Joe has just returned from a trip to the South Pacific, and one of the sites he visited was American Samoa, a U.S. territory covering seven islands and atolls.
Pago Pago, the capitol city, is the setting for the Somerset Maugham’s short story “Miss Thompson” — later adapted into a play and several movies. The play was known as “Rain,” and boy, does it rain on Samoa!
Its well-protected harbors served as coaling stations for the U. S. Navy during both World Wars, and had lots of sailors and marines, and one assumes, prostitutes. And Rain is the story of one of the now famous such ladies, Sadie Thompson. So naturally there’s hotel there now celebrating the island’s most famous fictional character.
Now what does all this have to do with classic films, you ask? Well, the play, Rain, was a huge hit on Broadway in the 1920s with an actress named Jeanne Eagels. You may not remember her, although she made a few early talkies. But you might recall the bio pic about her life costarring Kim Novak and Jeff Chandler in 1957.
Gloria Swanson had done a 1928 silent version, but the first talkie of Rain was produced in 1932 and starred Joan Crawford and Walter Huston. (There the two are shown in the photo above.) This was before the Production Code was set up in Hollywood, and as a result, the movie may best capture the steamy intent of Maugham’s material.
Then, 21 years later, the material was trotted out again, and starred Rita Hayworth, Aldo Ray and Jose Ferrer (in color and in 3D! and with a few songs added). While neither film is a classic, Crawford’s and Hayworth’s performances are will worth seeing.
Hayworth’s Miss Sadie Thompson is an outwardly bubbly red-head with energy to spare. She breaks out in song at odd moments, and dances up a storm surrounded by appreciative — if that’s the word — Marines. Her past as a shady lady on the lamb is muted in the earnest attempt to convey her essential goodness and infectious bonhomie.
Jose Ferrer’s dour, moralistic do-gooder — who calls Sadie out about her past — is not immune to her charms, to his eternal regret. Aldo Ray is on hand as a kindly lunkhead of a Marine sergeant who genuinely falls for Sadie. The fact that these fraught South Sea proceedings end on an upbeat note is a commentary on the state of the big studios — in this case Columbia Pictures — in the early Fifties.
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