Richard J. Leskosky: Films to watch on a rainy day
No matter what you may believe about global climate change, one thing is certain — it's a big problem for Hollywood. All those headlines, magazine articles and documentaries on climate change represent a delicious amount of free publicity and audience awareness — just what Hollywood loves to capitalize on. But real climate change happens just too slowly for the movies, and debates on carbon emissions usually don't involve car chases.
So instead, studios make movies about freakish weather conditions — most recently, "Into the Storm" and "Sharknado 2: The Second One." The former, as serious as this sort of thing gets, presents a swarm of tornadoes, the largest tornado on record and a fiery tornado; the latter, its tongue in its cheek throughout, offers a tornado filled with sharks — in New York City yet!
Other evocative bizarre weather titles include "Dragon Storm" (2004), "Metal Tornado" (2011), "Nuclear Hurricane" (2007) and "Lava Storm" (2008). Then there's the 1979 Japanese film "Rape Hurricane: Saku!!" — though I'm fairly certainly they're using "hurricane" figuratively there.
That does prompt the observation, though, that relatively few good films have literal references to weather in their titles, while a goodly number use weather terms as symbols or metaphors.
Victor Seastrom's silent classic "The Wind" (1928) starred Lilian Gish in arguably her best role as a Midwestern farm wife beset by both nature and man. "Rain" (1932) had Joan Crawford's "party girl" finding redemption in Pago Pago amidst a lot of the title precipitation. Set elsewhere in the South Seas, John Ford's "The Hurricane" (1937) saw its stars, Dorothy Lamour, Mary Astor and Jon Hall, lashed to palm trees during its cyclonic climax; it earned an Oscar for Sound Recording and nominations for Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell) and Musical Score (Alfred Newman).
In more recent years, Wolfgang Petersen's 2000 drama "The Perfect Storm," about the crew (most notably George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly) of a doomed fishing trawler, earned Oscar nominations for Sound and Visual Effects.
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) should be included here, too, as Gene Kelly sings and dances the title number in a "real" downpour.
Cinema scholars have given a lot of attention to Nicholas Ray's 1958 "Wind Across the Everglades," which focuses on a game warden (Christopher Plummer) who tries to put an end to bird poaching in the Everglades. Alexander Mackendrick's well-received "A High Wind in Jamaica" (1965), starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn, begins with a hurricane and then presents an emotionally complex tale of five children kidnapped by pirates.
Ang Lee's 1997 "The Ice Storm" ends with the title event, but the title also signifies the emotional detachment of the characters. It won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival.
When we get to purely symbolic weather titles, though, notable films multiply. D.W. Griffith's 1921 "Orphans of the Storm" follows the travails of adoptive sisters during the French Revolution. "Rain Man" (1988) is not obviously symbolic, but it is the name given the Dustin Hoffman character by his younger brother (Tom Cruise) when the brother was a toddler. Norman Jewison's 1999 "The Hurricane," a biopic about boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, earned Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination for his title role.
The number of good and even great films with a symbolic "wind" in the title, though, is truly amazing. Obviously, there's "Gone with the Wind" (1939), but there's also Douglas Sirk's grand melodrama set among the Texas oilfields — "Written on the Wind" (1956) with Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Malone won a Supporting Actress Oscar, and Stack was nominated for Supporting Actor; the title song also received a nomination. "Inherit the Wind" (1960), Stanley Kramer's adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play about the Scopes "Monkey" trial, earned four Oscar nominations, including one for Spencer Tracy in his role based on Clarence Darrow.
Cecil B. DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind" (1942), with John Wayne, Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland, dealt with salvage crews in 1840s Key West. It won an Oscar for Special Effects and was also nominated for Color Cinematography and Color Art Direction. But its greatest distinction is its unique place in movie history as the only film to feature both ventriloquism and a giant squid!
"Whistle Down the Wind" (1961) starred Hayley Mills and Alan Bates in a story about farm children who mistake the escaped murderer hiding in their barn for Jesus Christ (four British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominations). John Milius' "The Wind and the Lion" (1975) was a largely fictionalized account of the 1904 Perdicaris kidnapping by Moroccan brigand Raisuli. Sean Connery played Raisuli (Scottish accent and all), and the film received Academy Award nominations for Sound and Score (Jerry Goldsmith).
Christopher Guest's 2003 mockumentary, "A Mighty Wind," focused on a reunion concert of three folk bands. One of its songs, "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," was nominated for an Oscar, and the title song won a Grammy.
"The Wind That Shakes the Barley," Ken Loach's 2006 drama set during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), won the Palme d'Or (best film award) at the Cannes Film Festival and became the highest-grossing Irish-made independent film ever.
On the lighter side, in 1996 Terry Jones directed and starred in (as Mr. Toad) a live-action version of Kenneth Grahame's children's classic "The Wind in the Willows" with a cast including fellow former Monty Python members John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin as well as Steve Coogan (from "The Trip," "Philomena" and "Alan Partridge"). Several animated versions of Grahame's novel have also been made, though the best known remains Disney's 1949 "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." Disney also distributed Jones' version in this country but renamed it "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," in part to promote the ride of that name in its theme parks.
So if a rainy day — or hurricane season — keeps you indoors for a while, you now have a long list of notable weather movies (whether literal or figurative in their titles) to watch. And even if your taste runs more to "Sharknado," don't forget that giant squid in "Reap the Wild Wind."
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.