(Sexy) Sadie McKee (1934)
Sadie McKee is a swell soap-opera of a film! Joan Crawford plays the title character of the film, which is based on the story, “Pretty Sadie McKee” by Vina Delmar. The film co-stars Gene Raymond, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Jean Dixon, and Esther Ralston. It has all the high polished production qualities one expects from MGM, complete with the studio’s hottest director of the early 1930’s, Clarence Brown, and sizzling fashions from Adrian. As Crawford said herself, “Everything about “Sadie McKee” was right, the actors, the script, direction, costumes, the works.”.
Now if you think this column is just about me showcasing a lush MGM film, highlighting Adrian costumes, and featuring gorgeous George Hurrell images of Joan Crawford, you’d only be half right. This actually is a really fine film, but not just for the reasons mentioned above. It also tackles a couple of really important topics, which at the time were not talked about. When a pre-code film doesn’t call it by name, then you know it’s taboo! Referred to only as “it”, the “it” in this film is alcoholism. Sadie McKee is the first film to deal with the subject seriously instead of for comic effects, and in a strikingly progressive move, handles alcoholism as a disease. Edward Arnold, who plays the alcoholic Brennan, said this role was his favorite and he does a marvelous job playing the jovial yet sadistic character.
The other topic is love, or rather lost love and its subsequent rebound effects. Sadie juggles three relationships in the film. She runs away with her true love, only to be quickly abandoned by him. She carries a nostalgic torch for him, while rebounding with Brennan, against Tone’s character Michael. She thinks she’s got life licked, when she’s confronted by disease on two fronts. She looses her true love (Gene Raymond) to TB and seeks redemption by saving Brennan from drink. Only when these have equaled out, does she give in to real love with Michael. All of this in just 88 minutes.
What made Adrain a great studio designer was his ability to design costumes to reflect what the characters were feeling or going through in different scenes. He didn’t clotheshorse Crawford in the film just because she was a great canvas. He tailored every costume, not only Crawford’s, to the individual character and their particular situation in the film. When we see Jean Dixon’s character for the first time in her leopard print coat, we instantly know her situation and personality, same can be said for Esther Ralston. We also get to witness the range of Crawford’s costumes and see how they not only fit her, but how they are integrated into the scenes as a silent character. I mentioned earlier how these costumes sizzle, well in fact in might be more appropriate to follow the Hollywood Reporter’s lead when they summed the film up by saying, “…[it’s] a humdinger for the femme fans.”