Oscar Movies: Sadie Thompson (1928)

A major silent star, who began performing in her early teens, including some of Mack Sennett comedies, Gloria Swanson was nominated as Best Actress for the silent movie Sadie Thompson, and for her first talkie, The Trespasser.

This version of the famous story by W. Somerset Maugham, made in 1928 by Raoul Walsh, is considered the best of the several adaptations.

Swanson plays the titular role, a prostitute (not exactly with a heart of gold), who follows the fleet to Pago Pago, from which a crusader (Lionel Barrymore, as usual hammy) tries to banish her.

Eventually the repressed crusader falls for Sadie, who is dallying win a marine, played by director Walsh with gusto.

Joan Crawford played the same role in MGM’s 1932 movie, titled “Rain.”  Rita Hayworth essayed the part in 1953, when Columbia remade the Maugham story as “Miss Sadie Thompson.”

The movie was financed by Joseph P. Kennedy (President J.F. Kennedy’s father), who was Swanson’s lover at the time.

Well-produced, with polished technical values supervised by William Cameron Menzies, “Sadie Thompson” was also nominated for Best Cinematography (by George Barnes).

Oscar Context

The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Janet Gaynor (for three films).  The Cinematography Oscar went to the co-lensers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, for Murnau’s “Sunrise,” one of the films starring Gaynor.

Swanson’s subsequent movies were unsuccessful, and in 1934 she retired.  Swanson made an abortive comeback in the comedy Father Takes a Wife, and then, after a decade, rendered a memorable comeback in Sunset Boulevard, in which she played a neurotic fading movie queen. Hollywood couldn’t deny Swanson a nomination for her comeback as well as for her indelible portrayal.