Sex, Sin and Salvation
I wasn't born when "Rain" was released back in 1932 but from what I understand it was a flop, surprising in some ways because watching it now it is a good movie, unsurprising in others as it was a remake of a silent movie made just 4 years earlier. But "Rain" is a fascinating movie with a wonderful psychological element between a fervent Reformer and a free willed Prostitute leading to a battle of wills and a fair few surprises. And it's not just the storyline which is good as the whole atmosphere and the performances of Joan Crawford and Walter Huston lift it to be something special. Maybe back in 1932 it was too soon after the silent movie to make a remake but watching "Rain" now is only a positive experience.
With the heavy rain and a possible Cholera outbreak aboard their ship passengers religious reformers the Davidson's, Dr. MacPhail and his wife along with prostitute Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford - Johnny Guitar) find themselves looking at a stay on the island of Pago Pago and stuck in the store owned by Joe Horn (Guy Kibbee) due to the weather. But temperatures soon rise as Mr & Mrs Davidson take exception to Sadie's partying and the men she keeps company with leading Mr. Davidson (Walter Huston) on a mission to save her soul. But when she stubbornly refuses to obey his demands he uses his influence to force the Island's Governor to send Sadie back to San Francisco, a place Sadie doesn't want to return to due to her mysterious past leading to a battle between Sadie and Mr. Davidson which leads to a surprise outcome for everyone involved.
The storyline to "Rain" is a simple one, as we watch a group of passengers forced to stay on the island of Pago Pago partly down to a possible Cholera outbreak aboard their boat and because of the incessant rain which confines them to the local store. Everything boils down to fervent Reformer Alfred Davidson determined to bring salvation to prostitute Sadie who sets up shop in a room in the store whilst they wait for the all clear to move on. And whilst we see Sadie as a worthy adversary to Alfred's preaching she is unable to deal with the pressure he enforces on the Governor to have her shipped back to San Francisco a place she doesn't want to return as she faces jail on her return.
So this set up brings a battle of wills as Sadie tries her best to stand strong against Alfred yet with no hope goes through the motions of trying to bargain with him till eventually she backs down and in one of the movies most powerful scenes appears to fall under his power almost hypnotised by his dominance. All of which would be quite ordinary if then you didn't get the other side of this as having spent days cleansing Sadie of her sin, visually represented by the shedding of her make up and the swapping of tight clothes for more modest attire, Alfred finds her radiant and tempting leading to the movies big surprise. But it is a surprise which is almost ambiguous as Sadie discovers something about him and realising something about herself to give the movie a great ending.
All of which is good and it is lifted by director Lewis Milestone who creates a wonderful atmosphere for all of this to take place. The incessant sound of the rain and the feeling of tropical heat makes it feel like a pressure cooker situation with everyone stuck inside the local store. And then you have the dominant power of Mr. Davidson locking horns with the equally dominant Sadie, clashing in various scenes as tempers rise. Yet as the story evolves you also get an almost sexual undercurrent forming which whilst there is no sex it feels sexual. Considering this is a movie made 80 years ago there is a real electrifying atmosphere going on making you feel that you are never entirely sure what will happen.
And whilst Milestone does an impressive job of creating the right atmosphere for the drama to play out Joan Crawford and Walter Huston do a good job of playing the pivotal characters. And it is a good job to as sadly the other characters end up being a bit weak especially those of Dr. MacPhail and his wife. It's almost ironic that Joan Crawford didn't think much of her performance in "Rain" because for me it is her performance, the strength and sassiness as the dominant Sadie yet the softness as she buckles to Mr. Davidson which helps make it so interesting. And interesting is what Walter Huston delivers as Mr. Davidson as his religious fervour may be seen as being too extreme, the power he delivers with his fire & brimstone style of salvation is captivating especially during the one on ones with Joan Crawford. In a way it is because both characters are extremes and Crawford and Huston put in powerful performances that the power of the storyline works as something more realistic and unforced would have felt weak.
On a separate note it's worth noting that "Rain" is available in various DVD formats and you need to be aware that some versions are better than others. In fact some versions have audio issues with sound dropping out during the latter half of the movie just when it gets really interesting. So before buying "Rain" just do a bit of research on which DVD version is best.
What this all boils down to is that "Rain" despite having flopped when released 80 years ago is now a fascinating movie to watch with a wonderful depth. With the exception of some of the supporting performances everything about it works from the atmosphere to the powerful performances from Joan Crawford and Walter Huston in their extreme characters.