Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rain directed by Lewis Milestone (starring Joan Crawford, Walter Huston, Guy Kibbee)

Rain (1932). Screenplay/adaptation by Maxwell Anderson from the play Rain by John Colton and Clemence Randolph, based on the story "Miss Thompson" (reprinted in Collected Short Stories as "Rain") by W. Somerset Maugham.

It's obvious that the filming of Rain was inspired by a popular play because the direction by Lewis Milestone is purely point-and-shoot, with only a few shots of rain falling on different areas of the island to break the monotony. Also, the actors project their voices far too much. Sound was still in its relative infancy in 1932, but other films of the period managed to produce natural-sounding dialogue. (Maybe they just wanted to be heard over all that water.)

The direction of the actors appears to have been gleaned from the stage version, as well — and an amateur production, at that: No one's back ever is to the camera. People walk during their lines and not at other times. (To appreciate Milestone's true ability, see All Quiet on the Western Front [Academy Award winner for Best Director] or Of Mice and Men.)

The acting is also less than remarkable. Joan Crawford is very good as Sadie Thompson (probably literature's most famous prostitute) — she inhabits the character as if she was born to play her. But Walter Huston as Alfred Davidson appears to be playing a one-note character, the religious zealot, until the point when his attempt at "redeeming" Sadie fails and he falls prey to his baser instincts. He uses dramatic facial expressions to show this change, but it just looks like he is turning into Mr. Hyde.

The other characters are really just spouting dialogue, and we aren't told much about them other than Joe Horn, the proprietor of the General Store on the island of Pago Pago (where the action takes place). As played by prolific character actor Guy Kibbee, he is the most interesting character in the film.

The movie was very slow going, but after the first half-hour, I began to follow and was entertained. (I was not previously familiar with the storyline, and only watched this because of an appreciation of other Maugham tales.) Despite these flaws, Rain is on the whole a powerful experience. At the very least, it offers a good look at cinema history: to see Joan Crawford's early work from when she was a sex symbol, and to catch Walter Huston before son John Huston directed him to an Oscar in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Crawford reportedly bad-mouthed Rain for the rest of her life — very likely due to bad reviews and numerous letters from fans outraged that she had played a prostitute — saying "I hope they burn every print of this turkey in existence."

The story was previously filmed as Sadie Thompson with Gloria Swanson and was later turned into a musical, Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth.


Muscato said...

You really should see Swanson's version - she's amazing, and completely inhabits the role. Those who only know her as Norma D. are really missing something!

Craig Clarke said...

I really should. I haven't seen any of Swanson's early films for a really petty reason: I find her to be strikingly unattractive. Go figure!

Muscato said...

She really comes to life on film, though, and like it or not she was as Big as They Came. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she was also unafraid to look bad - when she briefly "reforms" as Sadie, she has flat, lifeless hair and almost no makeup - not something a Talmadge sister would have allowed!

Although I do sympathize with the film writer (I forget who) who complained about her "mean eyes and pointy little teeth".

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