(1956 c 121')
N. Richard Nash adapted his play set in the early twentieth century about a con man who brings hope to a spinster and her family.
Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) is talking about a tornado to some people from a platform. He is selling tornado rods. A sheriff arrives and asks if his name is Starbuck. He starts fireworks and runs away. He goes on a roof, and they search for him. Later he comes down and rides off on his wagon.
Starbuck arrives in the town of Three Point in the southwest on his wagon. He gets off and walks down the street. A few early cars are parked in front of a dance for drought relief. Jim Currie (Earl Holliman) is talking with his girl Snookie Mcguire (Yvonne Fedderson). They get in her car, and he drives off. Noah Curry (Lloyd Bridges) comes out looking for his brother Jimmy.
Later H. C. Curry (Cameron Prud’Homme) sees Noah come back in his car with Jim. H. C. asks his son Noah where Jim was, and Noah says he was with a girl who uses peroxide on her hair. Noah says they were wrapped up together in her car. H. C. tells Jim not to ask Lizzy any questions when she gets off the train. Lizzie Curry (Katharine Hepburn) comes off the train and calls to her pop. The three greet her happily. She says Uncle Ned was fine, and she has gifts for them. Noah drives them in the car to their house. She says they did all right because the kitchen is clean. Jim asks her about the boys, and she says they are big. Noah asks who is the best-looking boy. Lizzie says Pete has yellow hair. He asked her to marry him, but he is only nine years old. The brothers who were old enough apparently did not ask her. Noah asks what happened. She says nothing. She stayed in her room because she was embarrassed. She got dressed up for a dance, and one asked how much she weighs. She said 119 pounds. Then she answered the question where Madagascar is. They asked if she was fixing to be a schoolmarm. Pete said she is beautiful. H. C. says she is afraid of being beautiful, and she says she is afraid to think that she is. She says she is sorry that she let them down. Noah says there is no sign of rain, and he takes her suitcase upstairs. She hugs Jimmy goodnight. H. C. kisses her, and she goes upstairs too.
The land is dry, and cattle are dying. Noah says they lost twelve steers out there. They see Starbuck approach on his wagon. He asks them what he could do for them, for their cattle. They are skeptical he can help, and he says he may see them later.
The three men return home, and Lizzie prepares breakfast for them. She dreamed they had a rain. H. C. says they are going into Three Points to talk to the deputy sheriff File. She likes him but says he ignores her. Noah says it is a matter of pride. Lizzie says she wants to be a woman. She is a good cook, and she wants to make somebody happy. She would like to do things for a man, and she says it might be File. So she tells H. C. he can ask him.
In town Sheriff Howard Thomas (Wallace Ford) tries to persuade J. S. File (Wendell Corey) to accept a dog, but he declines. File says he had a dog when he was a child. His name was Dog, and he took good care of him; but he ran away. File does not want another dog. Howard walks off. File stretches and rips his shirt.
The three Curry men arrive in town, and Jim talks to Snookie. Noah tells him to come with him. They go into the sheriff office and find File there. He asks how Lizzie liked Sweet River. They say she liked it. H. C. asks File about poker, and he says he gave up playing cards. Jim notices his torn shirt, and File has a needle and says he fixes his own shirts. He asks if Lizzie came back by herself, and they say she did. H. C. tells Jim he is ornery, and he suggests he invite someone to supper. Jim invites File, but he says he cannot come tonight. He says Tornado Johnson may be coming. File says he does not want to be married. Jim says he thinks they are inviting him for Lizzie, and he tells him to take it back. They fight, and File hits Jim and knocks him down. He gets up, and Noah takes him home. H. C. tells File it would not hurt him to come to supper and that Lizzie might do him some good. H. C. says File is not a widower, and File says his wife died; but H. C. says she ran off and that he is divorced.
The three men come home at sunset. Lizzie says she baked a lemon cake. The phone rings, and Noah tells Jim it is Snookie. He talks to her and says he is fine and dandy. Noah tells Jim to stay home. Jim says he can’t come over, and she hangs up. Lizzie comes downstairs in a pretty, white dress. She kisses each of them and says she prepared beefsteak. She realizes that File is not coming and turns off the music box. Jim says he wanted to come. She asks about Jim’s eye and asks why he fought to make him come there. Noah says he was right. H. C. asks Noah what they should do. Jim tells Lizzie she talks too serious. Jim tells how a girl seduced a man. Lizzie says she does not want to trick a man. They sit down at the table and notice that the door came open. Starbuck walks in and admires Lizzie’s dress. She asks who he is. Noah says the drought killed the cattle. Starbuck says where he goes rain comes, and he calls himself a rainmaker. Lizzie says she read about a rainmaker who was run out of town. Jim asks Starbuck if he can bring rain and asks how. Starbuck says he can do it with sodium chloride, but he has his own method. They ask, and he says if he gets $100 in advance, he will bring rain. They ask how he can do it. Starbuck says he will lift his stick, shout, and sing. They ask where he brought rain before. He says they named a town Starbuck for him because he brought rain. He describes what happened. He asks if it is a deal. Lizzie says he is a liar and a con man. H. C. considers whether to pay him. Starbuck tells Lizzie it is going to be a hot night. H. C. says he has a deal, and Starbuck is happy and sits down at the table to eat.
