Sadie Thompson (1928)

Sadie Thompson (1928), directed by Raoul Walsh.

First of three versions of the W. Somerset Maugham story of a prostitute fleeing her past, arriving on a south seas island and falling for a nice marine, but running afoul of an intolerant missionary who wants to send her back to the States and prison.

Remade as Rain (1932) (with sound!) and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) (in color, with 3D!) Of the three I think this silent version is the most fun. Gloria Swanson, age 29, is just superb; her expressions and movements power the whole story.

Also with Raoul Walsh (still with both eyes), both directing and performing as the romantic lead. Lionel Barrymore is deliciously quirky as the smugly pious hypocrite.

Toward the end of the silent era the photography was getting really good. It seems to me that when sound came in cinematography declined for a few years. I'm not sure why. I know directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang missed the craftsmanship of the silent years. [Later: not the brightest observation on my part. I've seen Singin' in the Rain (1952) after all].

An example of that craft: I've never seen the thoughts of a character so clearly expressed as when Swanson and Walsh are sitting in a hammock, rolling cigarettes and talking quietly, she wondering if her life could still be different:


He: Where do you hail from, Sadie?

She: San Francisco.

He: That's funny -- my best pal married a girl from San Francisco.

She: (interested) What part of San Francisco?

He: (ruefully) Where they hang out the red lanterns.

She: (thinking about it) Are they happy?

He: Sure! 'Sfunny but them that kicks the highest often settles down the hardest.

She: (long pause) Have they any kids?

He: (holds up two fingers)

Available on DVD from Kino. The last reel is lost so they provide stills with inter-titles to complete the final minutes, as well as the end of Rain (1932) as an alternative.

There is significant film damage in spots. The new soundtrack is pleasant and lively.