at injecting an “adult” subject matter – once again, drug addiction – into Production Code-crippled Hollywood movies.
“Curious,” 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 (let’s ignore the pointless use of CinemaScope), A Hatful of Rain’s artificial dialogue and the theatricality of most of its performances give away the stage origins of Zinnemann’s big-screen transfer of Michael V. Gazzo’s 1955 Broadway play.
In point of fact – and notwithstanding Anthony Franciosa’s Best Actor Academy Award nomination – Eva Marie Saint (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for On the Waterfront, 1954) delivers the film’s sole naturalistic characterization.
Perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II, Michael V. Gazzo was credited for the screenplay adaptation of his play, alongside two-time Oscar nominee Alfred Hayes (Paisà, 1949; Teresa, 1951) and Hollywood Blacklist victim Carl Foreman (High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai), whose A Hatful of Rain script co-authorship would be officially acknowledged by the Writers Guild of America only in 1998.
The trio – or any one of them (it’s unclear who was responsible for what) – did a solid job opening up the play even while unnecessarily turning a working-class Italian-American family into a lower-middle-class, fuzzily Anglo-American one.
On the downside, they forgot to make the characters’ lines sound more true to life while director Zinnemann forgot to make the actors’ line delivery less stilted, a not uncommon occurrence in stage-to-film adaptations of the 1950s (e.g., Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed and Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy, both 1956 releases).
U.S. war veterans’ plight
At times reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s socially conscious family plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, A Hatful of Rain features a young Korean War veteran, Johnny Pope (real-life conscientious objector Don Murray; played by Tony nominee Ben Gazzara on stage), 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; Shelley Winters on stage), is concerned that her increasingly distant husband is having an affair.
Right then, the self-immersed John Pope, Sr., (Lloyd Nolan; Frank Silvera on stage), arrives in town to make things more complicated for the young Pope couple and for Johnny’s younger brother, the aimless Polo (Anthony Franciosa, reprising his Tony-nominated stage role, which, for the movie version, had been 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.
In one revealing scene, the Pope patriarch 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 look for money in his pocket. Following several failed attempts at finding money, the disheartened boy put his rainwater-filled hat back on and got drenched.
Despite the much-touted American prosperity of the postwar years, things obviously didn’t get much better for Johnny – and others like him – after he became an adult.
Naturalistic Eva Marie Saint
Maybe because nearly every line in A Hatful of Rain screams theater!, Don Murray, Anthony Franciosa, and Lloyd Nolan act as if they were performing onstage for those sitting in the last row of the gallery.
As mentioned further up, only Eva Marie Saint, one of the best (and, absurdly, least used) film stars of the 1950s and 1960s – see not only On the Waterfront, but also North by Northwest, 36 Hours, and Grand Prix – manages to deliver a sincere, unaffected performance.
Had Saint been a lazy actress, she could have played Celia – sad, confused, afraid, lonely – as a victim begging for our sympathy. But instead of emphasizing Celia’s suffering, Saint’s portrayal focuses on her character’s honesty and dependability. The only problem with her naturalistic work is that it seems completely out of place during the film’s scenery-chewing orgies.
Admittedly, Don Murray (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Bus Stop, 1956) – excellent in films as disparate as Advise & Consent and Endless Love – displays a vulnerability that makes Johnny unquestionably appealing. Once the shaking starts, however, in no way does Johnny resemble a drug addict desperately in need of a fix.
Compounding matters, Murray looks much too healthy and handsome in A Hatful of Rain to be convincing as a down-and-out junkie.
‘The Age of the Vacuum’
Venice Film Festival Best Actor winner and Oscar nominee Anthony Franciosa – who had made his film debut that same year in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd – has several adequate moments in A Hatful of Rain, but the Broadway-trained actor is mostly incapable of delivering his stagy lines without sounding, well, stagy.
Lloyd Nolan, by then a film actor for more than two decades, 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.
Now, in all fairness, Nolan’s character has one good speech. That’s when John Pope, Sr., 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 may sound just like the early 21st century, but he’s actually referring to the post-World War II era.
Fred Zinnemann knew better
Although the screenwriters are undeniably responsible for A Hatful of Rain’s 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 Oscar 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 its “freedom warriors” – to dissipate under the histrionics of his cast.
Eva Marie Saint valiantly tries to bring some heartfelt truth to the proceedings, but she’s one lone fighter battling stilted lines, hammy actors, a misguided director, and even Bernard Herrmann’s obnoxious jazzy score. In A Hatful of Rain, Saint could easily have become one more movie martyr – except that she comes out on top in this one.
A Hatful of Rain (1957)
Director: Fred Zinnemann.
Screenplay: Michael V. 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.
“A Hatful of Rain Movie (1957)” endnotes
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and written by Michael V. Gazzo, a 1968 television version of A Hatful of Rain starred Sandy Dennis (Celia), Michael Parks (Johnny), Peter Falk (Polo), and Herschel Bernardi (John Sr.).
Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint A Hatful of Rain movie images: 20th Century Fox.
“A Hatful of Rain Movie (1957): Script + Acting Spoil Fred Zinnemann’s Early Drug Addiction Drama” last updated in July 2021.