Silent Second Saturday at the Music Box has come upon us again! And this month, it brought Sadie Thompson (1928) with the glorious Gloria Swanson. It’s an interesting film, which I find to be a fascinating pick for International Women’s Day. (Spoilers ahead). It’s a short story based on “Rain” by W. Somerset Maugham. It was considered controversial and attempts were to tone it down or stop it. One notable changes is that the villain, Mr. Davidson, was now a layperson instead of a minister.
It’s a bit of hard film to watch actually because the circumstances are so raw. It’s about a group of travelers all end up at the same hotel in Pogo Pogo. Sadie Thompson, played by Gloria Swanson, ends up there because her next boat is quarantined. She’s the opposite of the Davidsons who are stick in the mud, small-minded reformers. She’s a vivacious, brash woman who enjoys the attentions of men. She falls for a local navy man who loves her for who she is and doesn’t care about her past. However, the Davidsons take an instant dislike to her. Mr. Davidson takes it upon himself to get her deported to San Francisco where she will go to jail for an unspecified crime. She eventually turns to him to repent and becomes brainwashed by him.
It’s actually quite frightening to see how this vile little man manages to hold so much power over Sadie Thompson. Even with friends, a lover, and sympathizers, he still corners her and convinces her to repent. It’s a reminder of how many women and men have been persecuted for not subscribing to society’s expectations and forced to repent for the sin of being different. How often has this scene been played out in our past and present history!
Thankfully, it comes out all right t in the end, even if it was a bit clunky. The film was lost for many years until it was found in 1983. However, the last reel was in bad shape so it had to be reconstructed with stage photos. You have to piece the film together. Regardless, the film is well ahead of its time. Sadie Thompson finds herself again presumably after Mr. Davidson tries to seduce her (speculation). He presumably becomes aware of his wretchedness and throws himself into the ocean (good riddance). She reconciles with her beau and all is well. It’s an unusual film because the “bad girl” doesn’t get punished at the end, which was unusual for the time when bad girls were supposed to repent or be punished.
It’s also a strange film for its choice of location. The story is supposed to take place on Pago Pogo. The depiction of native peoples is quite uncomfortable. It rains the entire time, which harkens back to the name of the short story it’s based on. I’d be curious to see how rain served as a metaphor in the short story. Is it mercy? Does it drive people wild? Or is it a device to force all the characters into the same quarters?
So an excellent choice I think for International Women’s Day. May someday everyone, both women and men, find acceptance and trample down would-be-tyrants like the Davidsons.