Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Though I've never reviewed a Sadie Thompson movie on this blog, this is the third version of the story I've seen, after 1932's RAIN with Joan Crawford and 1953's MISS SADIE THOMPSON with Rita Hayworth. The pre-Code RAIN, with a strong and sexy performance by the young Crawford, is the one to beat. This silent version isn't quite as good as the ’32 film, but it is a solid effort with a strong central performance from Gloria Swanson as the title character who first appeared in a short story by Somerset Maugham. This version begins as a ship filled with restless Marines dressed in their ass-hugging white uniforms arrives in Pago Pago—where the natives are said to be "not lazy, just born tired." Also off the ship are the Davidsons, a secular reformist missionary couple who have come to clean up the islands morality-wise; their friends, the McPhails, a more tolerant couple; and Sadie Thompson, a "good-time girl" (i.e., hooker) who, so she claims, is waiting for a departing ship to come out of quarantine so she can head off for a new job on the island of Samoa. Sadie makes friends with the Marines, in particular Sgt. O'Hara (Raoul Walsh) who falls big time for her, but she quickly makes an enemy of the mirthless and cruel Mr. Davidson (Lionel Barrymore) who tries to have her sent back to San Francisco where he knows she faces jail time. Sadie tries both tirades and sweetness to get Davidson to relent, but to no avail. Finally Davidson seems to convert her—she throws away her make-up and accepts the fact that she'll have to face justice in the States. O'Hara even offers to step in, but she rebuffs him. But one rainy night, Davidson, who's been having unsettling dreams about Sadie, comes to her room with more than praying on his mind. The next morning [SPOILER], Davidson has drowned himself in the ocean and Sadie is hot to trot, wearing make-up again and ready to follow O'Hara to Australia.

I've never quite figured out what transpires between Sadie and Davidson on their fateful night together. Does he force himself on her? Does she seduce him? Has her conversion been fake all along? Did she always have the upper hand? The movies are ambiguous partly because the original story is just as ambiguous, but also because it's more interesting this way. After all, the ways of the human psyche are not always (and maybe almost never) explicable. Swanson is fine; in her hands, Sadie's conversion does seem to be real, whereas I've assumed in the past that it was not. Lionel Barrymore is OK here, but Walter Huston in RAIN remains the best Davidson to my mind. Walsh (pictured above with Swanson), known primarily as a director of crime and war films (HIGH SIERRA, WHITE HEAT, OBJECTIVE BURMA) is fine in the director's chair and as Sadie's sweet-natured love interest. Most fun scene: when Davidson first barges into Sadie's room while she's entertaining, he calls her a "scarlet woman," and she replies, "So's your Aunt Abby" and the Marines toss him out. The last reel of the film is missing and the ending is re-created here by stills and title cards. While it is disappointing not to see the climactic action, the film is still worth seeing, especially for silent movie fans. [TCM]

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