The tree of Life

The Tree of Life ( Raintree County ) is an American film directed by Edward Dmytryk , released in 1957 .


In 1862 , at Freehaven in Raintree County, students finished their year posing for the class photo. Among them, John Wickliff Shawnessy and Nell Gaither, childhood friends, are in love with each other. Professor Jerusalem Webstern Stiles tells his students the local legend, that of the Tree of Life , the mythical tree with gold leaves, which would give the finder the secret of life. John, a young idealist, decides to find him and goes around the marshes in search of him. But he gets lost and fails to drown. Back in town, he gives up his quest and resumes his carefree life.

Sometime later, during Independence Day , John will meet Susanna Drake from New Orleans staying in the county. Very quickly he falls in love with the beautiful Southerner and when she announces that she is pregnant the young man decides to marry her.

On their honeymoon in New Orleans, Susanna discovers that her husband is an abolitionist , shocked, she proclaims nervously that nothing is worse than having a drop of black blood in her blood, despite the true affection she had for her black nanny Henrietta, now deceased.

John finds that his wife is tormented by his past. While visiting the ruins of Susanna’s plantation, John learns that she survived a child’s fire that ravaged her home with her parents and nanny Henrietta. He also learns that Susanna’s mother was taking dementia and the possible heredity of the disease haunts Susanna.

Back in Raintree, the years go by, the Shawnessy have a Jim son and live in an appearance of happiness. The birth of their son has revived his torments, behavior disorders are more and more common in Susanna. During a scene, the young woman declares that she is responsible for the death of her parents. As a child, realizing that her father was in love with Henrietta, Susanna revealed by a word left to her mother the bond of her father. That night, his mother madly set Henrietta’s room on fire, and the house was set on fire by his parents and the nanny. Susanna has always felt responsible for the tragedy.

Despite all the love and support John has for Susanna, she runs away with her son to the south. The Civil War breaks out and John has to go to the front. He meets Raintree’s friends, Flash and Stiles, on the battlefield. After much fighting, his company approaches the area where Susanna lived, he finds his son and it is announced that his wife has fallen into madness, she is now interned in an insane asylum. At the end of the war, John goes to get his wife and takes her home.

Calmed down, Susanna realizes the love that Nell Gaither always brings to her husband and the serenity she could bring to her family. One evening, she sets off in search of John’s buried dreams, and after saying goodbye to her son, she goes to the swamps to find the Tree of Life. Her son follows her without knowing it. The next day, discovering their disappearance John organizes research to find them. Susanna is found dead drowned. Later, he will find his son asleep at the foot of a tree, the large golden tree shining in the sunlight.

Technical sheet

  • Title: The Tree of Life
  • Original title: Raintree County
  • Director: Edward Dmytryk
  • Scenario: Millard Kaufman , based on Ross Lockridge Jr’s novel
  • Music (and musical direction): Johnny Green
  • Song: The Song of Raintree County , lyrics by Paul Francis Webster , performed by Nat King Cole and the MGM choir
  • Photography: Robert Surtees
  • First assistant operator: Fred Koenekamp (uncredited)
  • Editing: John D. Dunning
  • Artistic direction: William A. Horning and Urie McCleary
  • Set decorator: Hugh Hunt and Edwin B. Willis
  • Costumes: Walter Plunkett
  • Special Effects: Warren Newcombe
  • Choreographer: Alex Romero
  • Production: David Lewis (in) , Millard Kaufman (associate producer) and Thomas D. Tannenbaum (associate producer)
  • Production and Distribution Company: MGM
  • Country of origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Format: Technicolor
  • Sound: 70 mm 6-Track (Westrex Recording System) (70 mm prints) / Mono (35 mm anamorphic prints)
  • Genre: Drama
  • Duration: 166 minutes (original version)
  • Release date :
    •  United States  first
    •  United States 
    •  la France 


