In her early career, Joan Crawford relished the opportunity to expand her acting horizons. As a star, she had yet to develop what is now coined ‘her face’: the trademark large lips and descriptive eyes augmented by perfect bone structure. Furthermore, in this formative period Crawford felt that her bosses, L.B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg were not paying enough attention to her career – certainly, not as much as they had on advancing the career of Thalberg’s wife, actress Norma Shearer.
Hence, Crawford openly championed her loan out to United Artists for Rain (1932); a low budget, unrelenting and unglamorous tale of Sadie Thompson – a prostitute. When asked by Mayer why she should desire to play such a bitch, Crawford reportedly replied “I’d play Wally Beery’s mother if the part were right!” Indeed, from the start of her career one aspect about Crawford remained resolute: her striving/driving ambition to be America’s top actress.
Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s steamy novel, the screenplay by Maxwell Anderson retains much of the sultry sin in the original text. The story opens with a group of steamer passengers forced into quarantine at Pago Pago in the Samoans; a tropical oasis that proves more deadly than pleasant. Chronically plagued by intense heat and rain the passengers find themselves in a tropic hell hole with no escape.
With nothing to do but indulge her past time, resident whore Sadie Thompson (Crawford) takes up with various military officers stationed on the island. Sadie’s wild carrying on eventually incurs the wrath of husband and wife missionaries, Reverend Alfred (Walter Huston) and Mrs. Davidson (Beulah Bondi). Alfred in particular is bent on restoring Sadie to the side of virtue.
Eventually, Alfred’s heckling leads to Sadie's outburst of contempt for not only him but the whole human race she regards as spiteful hypocrites. “Suffered?” she declares to Alfred at one point in their confrontation, “How do you know what I’ve suffered? You don’t know and don’t care!”
The one man who eludes Sadie’s labeling as a hypocrite is Sergeant Tim O’Hara (William Gargan); a handsome officer that would also like to see Sadie repent, if only to fall into his loving arms and become his wife.
Gradually, Sadie learns to trust another human being. But then Alfred reveals his true colors; that he has lusted after her from the moment she arrived in town. He further proves his own fallibility by attempting to rape Sadie before committing suicide in a fit of impassioned rage.
Director Lewis Milestone delivers an engrossing hot-blooded melodrama that captivates from start to finish. Crawford does the best work of her early years as the heartless, soul-less vixen eventually stirred to purity by genuine love over lust. Tragically, it was all for not. Rain was an abysmal failure at the box office – perhaps because carnal lust was perceived as taboo and best confined to the bedroom, not the cinema.
The DVD from Alpha Video is appallingly bad; delivering a hazy, non-progressively mastered B&W image that is softly focused. A barrage of age related artefacts plague from the start and are distracting throughout. It appears that the film has been sourced from a second or third generation print. The image is blurry. Grain is heavy. Contrast levels are much too low. The audio is mono and slightly muffled. There are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)