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Review: Rain (1932)

Review: Rain (1932)

Rain (1932)

I can say with confidence that 1932’s Rain is a film that changed my viewing habits forever, encouraging me to delve deeper into 1930s Hollywood and discover the tough, smart women at its heart.

Based on John Colton and Clemence Randolph’s 1922 stage adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s short story, Rain centres on the meeting of a prostitute and a missionary stranded in Pago Pago following a suspected cholera outbreak onboard the ship they were both travelling on. The story had been adapted as a silent film, starring Gloria Swanson, just four years previously. This adaptation was met with critical and commercial success, and Swanson’s performance was widely lauded. The 1932 talking picture that is the subject of this review was not so fortunate. The film lost money and critics were unimpressed with the performance of this version’s leading lady – Joan Crawford. One review published in Variety stated that casting Crawford was a mistake and that the “dramatic significance of it all is beyond her range”.

In the decades since its release, this film and Crawford’s performance as Sadie Thomson has come to be somewhat re-evaluated by audiences. Its current status as a public domain film has made it accessible to new generations of film viewers. Aged 18, I was one of those viewers. Unfamiliar with much of the cinema of this era, I found the direction to be somewhat static and the stage origins to be perhaps overly apparent. However, I was utterly captivated by Crawford’s Sadie Thomson. This was an authoritative and dynamic femininity, unlike anything I had seen before. From the moment of Sadie’s entrance on screen – four consecutive shots of two hands, wrists dripping with bracelets, and two feet, clad in fishnets and heels – I knew I was in for a treat. While it is true that the film hangs on this central performance, props also must be given to director Lewis Milestone and cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh. The decision to make the sound of the titular rain a constant background noise must make this one of the most impressively muggy films on record, and the dynamic lighting of the scenes post-Sadie’s “conversion” only add to this sense of claustrophobia. 

Let us take this year’s International Women’s Day as our moment to recognise Crawford’s spirited and intelligent performance as one of the best of the pre-Hays code era. I reckon this would make a suitable 90th birthday present for the film. 


Written by Katherine Heller for The Film Dispatch



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