  • Montgomery Clift (VF: Bernard Noël ) : John Wickliff Shawnessy, an idealist who falls in love with a beautiful southerner
  • Elizabeth Taylor (VF: Claude Winter ) : Susanna Drake Shawnessy, the beautiful southerner who marries John
  • Eva Marie Saint (VF: Martine Sarcey ) : Nell Gaither, childhood friend and student friend of John
  • Nigel Patrick (VF: Bernard Dheran ) : Professor Jerusalem Webstern Stiles, an eccentric and libertine teacher
  • Lee Marvin (VF: Georges Aminel ) : Orville “Flash” Perkins, a sturdy fellow drinker but best runner in the county
  • Rod Taylor (VF: Raymond Loyer ) : Garwood B. Jones, John’s fellow student who will become an opportunist politician
  • Agnes Moorehead : Ellen Shawnessy
  • Walter Abel : TD Shawnessy, John’s father
  • Jarma Lewis (VF: Jacqueline Porel ) : Barbara Drake
  • Tom Drake (VF: Michel François ) : Bobby Drake
  • Rhys Williams (VF: Yves Brainville ) : Ezra Gray
  • Russell Collins (VF: Pierre Leproux ) : Niles Foster
  • DeForest Kelley : The Southern Officer
  • John Eldredge (VF: Georges Hubert ) : cousin Sam
  • Ruth Attaway (VF: Morena Casamance ) : Parthenia
  • Oliver Blake : Jake, the bartender
  • Don Burnett : Tom Conway
  • Isabel Cooley : Soona, Susana’s maid
  • Jack Daly (VF: Jean Berton ) : the photographer
  • Rosalind Hayes : Bessie
  • James Griffith (uncredited) (VF: Jean Amadou ) : Mr. Gray’s research fellow

Around the film

  • The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , hoping to make a new Gone With The Wind 1 and renew its triumph, had purchased the rights to Ross Lockridge Jr.’s best-selling 1,100-page book , Raintree County , written in 1948 2 . Various writers worked on its adaptation for six years and the directors William Wyler and Richard Brooks were considered before entrusting the realization to Edward Dmytryk 3 .
    The film was often presented as the Yankee version of Victor Fleming’s movie 4, but it will remain much lower than its famous model 5 .
  • They built whole scenery in Culver City in California in the batch o 3 studios of MGM. Thus the city of Freehaven was made from a western decor that was added several buildings as the Town Hall Freehaven and its clock tower 6 .
    In 1971 , the site of the Tree of Life was sold to developers, the decorations were razed from which emerged new buildings called Raintree condominiums in tribute to film 7 .
    Other places of the film were shot in New Orleans , to Natchez in Mississippiand Danville in Kentucky 4 .
  • The Tree of Life cost the record $ 6 million, a budget rarely equaled for a US- shot MGM movie 2 . The film’s success was mitigated and reported that low profits 2 .
  • The film was shot in a new large format process called ” MGM Camera 65 “, which was later used in 1959 for the film Ben-Hur in William Wyler 7 . Later, the process was renamed “Ultra Panavision 70” 6 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ The film guide – under the direction of Pierre Murat – Télérama hors série – 2009 Editions – ( ISBN 978-2-914927-09-3 )
  2. ↑ a , b and c The fabulous history of the Goldwyn Mayer Metro in 1714 films , The Book of Paris, Odessa, 1977 , ( ISBN 2-245-00616-X )
  3. ↑  [ archive ]
  4. ↑ a and b Elizabeth Taylor – Passions of a lifetime – Donald Spoto – Belfond Publishing – 1996 ( ISBN 2-7144-3315-4 )
  5. ↑ Alpha Encyclopedia of Cinema – War Cinema – Volume 4 – Editions Grammont SA – Alpha Éditions
  6. ↑ a and b Imdb  [ archive ]
  7. ↑ a and b Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Splendor of the American cinema of Peter Hay, translated by Paule Pagliano, Bordas ( ISBN 2-04-019778-8 )

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