Rain movie review: Lewis Milestone’s 1932 version of the Broadway hit play gives a young Joan Crawford the chance to showcase her acting skills
The first thing you notice in director Lewis Milestone and adapter Maxwell Anderson’s 1932 Pre-Code drama Rain is that Joan Crawford’s name (on loan from MGM to United Artists) is above the title. Next, we hear Alfred Newman’s moody score.
A perfect beginning for a perfect movie.
As the antiheroine Sadie Thompson – initially found in W. Somerset Maugham’s 1921 short story, and the following year in John Colton and Clemence Randolph’s Broadway hit – Crawford makes her grand entrance eight minutes into the picture.
Sadie emerges from behind a beaded curtain, one limb at a time, all tarted up in cheap costume jewelry, a cigarette dangling from her painted lips, and a fox skin slung over one shoulder. She is the fabled whore with, as we eventually discover, a heart of gold.
The star holds her own
In movies for less than a decade, eventual Best Actress Oscar winner Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce, 1945) holds her own in Rain while acting opposite an ensemble cast of stage-trained actors, among them Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, and Walter Huston as Mr. Davidson, the self-righteous Christian reformer.
Crawford’s intensity during the film’s long, dialogue-heavy scenes testifies to her already impressive thespian prowess.
Here’s one example: In Rain, the simmering drama comes to a boil during the final confrontation scene between Sadie and Davidson, when he rejects her plea for forgiveness and she goes into attack mode, lashing out at his hypocrisy.
“How do you know what I’ve suffered? Your God and I could never be shipmates!” the wild-eyed Sadie shouts, until finally surrendering to Davidson’s influence by reciting the Lord’s Prayer with him.
Make sure to pay close attention to Joan Crawford’s eyes. They don’t blink during that entire sequence.
Sex & death
Later, Sadie shifts gears. Subdued and declawed, she radiates a virginal glow as she yields to the preacher’s control.
Soon enough, however, she discovers Davidson’s fatal flaw, as he proves to be just like any other man.
Sadie turns around again, putting her party dress back on and cocking her painted head back while cracking, “I’d race ‘ya to the beach if it wasn’t for these pesky heels.”
As played by Joan Crawford, Sadie also makes us realize that she is shocked – but not surprised – when she hears that Davidson committed suicide following their sexual encounter.
I always wonder if that was just a setup; in other words, Sadie was pretending to be reformed in order to lure Davidson into her boudoir.
Either way, Rain works as a timeless allegory of the insincerity of the self-righteous, holier-than-thou religious fanatics.
Now, many have complained that this particular movie adaptation of Rain is stagy and static. However, I’ve never found that to be the case.
Under the deft direction of two-time Academy Award winner Lewis Milestone, the film is utterly cinematic. Milestone’s camera, in fact, moves about fluidly.
As a plus, the filmmaker – with the assistance of cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh (who had also shot Rain’s previous movie version, Sadie Thompson) – lets the titular water drops play an important role in this brooding story.
Pity the world
Rain’s last scene wraps up this Pre-Code classic with a perfect exchange between Mrs. Davidson (Beulah Bondi) and Sadie.
The preacher’s wife tells her, “I’m sorry for him and I’m sorry for you.”
To which Sadie replies, “And I’m sorry for the whole world, I guess.”
She then walks off into the sunset with her soldier man.
Director: Lewis Milestone.
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson.
From John Colton & Clemence Randolph’s 1922 play, itself based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1921 short story “Miss Thompson.”
Cast: Joan Crawford. Walter Huston. William Gargan. Beulah Bondi. Guy Kibbee. Matt Moore. Walter Catlett. Kendall Lee.
“Rain Movie (1932): Crawford Proves Sex Stronger Than God” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Rain (1932) Movie Review” endnotes
Lewis Milestone’s Best Director Academy Awards were for Two Arabian Knights (for the period 1927–28) – Milestone was the first and last winner in the short-lived Best Comedy Direction category – and for All Quiet on the Western Front (1929–30), which also won Best Picture.
Joan Crawford Rain movie image: United Artists.
“Rain Movie (1932): Crawford Proves Sex Stronger Than God” last updated in October 2021.