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  Rain Missionary Man
Year: 1932
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: Joan Crawford, Walter Huston, Fred Howard, Ben Hendricks Jr, William Gargan, Mary Shaw, Guy Kibbee, Kendall Lee, Beulah Bondi, Matt Moore, Walter Catlett
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the Samoan town of Pago Pago life is simple for the natives, who thus far have resisted the influence of the Christian missionaries to turn them away from their pagan worship. Not that this stops them from trying, and today on the ship arriving are two puritan couples sent to survey the area to see how the church can best convert the locals. Leading this party is Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston), who is slightly dismayed that he will have to hang around for longer than intended thanks to problems with cholera in the district, but there's another person onboard who will grab his attention: a prostitute called Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford).

Rain was adapted from a play, which in turn was adapted from a W. Somerset Maugham short story, for director Lewis Milestone who here did his darnedest to disguise that what we were watching was a talky and stagy version by keeping his camera moving around as much as possible. He even resorted to letting the cameraman prowl around the actors, conducting more than one full 360 degree shot which if nothing else showed off the comprehensiveness of the set design. The public, not to mention her fans, were not taken with it, alas, and star Crawford would refer to it as the least favourite of all her films (what, worse than Trog, Joan?) and denigrated her own performance.

Actually, Crawford provides a spark of life in her acting to what is in effect a pretty stodgy story. It's a tale of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and it results in tragedy. When Huston's well portrayed Davidson settles upon Sadie as his next big project, she resists and he is such an insufferable prig that it's with great pleasure that you see her standing up to him and his talk of her lifestyle damning her to Hell. She dances on the Sabbath, after all, which is all the proof Davidson and his companions need to see that she's in need of reform. Curiously, although this is a pre-Code talkie the exact nature of Sadie's profession is only coyly referred to, and indeed if you weren't aware beforehand that she was a prostitute you might miss it in the manner the drama unfolds.

The real life moralists of the day weren't fooled, however, and when the uptight Davidson is exposed as a self-righteous hypocrite by the end they couldn't have taken too kindly to such a development. Although in the film he eventually wears Sadie down to convince her she needs redeeming and he is the man to do it - you would call it brainwashing nowadays, and Crawford stops being sassy and starts staring into the middle distance and mewling about how she deserves, as Davidson has persuaded her, to go back to San Francisco to face an arrest and prison term. Only by doing that will she receive God's mercy, according to the puritan. As an indictment of the sanctimoniousness and bile of self-appointed moral guardians Rain is a tough one, but although non-explicit, the implied climactic rape is a step too far dramatically. Mainly you'll relish the verbal clashes between Crawford and Huston, though they're too few and far between. Music by Alfred Newman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Lewis Milestone  (1895 - 1980)

Born Lev Milstein, Lewis Milestone emigrated from Russia at the end of World War One, where he broke into film-making by directing training films for the US army. After several years working as an assistant director, Milestone was given his first directing gig by Howard Hughes, and in 1928 won the Oscar for Best Director of a Comedy Picture at the first ever Academy Awards for Two Arabian Knights. Over the next three decades, Milestone directed such classics as All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page, Of Mice and Men, Pork Chop Hill, A Walk in the Sun, plus the enjoyably rubbish rat packer Ocean's 11.

 
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