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For residents on the idyllic South Seas island of Pago Pago, life is simple until a boat arrives carrying two couples, the Davidsons (who are missionaries), the MacPhails and a prostitute named Sadie Thompson. Davidson is more than just a religious zealot; he's a mad man. When the boat, which was en route to another port, is temporarily stranded on the island due to a possible Cholera outbreak on-board, Sadie spends her time "partying" with the American soldiers stationed on the island. Her behavior, however, is more than the Davidsons can stand and soon Mr. Davidson confronts Sadie about her evil ways and offers salvation. When Sadie rebels and the attempted redemption does not go as planned, Davidson arranges to have her sent back to San Francisco, where she fled some years ago due to mysterious personal issues. Davidson soon becomes unhinged and thus begins a series of surprising events which culminate in disaster. Written by
This has to be one of the most intelligent movies Hollywood produced in the 1930's; I see it comes from Lewis Milestone, who produced the equally-brilliant All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). These films have almost a European look - appropriate, because the novels are by European writers.
You've got to admire Milestone for coaxing a sensitive performance out of Crawford, a woman who was happier when hamming it up. No wonder she didn't like her performance here; she was to genuinely ACT.
The story deals with the inner nature of a sanctimonious religious hypocrite, something quite relevant now. A lesser director (and novelist) would have turned Sadie into someone unbelievably virtuous, but Milestone and Crawford show us a much more complex character.
The other performances are great, too, especially Huston as the tormented evangelist; try comparing him to the chief satanist in The Seventh Victim (1943). The rain itself deserves special mention as a character establishing the insane claustrophobic atmosphere.
The stage version was portrayed briefly in Scarface (1932), another great movie from the 1930's.
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