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Miss Sadie Thompson
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by Jay Seaver

"One star... merits one star."
1 stars

SCREENED IN "NATURAL-VISION" 3-D: Rita Hayworth was a movie star. She was also a dancer, and probably wrote "actress" on her tax forms, but when all is said and done, she will be remembered as a celebrity who looked fantastic, had a couple of high-profile marriages, and made a couple of pretty good movies. "Miss Sadie Thompson", however, isn't among them.

An adaptation of a story by W. Somerset Maugham, Miss Sadie Thompson follows its title character as she lands in American Somoa, quarrantined on her trip from from Hawaii to Malaysia, where she's got a job waiting. The marines stationed on the base are as excited as can be - she's fun-loving and outgoing, and looks like Rita Hayworth, not a combination often seen in those parts. One of her fellow passengers, Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer), is less delighted - he's running the missionary foundation his father started, and loose women like Sadie are, he figures, a danger to the souls of both the soldiers and the natives. He's wealthy and intolerant, and has a lot of pull with the territorial governor. Sgt. Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray) isn't going to let that stand, since it's love at first sight for him. But he doesn't know why Sadie has left Hawaii.

This movie is a Rita Hayworth vehicle and not very much more. The folks when went to see it during the 1953 Christmas season were going to see sexy Rita Hayworth in 3-D, which is about the same appeal it holds in 2005. It delivers that; she looks great in a succession of red dresses. She's outgoing and brassy; you can see why an island full of soldiers would be excited to see her. What she's not is a particularly good actress; she shouts pretty much all of her lines like machine gun fire. Both her laughter and tears are on the exaggerated side. It's a "look at me" performance, and not much more.

The rest of the cast is similarly hammy, though without Hayworth's charisma. Ferrer is all puritanical patriarch, the kind of character who has a wife even though it's hard to imagine him being warm enough to have courted her. Aldo Ray has a great voice for the gruff, experienced NCO, but we never see any sort of chemistry between O'Hara and Thompson. Russell Collins is the closest thing to a really balanced character as Dr. MacPhail (he and his wife are travelling with the Davidsons), but his dialog seems to be all imparting fatherly wisdom; he exists to be a sympathetic ear.

The main problem is the script. For all that this movie talks about right and wrong and the redemptive power of love, screenwriter Harry Kleiner doesn't seem to have an instinctive handle on it. Sadie winds up paired off with O'Hara because, basically, he bullies and tricks other guys into staying away from her. The brief time they spend together isn't really a convincing love affair, certainly not that they'd change the entire courses of their lives to be together. Davidson is played as a hypocrite, of course, but his leap from a hypocrite who uses his religion to justify his intolerance to the type who acts contrary to his sermonizing is abrupt and seems out of character, nearly as much so as the way he removes himself from the proceedings. Sadie's change in attitude toward him is nearly as ridiculous. And if someone can tell me what Sadie and O'Hara were supposed to have learned by the end, I'd be glad to hear it. I have absolutely no idea what specific directions their moral compasses are pointing after all is said and done. (And the implication that Sadie's dangerous because she's tempting as a white woman is, well, distasteful)

The film does have some beautiful Hawaiian location shooting, and Hayworth is kind of enjoyable, even if her smile seems a bit too wide. She dances a bit during her four musical numbers, which are actually sung by Jo Ann Greer. Entertaining movies have been built on far less than "sex goddess visits area with far fewer women than men". Heck, this movie had been made twice before, with Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson playing Sadie. I don't know whether they were as afraid of spelling out that Sadie was a former prostitute as this movie is, though.

Movies like "Miss Sadie Thompson" don't age well. They're all about capitalizing on a star's popularity, which is ephemeral. Once that star is no longer the rage, these movies can be seen for what they are, and in this case, it's not very much at all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12456&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/02/05 11:31:33
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User Comments

10/28/09 brian For fans of the genre only, and even for us it's just average. 3 stars
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  23-Dec-1953 (NR)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2010



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