Vintage Movies: “Rain Man”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


Rain Man (1988, 133 minutes)

When it comes to portraying characters with severe mental disorders, the silver screen has a pretty sad track record. Since the early ’50s, only Clare Danes’ title role in 2010’s Temple Grandin, Russell Crowe playing John Nash in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind and Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, a high-functioning autistic in Rain Man, stand out for tackling such heavy subjects as autism and paranoid schizophrenia

For a kid in his 20s, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is as self-absorbed as they get. He’s just paid for four Lamborghinis to be delivered to his European auto sales business in Los Angeles so he can sell them at a handsome profit. He bullies his office girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golina) as they are driving to Palm Springs for the weekend.

“I just got a call from Mr. Mooney, your father’s lawyer,” reports one of his employees over Charlie’s car telephone. “He’s been trying to reach you. Your father has died in Cincinnati.” Expressionless behind sunglasses, Charlie replies, “Uh, huh.” The employee continues, “The funeral’s tomorrow. He said you’d know where. I’ve got his number if you need it.” Charlie replies, “That won’t be necessary. Anything else?”

Charlie walks into the garage of his father’s lavish estate to find the ancient vehicle still parked there, the machine that came between him and his father so many years ago. “I’ve known this car all my life,” he mutters to Susanna. “I only drove it once. It’s a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible. Only eight thousand were produced. It’s a Fireball 8 from the first full year of the Dyna-Flo transmission.” He tells Susanna about the momentous night he and a few friends drove the car, without permission. His father reported the vehicle stolen and had his son arrested. “He didn’t pick me up from jail until two days later,” says Charlie. “I ran away that night, only 16 years old. I haven’t seen him since.” Later he tells her, “When I was a kid and I got scared, the Rain Man would come and sing to me. He was just one of those imaginary childhood friends.”

Charlie becomes very angry when his father’s lawyer reads the will. The only items he will receive are the ancient automobile and his father’s prize-winning collection of rose bushes. The balance of the estate goes to an unnamed party. That person, reveals the attorney, is Charlie’s older brother. “I have an older brother?!” Charlie explodes. His name is Raymond, and he resides permanently in a home for autistic adults, explains the attorney. Charlie visits Raymond in the home and decides to set him free once he realizes this man, with his head now crammed full of minutiae, is the one who sang to him when he was frightened, the person he remembers as the Rain Man.