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Raintree County (1957)

Rod Taylor plays Garwood B. Jones in this Civil War-era epic, which has been called MGM's attempt to resurrect "Gone With the Wind" for the CinemaScope generation.

Taylor and Lee Marvin both appear briefly, bringing exuberance and natural talent into a stagey production where the leads -- Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor -- seem to be so obviously ACTING. Recurring Rod Taylor co-star Eva Marie Saint ("36 Hours" and "Palomino") also puts in a fine performance in a peripheral role.

The role of Garwood B. Jones is one that Rod actively pursued. In his book, "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood," author Stephen Vagg relates a story from screenwriter Millard Kaufman, who said that Rod somehow got the script, read it and went to MGM chief Dore Schary and said he'd like to play the part. This was a bold move from an actor who had been in Hollywood for just a couple of years. "Rod had a great gift of brass," Kaufman said. " He knew what he wanted and he got it. Became a hell of a movie actor."

The character Garwood B. Jones makes sport out of tormenting young John Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift), constantly needling and goading him and calling him "Sprout." He is a rival to Shawnessy in love and politics.

Unfortunately, after breathing life into early scenes, Taylor vanishes for most of the movie. His character is sneered at in references by other characters after he takes up a political life. He reappears late in the movie, but it's too little, too late.

Granted, Clift 's performance was affected because he was severely injured during the making of this movie, but he seems miscast from the outset. He's scrawny, twitchy and seems to be dodging the camera most of the time.

Production had to close down for two months after Clift was in a car accident in May 1956. When he returned, they had to find ways of shooting him from his less-damaged side. He was not able to smile broadly, and he mumbled frequently -- either because of the injuries or the pain medication he was taking.

Elizabeth Taylor earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal as the spoiled Southern belle, Susanna, who tricks Shawnessy into marriage by telling him she's pregnant. Not surprisingly, the marriage is rocky. A child eventually is produced, Susanna goes mad and Johnny goes off to war. (In an interesting casting aside, Shawnessy meets up with a rebel officer played by DeForest Kelley -- Dr. McCoy of the original "Star Trek" series.)

The costumes, soundtrack and scenery are lovely, and "Raintree County" tackles big topics like slavery, racism and insanity. But when you're reduced to praising supporting players and the pretty production, you know the rest of the movie has trouble.

In an interview for Turner Classic Movies, Taylor said of the movie:

"Raintree County" to me was the very beginning so I was mostly over-awed. ... I was little bit shy that this was my first big big movie ... and I was the new kid on the block.

Operation Raintree (1957)

Rod Taylor appears only in the opening credits of this five-minute promotional film for "Raintree County" that highlights the search for shooting locations. The crew sets up equipment at outdoor locations that require a great deal of ingenuity. In Danville, Ky., where the studio had temporary headquarters, town residents stage a welcoming parade.



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IMDb // Wikipedia

Interview with Rod, by Dwayne Epstein, author of "Lee Marvin: Point Blank."

Turner Classic Movies

Raintree County -- The Movie: Contains behind-the-scenes photos, including one with Rod (he's in suspenders, making notes). It also has an account of the making of the movie and its premiere.

Production and Art Database for the Oscars: Rod Taylor

IMDb: Operation Raintree



Versions on

Operation Raintree on YouTube

Rod in the opening credits
of Operation Raintree