Thomas asks File about the Currys and suggests he call them. The phone rings, and File answers it. He asks for a picture and says someone saw his wagon. File makes a call and then sees Thomas and says never mind.
Noah counts the money and says he has written down it was thrown away. Starbuck is still eating his dessert and asks what kind of rain they want. Lizzie is skeptical, and Starbuck says she makes it harder; they need to have confidence. He asks them to help, but Lizzie says she has no confidence. He asks someone to beat his bass drum on his wagon. Jim volunteers, and Starbuck tells him to beat it three times. Jim runs out. Starbuck asks H. C. to paint a large white arrow pointed away from the house so that lightning will not strike them. Starbuck asks Noah to tie the hind legs of their mule together. Noah refuses at first but agrees and goes out. Lizzie asks H. C. where his common sense is. H. C. says he will not go halfway with Starbuck, and he says he will paint the arrow and goes out. They hear the drum, and Starbuck shouts out to him. Lizzie asks Starbuck if he feels proud after making jackasses of them. He says he sent them out so that he could talk to her alone. He asks her why she is fussing with the buttons on her dress. He asks if she is expecting someone. She says she is not. He asks if she was stood up. He stops her from going upstairs and asks why she does not like him. She does not like to be taken by a con man and tells him to get out of there. She calls him a liar and a fake. He asks how she knows that. Maybe he can bring rain. He says God told him he would bring rain, and it is his only blessing. He says he has brothers who can heal and sing. He prayed for rain, and the rain came. He says she does not have to believe it. She goes upstairs and says she does not believe it. He follows her into her room and says she has no faith. He tells her that faith is knowing with your heart. She knows he is a fake. He says she does not believe in anything, not even that she is a woman. He goes out and closes the door. She is upset and opens the door and the window.
Outside Starbuck goes to his wagon where Jim is pounding the drum. Starbuck asks if he feels foolish. Jim says he is doing it because Starbuck said to. In town File and Thomas hear the drum beating. Thomas tells him to go see the Curry girl and tells him to take two hours or all night. File gets in his car and drives off.
Noah sees H. C. painting, and H. C. says how he spilled it on himself. He asks Noah why he is limping, and Noah says it was the mule. Jim comes in with the drum and beats it. H. C. asks him to resist the feeling to beat it. Lizzie wipes paint off H. C.’s head. Jim gets a blanket for Starbuck and says he gave him good advice about Snookie. Starbuck told him never to judge a heifer by the flick of her tail. Jim asks Noah why he makes him feel dumb. Noah answers the phone and says he is not there. Jim complains it was Snookie. Noah says he can call her back. Starbuck agrees and from the window urges him to do so. He asks Lizzie to tell him, and she asks Starbuck not to interfere in their family. He goes away. Jim goes upstairs. Noah says he does not want to run that family. H. C. says he only has to run the ranch. Noah goes out. H. C. asks Lizzie if he made some big mistake with her, and she says of course not. She is too honest. She asks her father if a woman has to take lessons in being a woman. She says Starbuck says she is not a woman. Lizzie pads her breasts and acts like a flirt with H. C. As she does a backward somersault on the floor, File appears at the screen-door. H. C. welcomes him in, and he shakes hands with Lizzie. She straightens up. H. C. goes upstairs, and Lizzie takes File’s hat. She offers him coffee or lemonade, and they make small talk. Jim comes down and shakes hands with File, smiling. He hits the drum and goes outside. File admits he was lying that he came to apologize to Jim. File tells her that he is not a widower but a divorced man. He says living alone is his own business. He is about to leave, but she stops him and says other people are concerned. She says if someone else wants him, he has an obligation. He says it may take some time, and they sit on the couch. Noah comes in, sees File, and goes upstairs. She suggests he tell her about his divorce. He says she walked out on him and ran off with a schoolteacher. She was beautiful. Lizzie says maybe File did not tell her that he needed her. He says he would not ask a woman to stay. He says he would not beg, and she says he is a fool. She tries not to be serious and offers him grapes. She likes to cook and read books. File says he reads circulars from Washington. She says he was a great man. She tosses up his hat and says he has a nice smile. He stands up and tells her not to be so ridiculous. He leaves. The three men come in and ask her what happened. She says she made a fool of herself. Noah tells H. C. not to tell her lies. Noah says she is plain. Jim starts fighting Noah. Starbuck comes in and tells Jim to go outside. Jim says he will never come back. Noah tells Starbuck to clear out, and Starbuck tells Noah not to call Jim dumb or Lizzie plain. Starbuck runs after Jimmy. Noah says he is sorry he hit Jim but not for what he said. Noah tells Lizzie she is going to be an old maid. She should face it and stop breaking her heart. Noah goes in the house. She tells H. C. that he is right. She asks H. C. not to lie to her anymore. She says Jim and Noah will get married, but she will be the visiting aunt. H. C. says she will always have a home there. She cries out for help and runs outside with the blanket.
