I recently wrote an article about how 1932 was such a great year for movies. So naturally, I was all pumped for the 1932 Hot and Bothered blogathon, hosted by Theresa from CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch and Aurora from Once upon a Screen. All I had to do was pick a movie and write about it. But which one?
I decided to go with Rain, starring Joan Crawford. Her other film that year, Grand Hotel, is not only 1932’s Best Picture Oscar winner, but also still to this day, the most famous film to come out that year. And rightfully so. It’s a brilliant film. Rain, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. And it can’t be.
Based on the John Colton play of the same name and directed by Lewis Milestone, Rain tells the story of a prostitute, Sadie Thompson, who, after being stranded on the South Seas island of Pago Pago while on board a ship, plays havoc with her fellow passengers due to her outrageous party-girl behavior. Sergeant O’Hara (William Gargan), one of the marines she parties with, falls in love with her right away, but not everybody is as crazy about her as he is. Alfred Davidson, a missionary played by Walter Huston, confronts her and promises to ‘save’ her, despite his own demons. Well, what’s it going to be, Sadie?
This is one of those movies that gradually gained popularity over the years, despite not doing too well at the box office at the time. Joan Crawford was thought to have been miscast, and her portrayal of a prostitute was viewed as unfavorable. Regardless, she holds the picture together. Her larger-than-life presence and her vulnerability come together beautifully. Without her, Rain is nothing.
Her entrance – perhaps the most memorable scene in the film – is right up there with Rita Hayworth flipping her hair in Gilda (1946) and Lana Turner dropping her lipstick in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Right hand on the door jamb, then the left, then her feet, then her face as she leans back against the door. Covered in a checkered dress, smoking a cigarette and wearing more eyeliner than a New Romantic from the 1980s, she lights up the screen and commands your attention. It’s no secret that the camera always loved her and boy, did she know that! She was never a particularly beautiful woman, but she had a very striking face and she knew how to use it. It was all in the eyes. Those huge, beautiful eyes, rivalled only by, ironically, those of Bette Davis. But let’s not get into that.
There are better films made in 1932, but Rain is so unusual and satisfyingly odd that one simply has to watch it. It deals with all the subjects that it couldn’t have, had it been made a year later. It’s bold, it’s daring and oh so Pre-Code!