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George B. Seitz
Sadie Thompson arrives in Pago-Pago to start a new life, but when extremist missionary Davidson lashes out against her lifestyle and tries to force her back to San Francisco, she may lose her second chance. Written by
Mike Myers <email@example.com>
Gloria Swanson (as Sadie Thompson) is a prostitute bound for Pago Pago, "in the sultry South Seas, where there is no need for bed clothes" as "the rain comes down in sheets." Ms. Swanson is contemplating a change in lifestyle, but has her thinking derailed by hypocritical preacher Lionel Barrymore (as Alfred Davidson). The two are among those quarantined together, due to an outbreak of small-pox. Watch for Swanson's exclamation after being told she's quarantined! It isn't, "Oh, sugar!"
AND, that's only the beginning. Gloria Swanson is Sadie Thompson. This is one of her best performances, and it certainly surpasses the Sadies essayed by Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth. Swanson creates a marvelous Sadie - clear, precise, and believable. Her eye-to-eye contact with Blanche Friderici (as Mrs. Davidson) is the first sign you have that a truly riveting characterization is in the works. Swanson uses her eyes magnificently throughout, but is also skillful chewing gum, wiping her hands, and striking a pose she inhabits the character.
Director Raoul Walsh does double duty by playing Swanson's "Handsome" love interest Tim O'Hara. The photography and sets are superior, though the film is damaged in some places. The symbolism is just right - watch how Swanson gets into a TIGHT black negligee and gets caught in a web. Subtle. Yet, the heavy-handed, rain drenched symbolism is easier to take in a "silent" rather than a "talking" picture. The characters to watch are Swanson and Barrymore, as the film progresses; they have a psychological war, which offers some dramatic surprises. Barrymore is, perhaps, less captivating than Walter Huston in the Crawford re-make, which was re-titled "Rain" (1932); it would have been nice to see a version with Swanson and Huston.
Sadly, the very end of "Sadie Thompson" is lost. There is a relatively well-done "reconstruction". Most of the missing footage is successfully imagined with stills; this might have been an interesting way to end the film, anyway. However, there is one lost scene, essential to the story, sorely missed; but, you will have no trouble figuring out what has happened.