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Miss Sadie Thompson (Columbia 1953, Rita Hayworth, Jose Ferrer)



Miss Sadie Thompson was director Curtis Bernhardt’s colourful (and colourfully photographed in Technicolor by Charles Lawton Jr) version of Somerset Maugham’s classic story Rain, here skilfully adapted and updated by Harry Kleiner. Censorship demands by the Hays Office inevitably diluted Maugham’s steamy story of sex, sin and salvation in the South Seas but RITA HAYWORTH, in one of her finest performances, brought a genuine, highly effective realism to the role of the prostitute previously played on screen by Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford.

Here dubbed a nightclub ‘entertainer’ Hayworth is stranded on a South Sea atoll just after World War Two where her uninhibited methods of alluring lonely marines attracts the attention of fanatical bigot reformer JOSE FERRER, whose father was the island’s first missionary. He exposes Hayworth’s past, breaking up her budding romance with marine ALDO RAY and persuades her to return to the United States. But Ferrer is overwhelmed by her charms and rapes her. Next day he is found drowned…

The film was originally intended to be a musical. In the event, however, only four songs were featured, one of which, Blue Pacific Blues was nominated for an Academy Award. Hayworth was impressive in make-up which effectively deglamourized her and, noted Variety, ‘she catches the feel of the title character well’, The Hollvwood Reporter reported ‘ a strikingly good performance by Rita Hayworth … who plays with fire and conviction, making a thoroughly believable Sadien. Variety, appreciating the fine supporting cast, called RAY ‘good’, added: ‘So are HENRY SLATE, RUDY BOND and CHARLES BUCHINSKY as his three marine buddies’. (Buchinsky would, of course, go on to greater glory as Charles Bronson).

Curtis Bernhardt’s sympathetic direction made the most of stars, screenplay and the attractively lush Hawaiian locations and, noted Variety, ‘the dramatic pacing of Curtis Bernhardt’s direction achieves a frenzied jazz tempo, quite in keeping with tha modernization’. That ‘modernization’ got the film banned in Memphis by 88-year-old censor Lloyd Binford and helped make it a hit even when it was released in ‘flat’ and not in the 3-D process in which it was filmed and premiered at New York’s Capitol Theatre on December 23 1953.

Academy Award Nomination: Lester Lee (Music) and Ned Washington (lyrics) for the song Blue Pacific Blues

production details
USA | Columbia | 91 minutes | 1953

Writer: Harry Kleiner, from the story Rain by W Somerset Maugham
Cinematography: Charles Lawton
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Curtis Bernhardt

José Ferrer as Alfred Davidson
Aldo Ray as Sgt. Phil O’Hara
Charles Bronson as Pvt. Edwards
Harry Bellaver as Joe Horn
Peggy Converse as Mrs. Margaret Davidson
Frances Morris as Mrs. MacPhail
Rita Hayworth as Sadie Thompson
Russell Collins as Dr. Robert MacPhail
Diosa Costello as Ameena Horn
Wilton Graff as Governor
Henry Slate as Pvt. Griggs
Rudy Bond as Pvt. Hodges
Peter Chong as Chung
John Grossett as Preacher