Movie Critique – Sadie Thompson

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A story of a scarlet woman on a road to new life encounters love, hurdles and eventually finds her happy place. Silent film makes it all the more effective with only music in the background and title cards and expressions on face. Beautifully made. 

Sadie Thompson is a 1928 American silent drama film starring Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore and Raoul Walsh. Gloria Swanson also Produced it which was Directed by Raoul Walsh. The film tells a tale about a fallen woman who is attempting to start a new life in a new place. It is based on the 1921 short story Miss Thompson by W. Somerset Maugham and the 1922 play Rain, by John Colton and Clemence Randolph also based on the short story.

This is one of the successful films for Swanson, both financially and critically, even though it deemed a lot of controversy due to the plot line. The only silent, independent film of Swanson that was commercially success. However, she couldn’t reap the profits as she had sold her rights to the movie before it became a success. 

Sadie Thompson (portrayed by Gloria Swanson) is a young prostitute who runs away to Pago Pago in American Samoa, to start a new life. She falls in love with Sergeant Timothy "Tim" O'Hara (portrayed by Raoul Walsh). However missionary couple Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Davidson (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore and Blanche Friderici) hinder her path in the name of redemption. 

Even before the picturization started the movie created quite a sensation since the original short story and the play both were banned by censorship. They had faced several problems too while filming, including losing their principle cameraman, George Barnes, who was called back by Sam Goldwyn from whom he was loaned. The budget also went over and to support, Swanson had sold her farm at Croton-on-Hudson and even offered to sell her penthouse in New York City. 

One silver lining was that since it was a silent film, even if the viewers could read the lips that Swanson was swearing on screen, the title cards didn’t show the words and censors passed the film. 

While Swanson was looking for her leading man, she realized that she had him all along as her director. She convinced Raoul to act in this film. It marks the first appearance of Raoul Walsh in fifteen years. His previous acting tole in a full film was the 1915 The Outlaw's Revenge. I think Swanson hit gold with Raoul. Their chemistry and his emotions are on par. 

He was supposed to act in his next project, the 1928 In Old Arizona, which he directed also. However, an accident involving a jackrabbit lost his right eye. He left acting and became a successful director and eventually would become the founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

Blanche Friderici played Mrs. Davidson, reprising her role from the original Broadway production too.

At the very first Academy Awards event in 1929, this film was nominated for Best Actress for Sadie Thompson and Best Cinematography for George Barnes. Barnes hadn't finished the film as he was called away by Sam Goldwyn. The rest of the film was finished by Oliver Marsh. Yet Barnes was the only one to be nominated in that category. 

The film was thought to have been lost. However after Swanson's death in 1983, the sole surviving print of the film was recovered from her estate. As fate would have it, the final reel had been damaged. So the last eight minutes of the film were reconstructed using original title sequences, still photos that the stars' had collected and footage from 1932 adaptation by Kino International, a film and video distributor. Also Joseph Turin composed a new score. 

The font used on the title cards for the missing film reel is different from the other cards.

Even though the story is of a prostitute finding a new life, the filmmakers show the dark-side of missionaries; how they go to various islands and try to teach them sin and redemption; making their lives miserable to live in the name of God; well when in reality they have sins within themselves too. Just like Mr. Davidson here whg o is angered by another mortal being trying to find happiness, when he is in fact jealous and attracted to her. So instead of mending himself, he blames the girl, and brainwashes her instead. 

A story of a scarlet woman on a road to new life encounters love, hurdles and eventually finds her happy place. Silent film makes it all the more effective with only music in the background and title cards and expressions on face. Beautifully made. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The 1922 play, Rain, based on the original short story, starred Jeanne Eagles.

b. The 1932 adaptation of the film was titled Rain. 

c. In 1953 it was made into Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer.

d. That it was restored by Kino International, a slide is inserted in the very beginning of the film. 

e. Note the opening credits. Swanson is credited in the last on the star cast even though she was the main heroine. Perhaps it could be due to the utter flop of her previous production, The Love of Sunya (1927), that her billing was such low. 

f. I like the quote that Sadie Thompson writes in the ship captain's book before she gets off on Pago Pago. Gives a perspective of her life and nature in one statement. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film Swanson's hair is chin-length. Bu within 3 days it is shown shoulder length. Never seen someone's hair grow so fast. 

b. Sadie calls O'Hara as Handsome all along. But the reconstructed final reel has her calling him as "old pardner". 


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