Blu-ray Review: Miss Sadie Thompson - 3D - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Here's a very intriguing little curio from 1953: Miss Sadie Thompson starring the legendary Rita Hayworth. Released during the '50s 3D craze, the film enjoyed a brief three-dimensional exhibition despite it being a genre hybrid with little in common with creature features and action-oriented spectacles. It's available now in both 2D and 3D (on one Blu-ray) via Twilight Time (this edition is limited to 3,000 units).

The first utterly striking thing about Miss Sadie is Hayworth's mesmerizing performance in the titular role. Sadie is the proverbial "woman with a past" as she arrives in the South Pacific. She finds herself in the midst of lustful serviceman, including Sgt. Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray). There's also the stuffy, self-righteous Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer), who's staying on the island with his wife Margaret (Peggy Converse) and another couple, Dr. Robert MacPhail (Russell Collins) and his wife (Frances Morri). The serviceman (including a young Charles Bronson as Pvt. Edwards) want to whoop it up with good-time gal Sadie, while the older visitors look on disapprovingly—particularly Mr. Davidson. Hayworth displays considerable range as she veers from exuberance to heartbreak.

The other striking thing about Miss Sadie is director Curtis Bernhardt's odd mixture of tones. Apparently the original 1921 short story (Miss Thompson, by W. Somerset Maugham) was too racy for the Motion Picture Production Code of the era. The story had already been adapted a few times prior to Bernhardt's (and screenwriter Harry Kleiner's) take on the material. Some feel the tale was tamed for this particular production. Others, including film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros (who are featured here on an audio commentary track), believe this one to be plenty gritty. Actually, it works pretty well that Sadie's past experience as a singer at a Hawaiian brothel is kind of unclear. Mr. Davidson accuses her outright of having been a prostitute, but there's on-going ambiguity to Sadie's past that serves the story well. 
MissSadieThompson_BD (301x380).jpg Then there are the musical numbers—some of which are terrific, while others feels like filler. One song even earned the film its sole Academy Award nomination: "Blue Pacific Blues," by Lester Lee and Ned Washington. And that's not even the film's prime musical showpiece. That would be the saucy showstopper "The Heat Is On," performed by Sadie with spectacular verve at a nightclub with lots of horny Marines cheering her on. Less important is the unnecessary "Hear No Evil, See No Evil (Speak No Evil)," sung by Sadie to a bunch of kids seeking cover during rainstorm. It should be noted that Hayworth lip syncs these numbers, with the actual singing dubbed by Jo Ann Geer.

As Mr. Davidson's hectoring ramps up in an attempt to deter the troops from falling for Sadie, Sgt. O'Hara does just that. Ferrer is excellent in his imposing performance as the preachy Davidson, especially as the film turns increasingly darker. Davidson, perhaps rather predictably for modern viewers, is revealed to be a consummate hypocrite. But that doesn't rob Miss Sadie Thompson of its cumulative power. Hayworth makes this is a memorable portrait of female empowerment in the face of regressive attitudes.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers a rock solid presentation of Charles Lawton Jr.'s vivid cinematography. This is probably the least-3D-necessary film I've ever seen presented in 3D (the effects are generally quite subtle, without gimmicky shots of objects flying out toward the viewer), but that said it's a nice value to have the film preserved in its original release format. Lossless audio is offered as a sturdy DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix. There's an isolated score track available.

In addition to the previously-mentioned film historian commentary track, there's also a short video introduction by actress Patricia Clarkson. Film historian Julie Kirgo provides a new liner notes essay in the Blu-ray booklet. To order this limited edition Miss Sadie Thompson - 3D, visit Screen Archives or the official Twilight Time website.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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