Soldier in the Rain

Soldier in the Rain is a 1963 American comedy buddy film directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. Tuesday Weld portrays Gleason's character's romantic partner.

Soldier in the Rain
Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen
in the theatrical release poster
Directed byRalph Nelson
Produced byMartin Jurow
Written byBlake Edwards
Maurice Richlin
Based on the novel by
William Goldman
StarringJackie Gleason
Steve McQueen
Tuesday Weld
Music byHenry Mancini
CinematographyPhilip H. Lathrop
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Solar Productions
Distributed byAllied Artists
Release date
  • November 27, 1963 (1963-11-27) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States

Produced by Martin Jurow and co-written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards, the screenplay is based upon a 1960 novel by William Goldman and concerns the friendship between an Army master sergeant (Gleason) and a young country bumpkin buck sergeant (McQueen). The music is by Henry Mancini.

The film was released five days after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, which hindered its box office take.


Sergeant Eustis Clay (McQueen) cannot wait to finish his peacetime service and move on to bigger, better things. He is a personal favorite of Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter (Gleason), a career soldier who is considerably brighter than Eustis, but enjoys his company and loyalty. Slaughter is a totally institutionalized lifer, wired into all the perks, back channels and supply sources an army base can provide filtering through his near autonomous cabin hub. Eustis is involved in a number of schemes and scams, including one in which he will sell tickets to see an equally dim private named Meltzer (Tony Bill) run a three-minute mile. He inconveniences Slaughter more than once, including a traffic mishap that requires him being bailed out of jail.

Determined to tempt Slaughter with the joys of civilian life before his hitch is up, Eustis fixes him up on a date with the much younger, not-too-bright Bobbi Jo Pepperdine (Weld). At first, Slaughter is offended, but gradually he sees another side of Bobbi Jo, including a mutual fondness for crossword puzzles. Eustis and Slaughter golf together and begin to enjoy the good life.

One night, Eustis is devastated to learn of the death of Donald, his dog. A pair of hated rivals use their status as Military Policemen to lure Eustis into a barroom brawl. He is beaten two-against-one and is nearly defeated when Slaughter angrily comes to his rescue. Together they win the fight, but the middle-aged, overweight Slaughter collapses from the effort.

Hospitalized, Slaughter delights Eustis by suggesting that they leave the Army together and go live on a tropical isle, surrounded by blue seas and beautiful girls. Slaughter dies, however, and Eustis, a changed man, re-enlists in the Army.



Soldier in the Rain
AuthorWilliam Goldman
CountryUnited States
Publication date
14 July 1960

William Goldman based the novel on his experience of being in the US Army from 1952–1954, setting it at the fictional "Southern" Army post, Camp Scott, in the spring and summer of 1953. He says he was stuck during the writing, and gave it to his then-roommate John Kander to read and it was Kander who suggested the girl character, who is only 14 years old at her first appearance, be made into a major figure. This helped Goldman finish the rest of the book.[1]

Goldman says the publisher put pressure on him to change the ending:

It was one of the first three books of the firm, and they said, "We can't publish this ending. It's a downer. We guarantee you the book won't sell. Will you change it? I said, "I will absolutely change it, and I will give it a very happy ending, if you can guarantee me the book will sell." They said, "Obviously, we can't guarantee that," and I said, "Obviously, I can't change the ending."[2]

Goldman says the character of Clay "was sympathetic for me. There was a sergeant who was a villain, but I thought Clay was just a nice affable stoop. I'd been in the army. A lot of this stuff is also, as I look back on it, autobiographical."[3]

The novel received mixed reviews.[4]

Although Goldman went on to become a noted screenwriter, he was not involved in the adaptation.

"They made changes," said Goldman of the film. "No one says, 'Oh, we are going to fuck up Bill Goldman's book.' Most of this stuff I didn't pay any attention to. I don't know that I've ever seen Soldier in the Rain. I must have because I like Tuesday Weld but as a rule I don't look at movies I'm involved with and I don't read books that I've written. One does the best one can and that's it."[5]


In 2011, film critic Craig Butler wrote about the film's theme,

An absorbing film that deserves to be much better known, Soldier in the Rain is a sometimes uneasy blend of comedy and drama that doesn't always quite come off, but has so much going for it that one is glad to overlook its flaws. A buddy picture set in the peacetime Army, Soldier is concerned with how a strong friendship can develop between two people of differing personalities and aims. Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen are different types, and the fact that they have such a strong bond may at first seem unlikely, but as the film progresses it somehow seems natural and inevitable. Blake Edwards and Martin Richlin have done an excellent job of adapting William Goldman's novel, and together with director Ralph Nelson have opted to emphasize the character aspects of the material over the plot.[6]

See also


  1. Andersen p.44
  2. Andersen, p. 53.
  3. Egan p 26
  4. Mitgang, Herbert. 'Bugles and Belles: SOLDIER IN THE RAIN. By William Goldman'. 308 pp. New York: Atheneum, $4. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 July 1960: 240.
  5. Egan p 40
  6. Butler, Craig. Allmovie, film review. Last accessed; February 23, 2011.
  • Andersen, Richard, William Goldman, Twayne Publishers, 1979
  • Egan, Sean, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, Bear Manor Media 2014
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