After previous screen versions starring Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford had indelibly burned the character’s name into the public consciousness, Curtis Bernhardt brought the lady back to life in Technicolor and 3D with the 1953 Miss Sadie Thompson.
The Production: 3.5/5
Infamous on stage and screen as the salty main character from W. Somerset Maugham’s story and the John Colton play adaptation Rain, Sadie Thompson has proven to be a tempting role of choice for some of the world’s most ambitious actresses. After previous screen versions starring Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford had indelibly burned the character’s name into the public consciousness, Curtis Bernhardt brought the lady back to life in Technicolor and 3D with the 1953 Miss Sadie Thompson. With Rita Hayworth sizzling the screen and yet keeping the trampier aspects of the lady’s history at arm’s length, Miss Sadie Thompson makes for an entertaining movie restricted a bit by the Production Code in force at the time but providing enough fireworks to stay true to the central character.
Waylaid on her way to a new job in New Caledonia when a typhus outbreak quarantines her boat in U.S.-held Samoa, good time girl Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth) is a sight for sore eyes to the dozens of marines still stationed on the island. One in particular, Sergeant Phil O’Hara (Aldo Ray), sees stars whenever Sadie gets close, but her reception on the island isn’t one of unanimous welcome. Also present is sanctimonious Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer) who considers Sadie’s morals beneath contempt and arranges with the island governor to have her evicted from the island and returned to San Francisco where she’s wanted on morals charges. Sadie tries to appeal to Davidson for mercy so she can make a fresh start, but her pleas fall on deaf ears, and when Davidson informs O’Hara of Sadie’s past working in a brothel in Honolulu, the stardust is shaken from his eyes, too, ruining his plans for the two to make a new start in Australia.
The screenplay adaptation is by Harry Kleiner who soft pedals Sadie’s past as much as he can but also includes the infamous rape scene late in the movie that neither of the previous movie versions had shown (director Curtis Bernhardt films it just out of camera range, but there’s no mystery about what’s happening). For much of the movie, however, Sadie is portrayed as simply a girl looking for a good time and friendly to all including children (to whom she teaches a charming ditty “Hear No Evil, See No Evil”) as well as the servicemen who get the benefit of two scorching numbers: “The Heat Is On” (every bit as seductive as Hayworth’s earlier “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda) and “Blue Pacific Blues” (which earned the film’s sole Oscar nomination). Sadie’s conversion by the self-righteous Davidson happens much too quickly, of course, but as the film runs only ninety minutes, perhaps some blanks have to be filled in by the audience. The outdoor tropical photography (the movie was shot in Hawaii) is enhanced enormously by the 3D lensing even if Bernhardt doesn’t exploit the process for all he could have, and this first-time color version of the story seems a bit more wholesome than the seedier black and white renditions which stressed Sadie’s slutty appearance and easy virtue much more so than this version does.
Rita Hayworth offers an excellent performance as the title character. Fun-loving, brassy, and confident up to a point and yet capable of quick fury and desperation, Miss Sadie offered Hayworth a really three-dimension character which she does proud. She handles her musical numbers well naturally using Jo Ann Greer’s vocal assistance as was also the case with her other 1950’s films which contained songs (Affair in Trinidad, Pal Joey). Oscar-winner Jose Ferrer, on the other hand, does little with the sanctimonious role of Davidson. Of course, it’s a fairly impossible part: “No one’s moral standards are ever high enough” he drones at one point, but his growing sexual obsession with Sadie could have been more overtly shown; in the film, it really comes out of nowhere (though with his priggish wife played by Peggy Converse continually complaining about Sadie’s looseness of morals, it’s no wonder he’s looking for a little sexual release). Aldo Ray as Sgt. O’Hara comes into his own after two attention-grabbing roles the previous year in Pat & Mike and The Marrying Kind. He has a sturdy physical presence and a quick temper, too, that gets him into trouble, but his O’Hara and Sadie make a damaged couple we want to root for. Russell Collins is very good as the broad-minded Dr. Robert MacPhail, and Harry Bellaver is a welcome presence as the accommodating and friendly hotel proprietor Joe Horn. Charles Bronson (under his real name Charles Buchinsky) can be seen as one of the frisky marines competing early-on with O’Hara for Sadie’s favors.
3D Rating: 5/5
The film’s widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the MVC (3D)/AVC (2D) codec. While any age-related problems with dirt and damage have been removed, those watching in 2D may find the picture a bit brighter and more washed out than they’d like at frequent intervals. In 3D, the image seems much more alive and appealing, not just due to the process but with the color seeming a bit more natural, black levels richer, and detail more genuine. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The sense of depth to the image in 3D is really special making this one of the most prized of the classic 3D films from the Golden Age of the process. Stereo separation of objects within the frame is more pronounced here and more impressive due to the outdoor locations used in many of the most startling shots. While director Curtis Bernhardt doesn’t have the actors hurl things at the camera, there are some natural placements of objects (a jeep’s side view mirror, an extended hand) that project forward from the screen while in repose, and at one point Hayworth exhales a large plume of smoke which comes right at the viewer and makes a solid impression. Crosstalk is not a problem with this 3D release.
With the original three channel masters only a memory, the disc is equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix. Dialogue is always completely discernible and is never eclipsed by George Duning’s background score or the atmospheric sound effects like the continuous rain which gave the play its name. Any age-related problems with hiss, crackle, thumps, or flutter have been completely eliminated.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros have a gabby commentary track in which Peros especially does a fine if somewhat scattered job describing the story, play, and movie versions’ similarities and differences. More attention to the excellent supporting character actors in the film and background information on the movie’s production might have given this track an added bit of luster.
Isolated Music and Effects Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Introduction by Patricia Clarkson (4:23, HD): the actress offers a very pleasant introduction to the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:59, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some tinted stills from the movie, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s fact-filled essay on the movie’s production and importance.
Twilight Time’s package of the 1953 Miss Sadie Thompson brings another classic Golden Age 3D release to lovers of the genre. This most welcome return of one of literature’s most notorious shady ladies gets a fine video treatment that fans of the star, the story, or the process are sure to enjoy. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.