Somerset Maugham's short story Miss Thompson has made it to the big screen several times. The first was in 1928's Sadie Thompson starring Gloria Swanson, and it was remade as Rain in 1932 and had Joan Crawford in the leading role. For the 1953 version entitled Miss Sadie Thompson, Columbia cast Rita Hayworth in the title role and they couldn't have picked a better star. Though the story is watered down due to the Hays Commission rules, Hayworth really shines in this version. Originally released in 3D (for all of two weeks before it was pulled and only the flat version was shown theatrically after that) Twilight Time has put out a beautiful edition of the 3D version as well as the 2D variety on one disc.
Sgt. Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray) is stationed on the island of Samoa in the Pacific not too long after WWII. He checks for his transfer orders daily, as there's not much to do on the sleepy little island and he's excited about going into business with a buddy of his in Australia after he gets out of the Marines. The island wakes up when the supply ship arrives and drops off a missionary whose father started the island's hospital, Mr. Davidson (Jose Ferrer) a doctor vacationing with his wife, (Russell Collins and Francis Morris) and a woman trying to get to New Caledonia to start a new life, Miss Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth). When the vessels they are supposed to transfer to is forced to stay in port for a week under quarantine, everyone tries to make the best of the situation.
The Marines stationed on the island go crazy when they see Sadie. Not only is she a woman, but she's fun-loving and dynamic. They convince the local barkeep to open his place up even though it's a Sunday, and soon all of the enlisted men are singing and dancing with the vivacious Miss Thompson.
That doesn't go over well with the moralistic Mr. Davison. He's on the island to check on the hospital and make sure the soldiers don't fall in love with the natives (heaven forbid!) but when he sees the way Sadie acts, and her effect on the men, he has a new mission: to get her kicked off of the island. He recognizes her from his past; she was a singer in a house of ill repute that was raided in Honolulu, and that's all he needs to convince the governor to send her packing.
Sgt. O'Hara has the opposite reaction: he falls for Sadie, and hard. Though he's only known her for a handful of hours, he realizes the she's the one for him and invites her to go to Australia and wait for him. But with Davidson on the warpath, things get complicated when O'Hara learns just why Sadie left Hawaii and a rift develops that might not be able to be healed.
A lot has been said about the fact that this version of the film has been watered down to please the morals of the time. In the original story, Sadie is a prostitute, rather than just the singer in a whorehouse. They also changed Davison's character from being a minister to a non-denominational religious missionary. While this does lessen the impact of the film, it is not a fatal flaw and the writers get Sadie's real profession across to the audience with a wink and a nod. At one point Davidson accuses Sadie of being a prostitute and she doesn't deny it, only retorting that he shouldn't call her names. And audiences weren't the only ones who caught on. Even with the changes this movie was banned in several states due to its immoral nature. The lead actors are all very good in their roles, with Ferrer playing the repressed preacher with just the right amount of righteousness. When he's first introduced he doesn't seem as unpleasant as he later becomes, just a man who has strong opinions rather than evil. It would have been easy to demonize him from the first reel, but playing him the way Ferrer did gives the film more depth. Aldo Ray, he of the raspy voice and strong physique, is also wonderfully cast. He makes the lonely Marine come alive and it's never hard to believe that he'd want to marry Sadie after only knowing her for a little over a day.
The person who really makes the film however is Rita Hayworth. She really shines. She has big shoes to fill, with the role previously being played by Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford, but she doesn't waiver in her task. Just slightly past her prime, she was in her mid-30's when the movie was made, she is the right age to play the part... someone who is old enough to have been knocked around by life a bit, but not so old as to be too jaded. She's fiery and fun when she first arrives on the island, but doesn't let anyone get close to her. All fun but no romance. The drama builds until her meltdown in the second half which shows off Hayworth's acting chops. She gives a performance that really makes the film. Speaking of actors, keep an eye out for a young Charles Bronson in a small role.
The cinematography is also excellent. The movie was filmed on location in Hawaii, and that adds an authentic touch that just couldn't be reproduced on a soundstage in Hollywood. The lush tropical surroundings and the constant rain accentuate the drama in a nice fashion.
Having said all that, the script does come across as clumsy in a few places. The dialog seems more like dialog that actual people talking and some of the plot points feel forced. They also add in a few songs to pad out the film. Some of them are entertaining, like The Heat is On, but others don't fit in as well, such as the time Sadie teaches a song to the local innkeeper's children.
While this may not be the absolute best version of Somerset Maugham's short story, taken on its own this is a very good film that gets more things right than it gets wrong. Well worth checking out.
The 3D Blu-ray:
The 1.85:1 3D image was quite impressive. The cinematographer did not waste his time filling the movie with in-your-face 3D effects, thankfully, they would have just distracted from the drama, instead he created a feeling of depth and warmth with that works quite well and accents the film rather than overpowering it. (It is a shame that this movie was only shows in theaters in 3D for two weeks... after that only the 2D version was available.) Take the opening scene of the island beach landscape for example. The palm trees in the foreground stick out quite a bit, but the rest of the forest has depth too. It's a nice shot that sets the tone for the rest of the film. The image itself is free from dirt and scratches and the color is nice and warm. The level of detail is good, and though there is some grain, it's the proper amount that one would expect. The only flaw is that when the camera pans across a fast moving object like a speeding jeep, the 3D effects have a bit of a hard time around the edges, but most viewers won't notice that.
This discs arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono mix that fits the movie well. There are no audio defects that one might expect with a film of this age, no hiss, dropouts, or flutter, and the dialog and music come through loud and clear.
Twilight Time has included some nice bonus material along with the feature film. First up is an audio commentary track by film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros. The pair talks about the source material, the various film incarnations, and the differences between them as well as giving information on the stars. It is an enjoyable track. There is also an Isolated Music and Effects Track, as well as an introduction by Patricia Clarkson. Finally, there is an 8-page booklet included with the disc that has images from the film as well as an essay by Julie Kirgo.
Rita Hayward is excellent in this 1953 adaptation of Somerset Maugham's short story. While things are toned down a bit from the original source due to the Hays Office rules, it's still a good film that deserves to be seen. Twilight Time's disc is excellent, providing a wonderful looking print in both 3D and 2D. A treat for classic movie buffs, this gets a strong recommendation.