Sunday 11 March 2007

Rain (1932) Lewis Milestone

Rain really doesn't have much of a clue what it wants to be. It starts out alternating between a beautifully staged and framed silent movie and a musical number that would have been great in Lewis Milestone's great film from two years earlier, All Quiet on the Western Front, if that had been a musical, of course. Then we hit precode realism with the couple who run the general store on Pago Pago: a fat Hawaiian woman and her husband Guy Kibbee, who doesn't seem to be acting the idiot for a change. We're then introduced cleverly to the cast and end up with the important people in the story, reformer Walter Huston and hard boiled prostitute Joan Crawford. We hit social comment with Kibbee bitching about the arrival of Huston and his professional reformer wife. He left Chicago to get away from people like them who want to bring people unhappiness to save their souls, whether they want it or not.

It looks great, powerful in the way only a silent movie could be. For quite a while I wanted to turn the volume down and watch it without sound, but then Joan Crawford and Walter Huston always sounded great in precodes, even when the films weren't up to their performances, as was often in Crawford's case. The scenes between them are good ones but very strange.

Huston is Alfred Davidson, bible thumper, pure and simple, who sees it as his duty to save Sadie Thompson's soul at any cost, even if it takes him to what we might see as evil on his own account to do it. He blackmails and brainwashes to get his way which is hardly Christian in my book. He blunders into her room, tells her she's an evil woman who's headed for doom and destruction and takes the moral high ground in every respect possible. He even persuades the governor, through financial pressure, to order her off the island on the next boat. Because he's Walter Huston, we can almost believe that he's working from high ground, but he gets more and more sanctimonious as each minute runs on. Beulah Bondi plays his wife as a bitter shrew out to ruin everyone else's fun and there's no higher ground obvious, just bitterness and judgement based on class.

Sadie Thompson may be a prostitute but she doesn't seem like a bad sort. She's not being used, unless it's by herself, and she does right by everyone around her. She's honest, open and free to admit what she is. Yet Davidson and his wife judge her because of her class, then by things like the fact that she dances on a Sunday. I realise that it's an old Hollywood movie so a lot of grim reality is hidden from us, but it's also a precode so we still ought to be seeing plenty and we don't. We just see the injustice of people who profess to care and maybe even do. Anyway the film ends up how we're wanting to see it without any real explanation of why.

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