A stenographer who works for a lawyer falls in love with and marries a wealthy young man. His family has the marraige annulled, after which she gives birth to a child. Her former boss helps... See full summary »
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Gloria Swanson (as Sadie) swore several times on screen, but as the title cards don't reflect this and the film is silent, it was released without censorship. See more »
[screaming at Alfred Davidson]
Who gave you the right to pass judgement on me? You psalm-singing louse! You'd tear out you own mother's heart, if she didn't agree with you, and call it saving her soul!
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In a number of different ways, "Sadie Thompson" shows how much guts Gloria Swanson had. In the first place, it wouldn't even exist if she hadn't turned down an extremely lucrative contract from Famous Players/Lasky in order to become her own producer at United Artists. There had been a gentlemen's agreement among the major Hollywood producers that none of them would buy the play "Rain," but Swanson was of course not a party to it. What she actually did was very clever and sneaky. She bought Maugham's original story "The Fall of a Leaf" -- not the stage adaptation by Clemence Dane -- and thus stayed under the radar. The theatrical producers didn't control movie rights to the story. Then she got Will Hays to approve an adaptation of that short story, keeping the wool over his eyes a bit and using all of her feminine charm. Hays was a Swanson fan (most men, I gather, were) and the lady got her way and put it over on Mayer, Laemmle, Zukor, et al. She did make some concessions, however, the most important one being that Lionel Barrymore not play a clergyman. If you notice, he's not called Reverend Davidson here, but Mister Davidson. It hardly matters, since nobody who saw the film ever thought of him as anything but a minister. Swanson's instincts were right on target in every department. She had hired Walsh to direct and suddenly realized he should be her leading man, and he's stupendous. They had a delightful, easy rapport, and although Walsh has sex appeal he's no movie Adonis, keeping it real. Swanson also dared to wear becoming but flashy and inelegant clothes, which was risky for the movies' most notable clotheshorse (the last time she had dressed dowdy, while under contract, the audiences stayed away, and the studio never let her do it again). Swanson's Sadie is able to live her life with good cheer because she genuinely likes men. This was certainly true of Swanson, whose father was out of the picture early, and who was always looking for a strong man. She was extremely curious, and always gravitated to the people at parties who knew the most -- usually the guys. Gloria Swanson as Sadie is kinetic. Her gaiety and charm are so incandescent that the biggest sin as you are watching the movie would have to be anything that dimmed her light. Davidson makes it go out, and that's exactly what happens to Swanson. When she "reforms," all the light goes right out of her. Barrymore is great, and we are so fortunate to have the movie in any form. It's probably Swanson's best performance outside of "Sunset Boulevard," and it's a great movie performance by any standard. Which brings to mind another point. No actress in Swanson's lifetime up to that point had ever given a more celebrated performance than Jeanne Eagels in "Rain," and Gloria dared to risk comparisons that would inevitably be made. We can't make those comparisons now, but you can't watch the movie and not feel that this lady, so made for the camera, so perfectly in control of all the tools of silent movie acting, gave Jeanne a run for her money.
(Despite another comment here, Swanson's liaison with Joseph Kennedy did not give her "the clout to become her own producer." At the time Swanson went to UA, she hadn't even met Joe Kennedy, and she didn't meet him until after she had already produced "Sadie Thompson." Kennedy was a very minor player in the movies, and Swanson was one of the biggest stars in the world. If anything, she gave HIM clout. Indeed, when he did become her partner in Gloria Productions, he seems to have robbed her blind, even billing her production company for his own gifts to her. Kennedy, staunchly Catholic if hypocritical, strongly disapproved of "Sadie Thompson.")
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