Raintree County (1957)
Rod Taylor plays Garwood B. Jones in this Civil War-era epic, which has
been called MGM's attempt to resurrect "Gone With the Wind" for
the CinemaScope generation.
Taylor and Lee Marvin both appear briefly, bringing exuberance and natural
talent into a stagey production where the leads -- Montgomery Clift and
Elizabeth Taylor -- seem to be so obviously ACTING. Recurring Rod Taylor
co-star Eva Marie Saint ("36 Hours"
and "Palomino") also puts in a fine
performance in a peripheral role.
The role of Garwood B. Jones is one that Rod actively pursued. In
his book, "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood," author Stephen Vagg
relates a story from screenwriter Millard Kaufman, who said that Rod
somehow got the script, read it and went to MGM chief Dore Schary
and said he'd like to play the part. This was a bold move from an
actor who had been in Hollywood for just a couple of years. "Rod had
a great gift of brass," Kaufman said. " He knew what he wanted and
he got it. Became a hell of a movie actor."
The character Garwood B. Jones makes sport out of tormenting young John Shawnessy (Montgomery
Clift), constantly needling and goading him and calling him "Sprout."
He is a rival to Shawnessy in love and politics.
Unfortunately, after breathing life into early scenes, Taylor vanishes for
most of the movie. His character is sneered at in references by other characters
after he takes up a political life. He reappears late in the movie, but it's too little, too
Granted, Clift 's performance was affected because he was severely injured
during the making of this movie, but he seems miscast from the outset. He's
scrawny, twitchy and seems to be dodging the camera most of the time.
Production had to close down for two months after Clift was in a car
accident in May 1956. When he returned, they had to find ways of shooting
him from his less-damaged side. He was not able to smile broadly, and he
mumbled frequently -- either because of the injuries or the pain medication
he was taking.
Elizabeth Taylor earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal as the
spoiled Southern belle, Susanna, who tricks Shawnessy into marriage by telling
him she's pregnant. Not surprisingly, the marriage is rocky. A child eventually
is produced, Susanna goes mad and Johnny goes off to war. (In an interesting
casting aside, Shawnessy meets up with a rebel officer played by DeForest
Kelley -- Dr. McCoy of the original "Star Trek" series.)
The costumes, soundtrack and scenery are lovely, and "Raintree County"
tackles big topics like slavery, racism and insanity. But when you're reduced
to praising supporting players and the pretty production, you know the rest
of the movie has trouble.
In an interview for Turner Classic Movies, Taylor said of the movie:
"Raintree County" to me was the very beginning
so I was mostly over-awed. ... I was little bit shy that this was my first
big big movie ... and I was the new kid on the block.
Operation Raintree (1957)
Rod Taylor appears only in the opening credits of this five-minute promotional film for "Raintree
County" that highlights the search for shooting locations. The crew
sets up equipment at outdoor locations that require a great deal of ingenuity.
In Danville, Ky., where the studio had temporary headquarters, town
residents stage a welcoming parade.