Movie Review

Sadie Thompson

They had faces.
Sadie Thompson Movie Poster

US Release Date: 01-07-1928

Directed by: Raoul Walsh


  • Gloria Swanson
  • Sadie Thompson
  • Lionel Barrymore
  • Alfred Davidson
  • Blanche Frederici
  • Mrs. Alfred Davidson
  • Charles Lane
  • Dr. Angus McPhail
  • Florence Midgley
  • Mrs. Angus McPhail
  • James A. Marcus
  • Joe Horn
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: January 7th, 2001
Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson.

Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson.

Sadie Thompson tells the story of Sadie Thompson, played by Gloria Swanson. Sadie is a girl with a morally questionable past who goes to a south seas island for a job. Actually she is running from her past. But in all good stories the past catches up to you.

The past here is a bible thumper played by Lionel Barrymore. You know, Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life. Sadie plays her phonograph and entertains soldiers in her room. This of course upsets the holy rollers and they set out to redeem the sinful Sadie. Sadie in the mean time has fallen in love with one of the soldiers, and he likewise with her.

Gloria Swanson is and will always be remembered for her great performance in Sunset Blvd. Yet in her silent films we see the real star. Swanson was a very attractive, talented actress. Sadie Thompson was her silent film swan song. Made in 1928, right when sound was about to take over. Swanson produced this movie and was nominated for an academy award for it.

In Sunset Blvd, Norma has a line where she says "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces." Watch this movie and you will agree. If you have never seen a silent film you should. They convey emotion and characterization as well or even better than many films today.

The one disadvantage in watching these old movies is that Sadie's only crimes are vaguely implied. She does nothing more than laugh and drink with the soldiers. You must put yourself into this movie and it's morals to enjoy it. However, it's ending is predictable and a let down. Perhaps it wasn't when it first came out, but so many films have followed this plot that the ending can be seen practically from the opening shot.

Reviewed on: January 7th, 2002
Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson.

Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson.

This is the first screen version of W. Somerset Maugham's classic story 'Miss Sadie Thompson'; it had also been a successful play on Broadway. The story was popular enough over the years to spawn two well-known remakes, one starring Joan Crawford and the other Rita Hayworth, neither of them being as faithful in recreating the uncompromising ending of the celebrated novelist's written word.

Eric has done a good job explaining the plot. I would like to mention that the three leads all give wonderful performances. Swanson is perfect as the brazen Sadie, Lionel Barrymore captures the creepy self-righteousness of Christian reformer Alfred Davidson, and Raoul Walsh is completely convincing as the average-Joe-sergeant hopelessly in love with the scandalous woman.

I disagree with Eric on only a few things.

One is a technical point. His statement that Sadie Thompson was Gloria Swanson's final silent movie is only partially true. The following year she began the ill fated Queen Kelly under the direction of the eccentric Erich von Stroheim. While it is true that the project was never completed, the partial movie is available today on DVD.

I also disagree with his entire last paragraph. I, for one, like the fact that older movies don't force-feed us graphic information. Once upon a time the word subtle had meaning. Besides it is readily apparent that Sadie is a prostitute; and the specific crime she is running away from is not essential to the story. And I really don't see how Eric can call the ending predictable and a let down. I certainly did not expect Davidson to rape Sadie and then commit suicide. Sorry to spoil the ending but after all, this movie is over seventy-five years old and I think the statute of limitations on that has long since run out.

Reviewed on: May 1st, 2010
Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson.

Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson.

Patrick, you're either privy to information not shown in the film or you're reading things into it, because in the version I saw, there was no rape. Granted, the final 10 minutes of the film is constructed of movie stills and dialogue cards since the ending was apparently lost, but all I see is that Mr. Davidson is sexually attracted to Sadie and can't handle it so he kills himself. If Sadie was raped, she certainly handles it quite well and seems unaffected by it. I'm more prepared to believe that Sadie's so called conversion was faked and that she purposely drew Mr. Davidson to her so that she could get her way.

The vagueness of Sadie's past didn't bother me. It's practically irrelevant. She has a past and that's really all you need to know. My personal belief is that she was a prostitute who probably committed some greater crime; perhaps the theft of some money that allowed her to try to find a new life.

I do have to say that I am not a big fan of silent movie dramas. The acting tends to be overdone and far too melodramatic. Swanson does have some good moments but there are also times where she overacts terribly, particularly in the scene where she supposedly converts. Of all the actors, I thought Raoul Walsh (who also directed), was the most natural. Barrymore hams horribly on occasion. I know that this was the style of the time, but seriously, the camera is right there, you're not playing to the back row, so tone it down a bit!

I'm sure that historically this movie is significant and there are all sorts of reasons why this is an important silent film and a milestone in Swanson's career, but in all honesty, I found it more interesting to see how far movies have come since this was made than I found it to be entertaining.

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