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    Roll Along, Rita

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    W. Somerset Maugham’s scandalous creation Sadie Thompson – from his 1921 short story Rain – has always been a temptation to composers and lyricists striving to give her song-and-dance chops in addition to being a fun-loving party girl who locks horns with a fanatical missionary on a South Seas island. Composer Vernon Duke and lyricist Howard Dietz crafted songs for the 1942 musical Sadie Thompson, which went into rehearsal with Ethel Merman starring but opened with successor June Havoc in the title role. Since the show was a 60-performance flop, it seemed the Merm, Sadie and musical theater weren’t great bedfellows. Amazingly, Duke would revisit the character 10 years later with a spoof song he and lyricist Ogden Nash dreamed up for the musical revue Two’s Company starring Bette Davis. Roll Along, Sadie, with Davis as the sinuous sinner and Tony winner Hiram Sherman as Maugham, remarked on Sadie’s appeal (“Here’s the story of a most unlucky dame/She was born to a life of shame”) pondered the question of whether Sadie was too racy for TV consumption (“Though by now she knows that sin can be a bore/Still the profits that she brings I can’t ignore”) and let Davis have some fun (“I can’t claim my story’s very pure/But it ain’t bad as literature”) while the chorus admonished “Roll along, Sadie/Gonna face the rain again/Roll along, Sadie/Water down the drain again.” After 90 performances, Two’s Company slipped down the drain. What would lie ahead for a singing/dancing Sadie? A return to the silver screen, outfitted with Technicolor, 3D, four songs by composers Ned Washington and Lester Lee and lyricist Allan Roberts, and one of Hollywood’s all-time great beauties. Columbia’s Christmas present to moviegoers a year later, Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), wrapped glamorous Rita Hayworth in the flinty, vulnerable and sensual showcase role of a been-around-the-block woman in a world of condescending men that she played to a fare-thee-well. Plus, in the case of a couple of songs she warbles (via the voice Jo Ann Greer) and dances (via her own titanic terpsichorean talent), an erotic vigor that raised the hackles of a few local censorship boards, particularly a number called The Heat Is On, which became an instant classic as one of the most erotic musical sequences ever filmed, beckoning viewers even more compellingly in 3D. (Another tune, the Best Song Oscar® nominee Blue Pacific Blues, isn’t too shabby either.) There are other elements to catch your eye, José Ferrer as the self-righteous churchman Davidson, Aldo Ray as the lovestruck Marine sergeant who falls for shady Sadie, Charles Bronson (still in his Buchinsky period as a fellow soldier) and lush Hawaiian scenery. But primarily, Miss Sadie Thompson proves the star of Cover Girl (available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/20127/COVER-GIRL-1944SPECIAL-PROMOTION/), Pal Joey (available on TT hi-def Blu-ray here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/16942/PAL-JOEY-1957-SPECIAL-PROMOTION/) and Gilda could deliver this enduring character’s siren song like nobody else – and make it a blazing success. TT brings the heat on a combo 3D/2D hi-def Blu-ray July 12. Preorders open this Wednesday, June 29.