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
Joan Crawford was reportedly not happy with her performance in Rain although for the life of me, I can't figure out what she had to be ashamed about. In a few years Rain could not possibly have been made due to the imposition of The Code where no man of the cloth could be anything less than decent.
Perhaps Crawford was unfortunately compared to Jeanne Eagels on stage and Gloria Swanson in a silent film adaptation which starred Lionel Barrymore as the sex crazed Reverend Davidson. Still Crawford's Sadie Thompson need not take a backseat to anyone else's.
Somerset Maugham wrote the original novel and John Colton adapted it into a play performed on both the London and Broadway stages. Rain is a deceptive work, at first glance it appears quite dated, but in reality its quite relevant for today.
My favorite character in this is Guy Kibbee's Horne who runs the hotel/ trading post on that tropical South Sea Island where all the characters are stranded temporarily. Joan Crawford is there and in the same hotel are the Reverend and Mrs. Davidson played by Walter Huston and Beulah Bondi. Kibbee says he left the USA because he saw that 'reformers' like the Davidsons were beginning to dominate the body politic in America and he wanted out.
Two things made Rain such a big hit at the time both as a book and play. One was Sigmund Freud who was gaining great popularity talking about repressed sexual desires. Freud would have had a field day analyzing both the Davidsons. It's important to remember that Bondi is just as repressed and uptight as Huston. Freud's writings were not just confined to his profession, they were popularly read by the masses.
The second thing was Prohibition. When Kibbee talks about the reformers triumphing (and you have to get the sneer in his voice when he says reformers)he's talking about their greatest triumph, the 18th amendment. The Evangelical Moral Majority types of the day were the ones that brought Prohibition about and America went on its biggest hypocrisy binge because of it. Folks just like the Davidsons inflicted Prohibition and all that went with it on America.
Sadie Thompson represents everything the Davidsons say they despise, but what Reverend Davidson wants. It all leads to tragedy.
What Maugham is saying and being a gay man himself, knew what it was like to be repressed and show a different face publicly, is just live and let live. Such a simple concept, but one some today have a hard time wrapping their minds around.
As for Joan Crawford, she wouldn't have said what she supposedly said about her performance in Rain knowing in the next generation there would be a musical version with a dubbed Rita Hayworth singing with the island kids. Now that one was one for the books.
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