I love the rain. It washes memories off the sidewalks of life.—Allan Felix (Woody Allen), Play It Again, Sam
(And yes, I know the above picture’s from Manhattan)
I love the rain too, Woody; but not because it washes memories away, especially in movies. In movies, rain is the frequent guarantor of an unforgettable moment of:
comedy—say for example, when Woody himself gets into trouble in Take the Money and Run, brandishing a “gub” made out of soap;
drama—that image from The Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins, arms outstretched to receive the cleansing shower, has become a much-mocked cinema cliché;
romance—Bogie sure took advantage of a good downpour in The Big Sleep;
or horror, with The Old Dark House serving well as the template for that storybook opener “On a dark and stormy night”…
…but I have five of my own favorite rain scenes in the movies to share. My guess is you remember, and love, at least one of them:
Rain signifying sadness is one of its more popular uses in films. Do we need to point out its obvious analogy to tears? Didn’t think so. There might be rain scenes in other movies that are actually “better” at bringing out real tears from viewers (especially because this one isn’t actually meant to do that), but as far as this device’s employment as a symbol of unhappiness? This moment, when the raindrops act as stand-ins for the tears Bogart is too much the man to shed publicly when he learns Ingrid Bergman has abandoned him is and always will be The One for me.
Now for the opposite: rain that brings lovers together. In this sorely underrated 1991 comedy written by and starring Steve Martin, the overall sense of magic realism indeed persuades us that it just might be Martin’s sheer willpower that brings on the storm that keeps Victoria Tennant’s plane from taking off—the shamelessly bold deus ex machina that leads her back to him, and one of the great modern movie kisses. The sequence, set against Irish singer Enya’s ethereal and transporting song “Exile,” represents the kind of poetic wish-fulfillment cynics can’t tolerate and romantics can’t live without.
Often, the use of rain in the movies feels like what it is, technically—a device. The deluge during the climactic battle in Kurosawa’s samurai epic feels like exactly the opposite: fated, inevitable. It does for the film—pardon the coming ridiculous comparison, but I can’t help sharing it because it won’t leave my mind—what I suspect it does for some sports fans when they’re watching a football game being played in a torrent of rain or a crazy blizzard: it energizes your investment, because the terrain is now a messy challenge and the contest seems crushingly difficult, requiring heroic manliness from the participants attempting to survive it.
Survival is definitely not what rain portends in Psycho. It’s what drives Marion Crane off the road and into the arms of a maniac (after she’s dead, anyway). Sometimes movie rain provides atmosphere and metaphor; other times, the plot crucially turns on it. But for the difficulty of Marion seeing down the road because of an uncooperative forecast, Hitch (or, more accurately, screenwriter Joseph Stefano) might have had to resort to the ol’ running out of gas or hitchhiker’s nightmare bit to get her into Cabin 1.
(See: Psycho III. No, really, see Psycho III. Better than you think it is)
Come on, I wasn’t going to “forget.” It was tempting, yes, just as a writer’s version of what they call trolling in the blog world—but this really is the standard by which every other scene in the movies involving rain must be judged. Why would a man make a fool of himself by singin’ in the rain? Why else?
Don’t rain on my parade by weeping and wailing that your favorite movie rain scene was left out. Instead, shower your fellow movie-lovers below with your fondest memories of motion picture precipitations.