“The rain people are people made of rain. And when they cry they disappear all together because they cry themselves away.” Director Francis Ford Coppola followed up the big-budget musical Finian’s Rainbow by writing and directing a more personal project, The Rain People (1969), a real sleeper that starred Shirley Knight (who had been nominated for an Academy Award for the 1962 film, Sweet Bird of Youth), James Caan and Robert Duvall. Both Caan and Duvall would reteam with Coppola in The Godfather as “Sonny Corleone” and “Tom Hagan,” respectively. Knight portrays a disillusioned Long Island housewife named “Natalie Ravenna” who discovers she is pregnant, decides to leave her husband and heads out on an aimless road trip across the country (the film was shot in 18 states!) in search of personal fulfillment. During her travels, she befriends a hitchhiker named "Killer" (Caan), a brain-damaged former football hero, as well as "Gordon" (Duvall), a lonely, widowed highway patrolman. The film was based on a short story Coppola wrote at UCLA called “Echoes.” However, Coppola utilized a guerilla style of filmmaking that involved constant script revisions and improvisations by the actors on the road. George Lucas worked on the film crew for The Rain People and even made a 33-minute documentary film titled Filmmaker during its production using his own 16mm Éclair NPR camera. The Rain People was awarded the Golden Shell at the 1969 San Sebastian Film Festival. Variety called The Rain People “an overlong, brooding film,” while critic Pauline Kael commented that Coppola “applies his craftsmanship with undue solemnity to material that suggests a gifted college student’s imitation of early Tennessee Williams.” Although The Rain People did not perform well at the box office, the film acquired a cult status over the years and even appeared as an entry in Danny Peary’s 1981 book, Cult Movies, alongside such cult classics as Eraserhead (1977), Freaks (1932), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Gun Crazy (1949) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Useless Trivia: Coppola himself later named The Rain People among the favorite movies from his own personal filmography along with The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), Rumble Fish (1983) and Youth Without Youth (2007).