by Eric Veillette
In its continuing efforts to offer specialty programming, Toronto’s Revue Cinema, NOW Magazine’s favourite rep cinema, presents Classics From The Vault, a new series featuring little-seen classics from the 1930s and 1940s.
Screening Wednesday, Nov. 18 (7 p.m.) is director Lewis Milestone’s Rain (1932). Set in the South Pacific, it features rising star Joan Crawford as Sadie Thompson, a tough-talking, hard-drinking prostitute who spells certain destruction for a missionary (Walter Huston) seeking to redeem her soul. This was the second film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s short story, the first being Sadie Thompson (1928), a silent starring Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore.
Rain is a great early talkie, with the pounding South Pacific rain imbedded in the soundtrack; it is also a fine example of Hollywood’s “pre-code” era. In 1929, a group of clergymen drafted a code of ethics for Hollywood productions. Weary of government censorship, the heads of the major studios accepted it as a means of self-censorship, but the code, considered puritanical, was largely ignored for the next five years. Many Hollywood films continued to reflect the permissive morality of the 1920s: Characters drank, danced and sinned, largely without consequence.
Films like The Divorcee (1930) saw Norma Shearer give her philandering husband a taste of his own medicine; Little Caesar (1930) and The Public Enemy (1931) glorified the American gangster; Al Jolson proclaimed that “boys will be boys” when two men slow-danced in Wonder Bar (1934); and in Night After Night (1932), Mae West brazenly asserted her sexuality: “Goodness has nothing to do with it.” She was seen as an affront to the decent film-going public, and by late 1934, with newly minted censor Joseph L. Breen in charge, the code was rigorously enforced. Scripts now required approval before production; various cuts were demanded once the films were completed; skirts were ankle-length; and the anti-heroes were punished.
Joan Crawford reportedly disliked her performance as the gum-chewing, jazz-listening temptress Sadie. This is perhaps due to the negative reaction of critics who preferred her in roles like that of the stenographer in Grand Hotel (which was still playing in Toronto when Rain premiered in November of 1932). Even the Toronto Star was critical of its subject matter, while proclaiming: “there is probably no actress in Hollywood – even on the stage, for that matter – who could approximate the artistry she displays.”
Today’s audiences now realize Rain would have been a much different, watered-down affair had it been made after the code’s enforcement, and it now stands as a testament to the strength of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.
Every screening in the Classic Hollywood Revue series will be preceded by a shorts program echoing the pre-code era, featuring a scantily-clad Betty Boop and a great musical short featuring Louis Armstrong. They may well have accompanied the film when it premiered at the Loew’s Yonge St. Theatre in November of 1932!
Both feature and pre-show entertainment will be screened on 16mm. Check out our Facebook Event Listing!
Rain screens at the Revue Cinema on Wednesday, November 18 at 7pm. Tickets are $7 for Members (Memberships available at the door). A repeat screening will occur Saturday, November 20, 4pm.