She goes in the barn and gives Starbuck the blanket from Jimmy. He says he meant what he said about her. She does not trust him. His name is like he made it up. He says he did make it up because he was born Smith. He advises her to choose another name too. She says she is not Lady Godiva, the Queen of Sheba or Cinderella. He asks if she would like to be. He lists several names. He lifts her up on a wagon and tells her about Melisande. He plays out her husband sword-fighting. He brought back the golden fleece, and he wraps the blanket around her. He puts a funnel on her head. She says he is lying, but he says he is dreaming. He says she and Noah have no dreams. He prepares the blanket for his bed. She says she does have a dream for a husband. Her dream is small but real. He takes her hand and tells her to believe in herself. He asks if she is pretty. She says she is plain. He says all women are pretty in different ways. Noah is not her looking-glass. She should be her own looking-glass. He takes down her hair and tells her to close her eyes. He has her say, “I am pretty.” She says it, and he tells her to mean it. She repeats it, and he kisses her. She asks why he did that. He says when she said she was pretty, it was true. She asks if it is her, and he kisses her again and embraces her.
Jim and Snookie are riding in the back of her car going around in a circle. At home H. C. is on the phone asking about Jimmy. Noah asks H. C. if Jimmy came home. H. C. tells Noah to go back to sleep. Noah asks H. C. to see his side. Noah says he is not on his side. Jim walks in smoking a cigar and sits at the kitchen table. Jim says he was out with Snookie and puts her cap on his head. Noah says she trapped Jim, who tells how he kissed her. Jim says they are engaged, and H. C. congratulates him. Jim wants to tell Lizzie, and H. C. says she is out in the pack-room with Starbuck. Jim says he hopes they get married because he likes Starbuck better than Noah.
File arrives and asks the three about Lizzie. File says he got a call about a con man called Tornado Johnson who is wanted in Kansas. File says he sold poles to guard against a tornado. File asks about the drum, and Jim says it is his. File asks about the arrow, and H. C. says he painted it. He asks about the wagon and goes to look at it. Noah goes in the house and asks H. C. why he did not tell File about Starbuck. Noah gets a gun and says he will. H. C. says Lizzie has to have some man. He tells Noah to give him the gun, and Noah puts it back in the drawer.
Starbuck asks Lizzie who else kissed him. She says a boy did so on a dare. She thought she was plain, but now she realizes she is beautiful. He tells her not to forget it. She will try to remember everything he said. He asks if he will get what he wants. He wants a clap of lightning. She says if he has kids, he will live forever. She suggests he keep company with the world. He does not have the time. She says he only has the world he makes up in his head. Starbuck confesses that he is a liar and a con man. He has always been wanting to make a miracle. He would like to live forever and asks if she wants him to stick around for a while. She is happy and says she wants to tell her father.
Lizzie goes back to the house and tells Noah she saw a cloud. Lizzie tells her father that she has a beau. H. C. says she was right about him, that he is a liar. Noah shows her that File is examining the wagon. H. C. says he will lock him up. Lizzie says Starbuck sees her as real. She goes to help Starbuck get away, but File calls to her and shakes her hand. He asks where she was going. File asks where he is. Jim says he took his horse. File says they are lying. He asks Lizzie if he means anything to them. Starbuck comes out singing, and Lizzie tells him to run away. He asks what is going on. File says he is under arrest. Lizzie asks File to let him get away. H. C. says they took a chance with him. Jim asks File to let him go. File asks Noah, who says no one broke the law. File tells Starbuck to get out of there. He gets in his wagon and asks Lizzie to go with him. File tells her not to go. She has a happy choice and asks her father what she should do. He says she is being asked. Starbuck calls her Melisande, and File says her name is Lizzie. She says Melisande is a name for only one night, but Lizzie is her name. Starbuck tosses the hundred bucks back to Noah and leaves. Lizzie thanks File, who says her hair is down. They hear thunder and see lightning. Starbuck takes off his hat and feels the rain. Lizzie jumps up and down in the rain, and they all celebrate. Starbuck comes back and asks for his hundred bucks. Noah hands it to him, and Starbuck drives off saying, “Rain!”
This comedy portrays a family with a woman who has not yet found a husband and is about to give up hope. A strange man appears and sells them the miracle of rain to end a drought. His secular faith also helps the young woman to realize that she is pretty and can attract a man. Sometimes having faith and confidence in yourself can help you to realize your dreams.