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Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)

One of the more identifiable movie roles for ‘The Love Goddess” Rita Hayworth, Miss Sadie Thompson was originally released in 3D to cash in on the 50’s craze and allow the marketing department to remind the male viewers that should they pay the price of a ticket, Rita will be dancing right off the screen into their laps.

“7000 miles from the states and I’m right at home”

When Rita finds herself stuck in a beautiful island locale after her ship has been quarantined she is about to light a fire in the members of the U.S. military stationed there and run afoul of a man of faith who overseas the island’s missionary and his church. From the moment she arrives, a crew led by Aldo Ray are Rita’s drinking and dancing buddies. Included in the gang of military layabouts are Henry Slate who has always struck me as a Red Buttons lookalike and Charles Buchinksy who would change his name and go on to become better known as the iconic tough guy Charles Bronson. Rita’s a party girl and the boys are starved for both a pretty woman and some song and dance routines. Rita can fit the bill on both counts.

Best line in the movie? Might be the one where Rita tells the overly excited troop, “Relax fellas, you’ll burn out your bearings.”

Each and every man in the outfit wants Sadie for himself and Aldo takes center stage over his fellow soldiers. The island paradise that Rita has found herself in is about to take a turn towards her past when Jose Ferrer’s self righteous head of the Mission Board sees her as a threat to all that is decent and the religious tone that the mission is trying to impress upon the island natives. “Diseases are easier to fight than immorality and evil.” In plain English, Ferrer is an unlikable fanatic using the good book to back his straight laced opinions on good and evil. His character’s hard nosed opinions that are beyond swaying reminds me of Frederic March’s Matthew Brady in the classic, Inherit the Wind.

It’s Rita vs. Jose for the balance of the film that will see the background characters fade with only Aldo really staying in the forefront. In the space of just a couple days, he wants Rita to meet him in Australia where he intends to head after his military career comes to an end. She’s on board until Ferrer puts a stop to that destination. He intends to see her deported back to the United States where she can own up to her sinful past before moving forward. Out comes the word prostitute followed by slut. Heavy words in a 1953 release that needed to abide by “the code.”

I can’t honestly say that I’m a big fan of this film though I do recognize it’s importance in the overall view of Rita’s career. I’m just not that enthralled with the characters involved and find everything a bit too forced. Sorry Rita, but you too. Especially in the early scenes though I do like the song and dance routines along with the charming number for the island kiddies. Maybe dated would be a better word. This is probably the film that I saw at an impressionable age that forever formed my opinion of Ferrer on screen. He’s just not likable and can play a miserable son of a bitch with no redeeming qualities. One that I can’t find myself admiring as in say a Robert Ryan or a Charles McGraw to name just a couple of bad asses I do look for and enjoy on screen.

This was the third version of the W. Somerset Maugham penned story adapted for the screen. Sadie had previously been played by Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford. This outing was directed by Curtis Bernhardt and released through Rita’s home studio, Columbia. According to Peter Ford in his biography on father Glenn, Rita wanted Glenn to once again play her leading man in this one but he begged off to Europe for other projects. Aldo Ray was just entering his prime years as a leading man. One usually cast as a military figure in films like this, Battle Cry and The Naked and the Dead so his casting worked well enough.

As for that Buchinky guy? He would change his name to Bronson in 1954 and 30 years later would star in The Evil That Men Do with Jose Ferrer along for a guest star bit in a much nicer role seeking out Bronson’s professional talents for the betterment of mankind.

4 Comments »

  1. I think this is one of Rita’s finest performances. I agree that some of the film is a bit over the top and forced. Rita carries the film in my opinion. I also like the Joan Crawford version of this same story, which is called Rain (1932).

    • I think she’s really good from the middle point on. I just think the first half is so rapid paced it comes off a bit forced. Still, an iconic role for Rita and not easily forgotten once you’ve seen it.

  2. Great essay, beautifully illustrated, on what is basically Rita’s transition from femme fatale love goddess to mature actress. Hayworth was underrated as an actor…she was not just a great dancer (Fred Astaire called her his most talented partner). Sadie is a little bit blowsy, drinks too much, hooks up with the wrong men…a great role…played with honesty and humor by Rita. I need to see this again!

    • Thanks. Rita suffered like many of the “bombshells”, Acting often overlooked due to the attention made on their sex appeal. I’ve heard the Astaire comment as well and that says a lot coming from one of the greats.

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