Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rain (1932)

(Directed by Lewis Milestone, 1932, USA)

Ah! Pre-code Hollywood! Was there ever a time that Hollywood movies were unexpectedly naughty and inexplicably innocent at the same time; with dialogue full of coded sexual innuendo?

For pre-code unbelievabilty, there is the recently restored and released "Baby Face" from 1933 with the immortal Barbara Stanwyck (eventually I'll write about that classic later).

However, as part of our Joan Crawford reconsideration series (after viewing "Mommie Dearest), "Rain" is the sultry tale of Sadie Thompson, the hooker with a heart of gold and her showdown with the holy-roller reformer Alfred Davidson. Based on a novella by Somerset Maugham, the movie is about the clash of moral values set in a tropical zone, in this case Pago Pago.

The aforementioned Sadie Thompason is stranded in tropical paradise for a spell with the reformer couple Davidsons and a troop of bored marines, one of whom Sadie 'fraternizes' with. The heart of the movie is the clash of the free-spirited Sadie with Reverend Davidson (played by Crawford and Walter Huston respectively). He wears her down, discovers a secret from her shaded past and attempts to reform her.
It works briefly, until the final twenty minutes of the film.

Crawford was on loan here from MGM and considered "Rain" to be one of her early flops (since it made no money at the box office). It's interesting to see her in this before shoulder pads, the red gash lipsticked mouth and all the other things we've come to expect from viewing Joan Crawford movies. Her performance here is fresh, slighly raw and believable. The fact that she was following in the footsteps of legendary stage actress Jeanne Eagels, who made a great stage success portraying Sadie Thompson, didn't help matters either. The public still associated Eagels with this role and she died four years before this film was made. To her credit, Crawford tried to make her character believable, and her toughness works for her here, from her first seductive "He-llll-o boys" to her unrepentant last line.

It is the showdown with Walter Houston that makes this stagy movie fun, the two extremes: vice and hypocrital virtue make for very lively viewing. It is rather sad to realize that fundamentalists are still as bigoted today as they were depicted here, 77 years ago.

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