“Yes, I can see how a reformer might feel a little out of place here — sort of like a schoolteacher waking up in a harem.”
While stranded in a hotel on a South Seas island, a prostitute (Joan Crawford) on the lam from San Francisco is proselytized by a judgmental “reformer” (Walter Huston) and his wife (Beulah Bondi); meanwhile, a kind American soldier (William Gargan) woos Sadie (Crawford) by tempting her with marriage and a new life in Australia.
Although Joan Crawford purportedly hated her performance in this pre-Code adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s story-turned-play — originally filmed with Gloria Swanson in a silent version, and remade with Rita Hayworth in 1953 — she’s actually quite effective in the challenging role of a bold, fun-loving woman who’s cowed into submission by a bullying, hypocritical missionary. With that said, I’m not really a fan of the storyline itself; the primary problem is that we sympathize immediately with Crawford’s Sadie — especially when, after a rocky initial interaction, she makes a sincere effort towards compromise and reconciliation with Huston and Bondi — and it’s thus painful to watch her treated so badly. In addition, later climactic events between Crawford and Huston, elided over even in this relatively sassy pre-Code version, are both too vague and too unexpected to fully convince. Nonetheless, the film remains worthy viewing both for Crawford’s dynamic performance, and for how wonderfully atmospheric the entire production remains, thanks to nifty camera movements and editing, fine cinematography, and effective use of insistent rain on the soundtrack to underscore the claustrophobia experienced by all inhabitants in the hotel.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joan Crawford as Sadie
- Effective cinematography and directorial flair (by Lewis Milestone)
- Fine use of atmospheric sound effects
Yes, as a classic Pre-Code adaptation of Maugham’s play, and for Crawford’s performance. Listed as a film with Historical Interest in the back of Peary’s book. Available for free viewing at www.archive.org.