‘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 anachronistically 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, 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), 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).
Naturalistic Eva Marie Saint anachronistic 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 and Consent and Endless Love) 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.
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.
‘The Man with the Golden Arm’
 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.
 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).
Dir.: Fred Zinnemann.
Scr.: 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.