Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque
Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Joan Crawford, Walter Houston, Fred Howard, Ben Hendricks Jr., William Gargan, Mary Shaw, Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, Matt Moore
Rain is a 1932 South Seas drama film directed by Lewis Milestone with portions filmed at Santa Catalina Island, California. The pre-Code film stars Joan Crawford as prostitute Sadie Thompson and features Walter Huston as a conflicted missionary who wants to reform Sadie, but whose own morals start decaying. Crawford was loaned out by MGM to United Artists for this film.
Actress Jeanne Eagels had played the role on stage. Other movie versions of the story include: a 1928 silent film titled Sadie Thompson starring Gloria Swanson, and the heavily sanitized Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), which starred Rita Hayworth.
A westbound ship en route to Apia, Samoa, is temporarily stranded at nearby Pago Pago due to a possible cholera outbreak on board. Among the passengers are Alfred Davidson, a self-righteous missionary, his wife, and Sadie Thompson, a prostitute. Thompson passes the time partying and drinking with the American Marines stationed on the island. Sergeant Tim O’Hara, nicknamed by Sadie as “Handsome”, falls in love with her.
Her wild behavior soon becomes more than the Davidsons can stand and Mr. Davidson confronts Sadie, resolving to save her soul. When she dismisses his offer, Davidson has the Governor order her deported to San Francisco, California, where she is wanted for an unspecified crime (for which she says she was framed).
She begs Davidson to allow her to remain on the island a few more days – her plan is to flee to Sydney, Australia. During a heated argument with Davidson, she experiences a religious conversion and agrees to return to San Francisco and the jail sentence awaiting her there.
The evening before she is to leave, Sergeant O’Hara asks Sadie to marry him and offers to hide her until the Sydney boat sails, but she refuses. Later, while native drums beat, the repressed Davidson satisfies his lust with Sadie. The next morning he is found dead on the beach – a suicide. Davidson’s hypocrisy and betrayal cause Thompson to return to her old self and she goes off to Sydney with O’Hara to start a new life.
Rain was not well received – either critically or financially – upon initial release. The unglamorous role for Crawford, and bold story (religious hypocrisy being its main theme), caught Depression-era audiences off guard.
Motion Picture Herald commented, “Because the producers have made such a strong attempt to establish the stern impressiveness of the story, it is rather slow. In its drive to become powerful, it appears to have lost the spark of spontaneity….Joan Crawford and Walter Huston are satisfactory.”
Variety noted, “It turns out to be a mistake to have assigned the Sadie Thompson role to Miss Crawford. It shows her off unfavorably. The dramatic significance of it all is beyond her range…. [Director] Milestone tried to achieve action with the camera, but wears the witnesses down with words.
Joan Crawford’s get-up as the light lady is extremely bizarre. Pavement pounders don’t quite trick themselves up as fantastically as all that. In commercial favor of Rain is the general repute of the theme and Miss Crawford’s personal following, but the finished product will not help either.”
The film earned $538,000 in the United States and Canada and $166,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $198,000.
- Pierce, David (March 29, 2001). Legal Limbo: How American Copyright Law Makes Orphan Films (mp3 in “file3”). Orphans of the Storm II: Documenting the 20th Century. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
Film Collectors Corner
Watch Rain Now – Amazon Instant Video
Not released on Blu Ray as yet