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October 15, 2008

The Devil's Rain

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Robert Fuest - 1975
VCI Home Video Region 1 DVD

Let's give a hand to Ernest Borgnine. Along with the seemingly unstoppable Mickey Rooney, Borgnine shows no signs of retiring at a still vigorous 91. Among his co-stars on The Vikings, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, he remains the last man standing. Did Borgnine sell his soul to the Devil? At any rate he plays Jonathan Corbis, "Satan's emissary on Earth" in The Devil's Rain, and he looks like he had a damn good time, too.

Admittedly, my favorite performances by Borgnine are when he is the, ahem, heavy, beating up skinny, little Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, or as Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch, the humanitarian outlaw who states, "At least we don't hang people." I'll also take Borgnine in his Robert Aldrich stock company roles, the studio chief in The Legend of Lylah Clare and the railroad agent in Emperor of the North Pole especially. Too often though, Borgnine is caste as the lovable lug, a variation on his role in Marty.

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The Devil's Rain may be about the denizens of Hell, but the cast seems to be made up of actors who seemed to be drifting in Hollywood Purgatory. William Shatner would seem not to recapture the glory days of his Star Trek television series, while Tom Skerritt was left behind when M*A*S*H elevated the careers of his co-stars. The two appeared with Joan Prather the previous year in Big Bad Mama. Meanwhile, Borgnine and Eddie Albert, the two top billed actors here, would also be in Aldrich's Hustle in December. Keenan Wynn appears as a small town sheriff, while Ida Lupino plays mom to Skerritt and Shatner. The Devil's Rain is almost worth watching just for the cast.

The best part of the film has no special effects or make-up. Dressed in western gear, we first see Borgnine flashing that famous gap toothed smile, offering Skerritt a drink of water from the pump in dusty ghost town. Borgnine introduces himself and explains his mission of recovering his book, a list of names of people who have signed their names in blood. The seemingly friendly smile takes a malevolent twist. It's a familiar theological discussion, God versus The Devil. Where most of the other cast members overact, Borgnine knows how perform is role with just the right level of gravitas. The threat is always hinted at but never fully advertised. It may be within the context of The Devil's Rain that the performance indicates a greater modulation than seen in other films. Or perhaps Ernest Borgnine is giving the devil his due.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 15, 2008 07:28 AM


His movie producer character in Lylah Clare is one of my favorites: "I don't make films, I make movies, dammit!"

Posted by: Flickhead at October 15, 2008 08:48 PM