Throughout her life Joan Crawford supposedly denounced "Rain" as one of her biggest career mistakes. Apparently a flop at the time of its release in 1932, this film has recently experienced something of a renaissance. Now, critical opinion has changed and many critics now conclude that Crawford sold herself short in panning the film and her performance in it.
Now on DVD, this film contains an interesting story with fine acting (admittedly the acting is a little stagey, but in 1932 that tended to be the style, as talkies were in their infancy and actors were still getting comfortable with how to project, emote, etc. for film).
What makes this film interesting is the controversial subject matter it dealt with. In many ways it tackled stuff that, once the Production Code went into full swing, would become verboten. These subjects include prostitution, criminality, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy, rape and suicide. And it deals with these controversial subjects in a sensitive and intelligent manner.
Briefly, a group of travelers are stranded on the tropical island of Pago Pago. One of these is Crawford. She plays Sadie Thompson, a prostitute on the run from the law in the United States. She was framed for a crime she didn't commit and has fled the US rather than face three years in prison.
Also in the group of travelers is a missionary and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Davidson (played by Walter Houston and Beulah Bondi, respectively). While it is never clear exactly what church they represent, it is clear that what they do represent is self-righteous intolerance for anyone or anything that isn't exactly the way the Davidsons think they should be. They object to Sadie and everything she stands for - to them she is a "wanton woman" in need of redemption. In fact, saving Sadie's soul becomes Mr. Davidson's pet project.
Meanwhile, Sadie begins a relationship with a sailor she calls Handsome (played by William Gargan). She is torn by the forces around her - Handsome's love (he wants to marry her) and Davidson's pronouncements that she needs to suffer and be saved. What is Sadie to do? And in her nuanced performance as Sadie, Crawford makes this dilemma shine through. Sadie does not like what she is, but she doesn't know what else to be or how to change. Sometimes she's not even sure she wants to change. She knows she hasn't led an exemplary life, but she is confused about what path to take. And in a strange way, she is repelled by Mr. Davidson, yet drawn to him at the same time. Sadie is certainly NOT a one-dimensional character.
I won't give away the ending, but suffice it to say that thrown into this volatile mix is the fact that the holy and righteous Mr. Davidson also isn't quite as holy and righteous as he claims to be. Mixed in with his desire to "save" Sadie is also his sexual desire for her. In certain ways this reminds one of the story of Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn. And like that story, in this story lechery sets in motion the makings for Davidson's downfall.
Definitely worth seeing.