by Andy Ross
There’s a lot of layers to peel away when talking about Columbia’s 1953 production of Miss Sadie Thompson. Based on the W. Somerset Maugham short story “Miss Thompson,” later changed to “Rain,” Columbia’s production starring Rita Hayworth is the third time the story was adapted for the screen (Gloria Swanson was able to get a version (Sadie Thompson) produced in 1928, although the Hays Office had seriously crippled the story’s original intent, and Joan Crawford appeared in a “pre-code” Rain in 1932, which holds up extremely well, although it was panned upon initial release.) Coming right on the heels of Hollywood’s panic over the rise of television, Miss Sadie Thompson was shot in lavish Technicolor, widescreen, and 3D.
Set in the South Pacific, Miss Sadie Thompson is centered around a native island village where there is a US Marine base. Sadie finds herself on the island waiting for the next boat to arrive to take her to her next destination. When the good Marines catch a glimpse of Sadie, they go nuts. Also on the Island is Dr. Davidson (Jose Ferrer), a Christian missionary who is there to check up on the status of his work which his father began.
Davidson is a religious zealot who sees only pure good and pure bad, nothing in between. Seeing the excitement Miss Thompson brings to the Marines concerns him, as does the attraction of the islanders to her singing and good time ways. Sadie misses her boat as she’s been living it up with the Marines all afternoon, and now finds herself having to spend a week on the island. Over the course of this week, Dr. Davidson–who is the biggest wet blanket in the world, and despite married, repressed like wildfire–starts to recognize Miss Sadie from a club he once helped raid in Hawaii.
As the week progresses, one of the Marines, Sgt. O’Hara (Aldo Ray) begins to fall in love with Sadie, all the while Davidson accuses Sadie of being a prostitute. Produced when Hollywood’s Production Code was very much still in force, the film skirts around this as much as it can. It states that Sadie was simply a nightclub singer at a place where hanky panky may have been going on. In the original story Sadie is indeed a “woman of the night.”
This is where I begin to struggle with this film. This tale of sin and redemption, skirting around the Production Code, shot in 3D Technicolor with a few musical numbers for Rita tossed in, left me a little flat.
The actors are all fine in their roles and Rita Hayworth is wonderful. But what happens in the last reel is so surprising, and so casually tossed aside once the forced happy ending comes, it’s a real knock over the head.
Released towards the end of the first 3D craze, the film was only screened theatrically in this format for two weeks. Twilight Time’s blu-ray presents the film in it’s 3D and 2D forms. Unlike other 3D films of the time Miss Sadie Thompson doesn’t rely on “flying at camera” novelties. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I wouldn’t have thought it was shot in 3D. The film looks great, colors pop correctly for Technicolor, and the only downside to the image is it does appear a little on the grainy side at times.
Twilight Time’s release includes an introduction by actress Patricia Clarkson, the original theatrical trailer, and an isolated music and effects track. The best extra is an excellent commentary track by historians David Del Valle and Stevens Peros. The commentary is very lively, rich in background on the production and the other screen adaptations of “Rain,” as well as how faithful it is to the Maugham story.
Miss Sadie Thompson isn’t a bad film by any means, it has some great performances and even a early small part for one Charles Bronson. However, it’s just a little off and all the elements that happen–particularly in the last reel–left me feeling disjointed. Fans of Hayworth who have longed to see this in 3D will be most pleased, and Twilight Time should be commended for releasing the film in 3D. But at the end of the day, I find myself hard pressed to offer anything more than just a gentle recommendation that this one is worth checking out.