On a drought-plagued farm somewhere in the southwest, spinster Lizzy Curry (Katharine Hepburn) has finally given up on ever being married, although her family wants to make one last effort with File (Wendell Corey), the local lawman. Into their lives comes the fast talking con man Starbuck (Burt Lancaster), who promises that he can make it rain for $100. More importantly, he can see the con job that Lizzy has played on herself and before he rides out of town he will have redeemed not only the shy spinster but himself.
Katharine Hepburn was well into her period of playing spinsters by the time she made this 1956 film with Burt Lancaster. The idea of Hepburn and Lancaster making a film together is interesting since they had totally different approaches to the acting craft. Hepburn would have the entire script memorized before shooting began whereas Lancaster preferred to learn his lines the night before. This is one of those films where the Bryn Mawr accent of the leading actress works against the character, but then the whole idea of Hepburn playing a rube--with costumes by Edith Head no less--is a bit of a stretch to start. Lancaster really sinks his teeth into the role of the charming mountebank Starbuck. Cameron Prud'Homme, Earl Hollliman and Lloyd Bridges play Lizzy's worried father and brothers, and it is they who really give the film its sense of life out on the farm more than the sets and scenery.
Based on N. Richard Nash's play, the film was directed by Joseph Anthony, who had directed the stage version starring Geraldine Page (presumably an attempt to duplicate the success of Elia Kazan in moving from Broadway to Hollywood). The story is still produced by community theaters as the musical "110 in the Shade." Hepburn received her seventh Oscar nomination for Best Actress for "The Rainmaker" (the winner that year was Ingrid Bergman for "Anastasia"), but the role of Lizzy Curry is not one of best performances. Certainly Lizzy is becoming desperate, but Hepburn gives those scenes too much of an edge. In her earlier films this worked quite well, most notably in "Alice Adams," but in as a mature actress Hepburn was much more successful in underplaying the desperation of her spinster characters, as such did superbly the previous year in "Summertime." This may well be one of those regards in which it is simply difficult to separate the actress from the role. However, in her strongest scenes she certainly brings dignity to the frightened spinster, and in the end you understand why she would actually pick Wendell Corey over Burt Lancaster.