Pre-Code Crazy: Rain (1932)
TCM is not exactly overflowing with pre-Code options during the month of March, which initially made for a bit of a challenge for me to make my Pre-Code Crazy selection. But when I saw Rain (1932) listed in my TCM Now Playing Guide, I knew my decision-making struggles were over.
What’s the story?
Based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, Rain tells the story of Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a prostitute who is stranded on the South Pacific island of Pago Pago due to a possible cholera outbreak on the boat on which she was travelling. Also on the boat is a zealous missionary, Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston) and his perpetual stick-up-her-rear wife (the always outstanding Beulah Bondi).
Our introduction to Sadie is rather breathtaking. We first see a solider forcefully exit a room, followed by a flying object that was obviously tossed at said soldier. We then see the separate expressions on the faces of four men outside the room, each infused with a mixture of astonishment, appreciation, and something approaching unbridled lust. Seconds later, we see what they see –beginning with a pair of bejeweled hands, white heels with bows, and shapely legs clad in fishnet stockings, and ending with the heavily made-up face of Sadie Thompson, with a cigarette dangling insolently from one corner of her red lips. (At least, I imagine that they’re red.)
At first glance, Sadie is fun-loving and jovial, inviting a few marines, a naval officer, and the owner of the hotel into her room for a couple of belts of booze and a spin around the dance floor. She even takes a shine to one of the marines, whom she dubs “Handsome” (William Gargan). But Sadie soon shows that she’s no pushover – when the missionary, Davidson, tries to put an end to the festivities, he’s physically removed from the room, and Sadie doesn’t shrink from showing her disdain: “When you bust into a lady’s room, you oughta get someone to introduce you, fella!”
Unfortunately for Sadie, the incident seems to whip Davidson into an obsessive frenzy, determined to reform Sadie and make her “atone for her life.” And chief on his list of atonement strategies is having Sadie deported from the island and forced to return to her San Francisco home, where she’s in trouble with the law. And for a while, it appears that Davidson’s unceasing efforts are successful.
For a while.
Rain isn’t generally included in discussions of Joan Crawford’s Greatest Hits, but it deserves a lot more attention than it receives. It’s certainly not your typical pre-Code, that’s for sure, but it’s never boring, and it’s definitely worth a look. And even though Joan Crawford reportedly labeled the film as her least favorite (“Every actress is entitled to a few mistakes,” she once said, “and that was one of mine.”), for my money, she’s the primary reason for checking it out. She manages to effectively bring to life a woman who’s at once fearless and hard as granite, yet sensitive and vulnerable, with a good heart. It’s a fascinating performance.
With Jeanne Eagles in the role of Sadie Thompson, Rain opened on Broadway in November 1922 and closed the following year after more than 250 performances. A successful revival, also starring Eagles, played in 1924, and Tallulah Bankhead played the Thompson role in a 1935 revival. (Boy, would I love to have seen that!) On screen, Rain was first filmed in 1928, titled Miss Sadie Thompson, and starring Gloria Swanson in the title role and Lionel Barrymore as Davidson. Miss Sadie Thompson was filmed again in 1953, starring Rita Hayworth.
The role of “Handsome” was originally to be played by Paul Kelly, who’d recently been released from San Quentin after a 25-month stint for manslaughter. He was convicted following the beating death of fellow actor Ray Raymond, who had accused Kelly of playing footsie with his wife, actress Dorothy Mackaye. (Read more about this fascinating story here.) When United Artists chief Joseph Schenck got wind of the director’s casting choice, he put the kibosh on the plan and called for Kelly’s dismissal.
Joan Crawford wore the same checked dress throughout the entire movie. (This ain’t no Letty Lynton.)
To prepare for her performance, Crawford reportedly hung out with real-life prostitutes in San Diego so that she could study their behavior, attitudes, and lifestyle.
When can I see it?
Get out your umbrellas and catch Rain on March 31st on TCM. It’s worth your time.
And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to read about the pre-Code gem my pal Kristina is recommending for this month!