Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)

“All desire is sad when it must be bought.”

On a tropical island in the Pacific, a ship arrives bearing Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth). She’s on her way to New Caledonia, but when the ship is quarantined, Sadie is stuck on the island for a week. The amorous, enthusiastic marines on the island are thrilled with the news. In many ways, Sadie becomes a mascot to the men–they drive her around, and hang out in her room. The marines are desperate for female company, and her lack of ceremony (unbuttoning her blouse and standing in front of a fan, for example) drives the men wild.

Self-righteous missionary Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer) strongly disapproves of Sadie, and revealing her shady past, he arranges to have her deported back to San Francisco. Meanwhile Marine Sgt Phil O’Hara (Aldo Ray) wants Sadie to marry him and join him in Australia.

Based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, a 1932 version Rain starred Joan Crawford and a 1928 silent version starred Gloria Swanson. Unfortunately, this 1953 version directed by Curtis Bernhardt suffers by comparison to these earlier films. Miss Sadie Thompson toys with morphing into a musical through its several musical numbers dubbed with Rita Hayworth. In one number, the Marines are singing and there are shades of South Pacific, and yet another sweetens Sadie’s image by depicting her singing surrounded by island urchins. There’s one hot dance number with Rita Hayworth dancing in a room packed full of panting marines, and it’s doubtful if she’ll get out alive, but apart from that, the film suffers from the Hays Code restrictions. In this film version, all the bite is taken from Sadie Thompson’s personality, and the finer nuances of the character are weakened. This film loses much of what is in best in Maugham and instead what remains is a pale version of the original story–mutated into a vehicle for Hayworth fans. From director Curtis Bernhardt.

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