Sadie Thompson
by Robert K. Klepper

Gloria Swanson Productions/United Artists
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Scenario by Raoul Walsh
Based on "Miss Thompson" by Somerset Maugham
Photographed by George Barnes, Robert Kurrle,Oliver Marsh
Art Direction by William Cameron Menzies
Editing and Titles by C. Gardner Sullivan
Running Time of Current Restoration: 97 minutes

CAST:  Sadie Thompson, Gloria Swanson (1897-l983);  Sergeant Timothy O'Hara,  Raoul Walsh (1887-1980);  Alfred Davidson, Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954); Mrs. Alfred Davidson, Blanche Frideric;  Dr. Angus McPhail, Charles Lane (1869-1945); Mrs.Angus McPhail, Florence Midgley (1890-1949);  Joe Horn, James A. Marcus (1867-1937);  Ameena, Sophia Artego; Quartermaster Bates, Will Stanton (1885-1969)

This was the first and finest of three screen adaptations of Somerset Maugham's short story called "Miss Thompson." Before this movie adaptation, the story had been adapted as the stage play called "Rain," which made actress Jeanne Eagels a stage sensation.  This original film adaptation won two Oscar nominations for 1927-28. Gloria Swanson was nominated as Best Actress, and George Barnes received a nomination for Cinematography.

Ms. Swanson had to fight hard with the Hays office to make this film, as the play "Rain" was declared strictly off  limits.  This is part of the reason why it was filmed under the title of  Sadie Thompson. Its plot has Swanson in the lead role of Sadie Thompson, a San Francisco prostitute who is seeking to start a new life, but is temporarily detained on an island which happens to be the current target of reformer Alfred Davidson, who seeks to rid the island of sin.  Davidson and Thompson clash when she befriends a group of Army men, and she is accused of immorality with the men, one of whom she falls in love with -- Sergeant Tim O'Hara.  Davidson makes it a point to have O'Hara confined to quarters, and he threatens to have Thompson deported back to San Francisco, a city that he finds out Thompson has fled from because she was framed for a crime 
she did not commit.  Faced with the prospect of going back to prison instead of to Australia to start a new life with O'Hara, Thompson must find a way to keep Davidson from sending her back to San Francisco.

Sadie Thompson is highly acclaimed as the greatest performance of Gloria Swanson's career, and this reviewer supports that acclaim- The author goes further to say that Swanson's performance in this film was better than the three performances that Janet Gaynor was given the first Best Actress Oscar for.  Gaynor's performances were definitely Oscar-worthy, but still fall short of Swanson's performance in this film and Marion Davies' performance in The Patsy (1927).

In praising Swanson's performance, we cannot overlook the terrific performance given by Lionel Barrymore as the evil reformer.  His performance should have been at least nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.  Film critic Danny Peary's Alternate Oscars lists Barrymore as among those he felt deserved Oscar nominations for 1927-28.  Lip readers had fun with this film, as there are a number of sequences in which Swanson used profanity. No profanity appears in the titles except for one in which Thompson tells Davidson "HANG ME AND BE DAMNED!" Swanson's answer to the Hays office was that one could not censor what one could not hear.  For many years, this film remained unseen becasue the one and only surviving print of Sadie Thompson was missing the final reel.  Dennis Doros did the world a fabulous service in 1987 when he reconstructed the last reel using titles, stills, and film footage from other parts of the film where appropriate.  At last, this masterpiece is back before the public where it belongs, and this restored version is available from Kino Video.

Sadie Thompson is among the finest dramatic achievements of the 1920s, and is a film that every classic/silent film enthusiast should have a copy of.

Reviewed by Robert K. Klepper/September, 1997

Article uploaded October 26, 1997 by Gilda Tabarez at

[home | top of the page]