Forget a single love interest, Joan Crawford gets three as Sadie McKee. They pass in and out of her life with enough twists and turns to make for a very entertaining movie. Sadie's fall and rise provides a fascinating portrait of a young woman whose loyalty always remains intact, even after her ideals are shattered by one man she admires, another that she loves.
Sadie works in the Alderson home, where her mother (Helen Ware) is cook. The prodigal son, young lawyer Michael Alderson (Franchot Tone), has returned home and stops by the kitchen to renew his acquaintance with Sadie, who he seems to have a little crush on, and her mother, who used to spoil him. As Sadie serves dinner Michael badmouths former family employee, Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond), who happens to be Sadie's boyfriend. Michael recommends the family be harsh with Tommy and give him no second chance. Sadie explodes, tells off all of the Aldersons and their friends, and storms away to a new life.
She tries to say goodbye to Tommy at the train station, but as his train rattles off towards New York she climbs on board and joins him on the adventure. They arrive very hungry and very green to the ways of the city. Tommy has a little over seventeen dollars and no plans or place to stay. At the automat they bump into Opal (Jean Dixon), an earthy woman, slightly older, who works in a nightclub. They ask Opal's advice about lodgings and she winds up escorting them to the building she lives in. Posing as a married couple Sadie talks the landlord down to $6 per week rent. Tommy plans to marry her at noon the next day, a good thing since this scene ends with him hovering over her in bed, where he winds up spending the night.
Sadie is excited the next morning when she bumps into Opal coming back inside their building after a night out hustling. She asks Opal to be bridesmaid when she's married that day at noon. Tommy gets sidetracked on his way to the city hall by Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston), a showgirl who lives in a neighboring apartment. Dolly not only convinces Tommy to join her act in Hartford that night, their scene closes with a kiss, leaving Sadie the only one surprised by Tommy's no-show at city hall.
Tommy wires Sadie to let her know he's working with Dolly (cough, cough) and promises that he'll wire money for her to get back home. Sadie refuses to go home, but soon discovers how hard it is to get by in the city. Opal gets her a job dancing at the club and provides advice about the type of men she'll be mingling with: "They got what we want, all of it, and every girl has her price—yours ought to be high"
Sadie is just wrapping up a dance number when boozed-up millionaire Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) arrives and takes an immediate fancy to her. He demands the waiter (Akim Tamiroff) retreive Sadie from the dressing room to join the party at his table. When Sadie reaches the table Brennan is away, but his lawyer has arrived. It's Michael Alderson (Tone).
Sadie gives Alderson attitude as she lounges in Brennan's arms. "Every girl has her price," she tells Michael, repeating Opal's advice. Then glancing at Brennan, Sadie adds, "and mine's high."
The movie takes a turn at this point. Arnold's Brennan becomes its most interesting character for awhile. At first he's just a fun drunk, but then he becomes a fatally diagosed alcoholic who Sadie, now his wife, vows to rescue, despite what others, such as Michael, may think of her motives. It's also after Sadie marries Brennan that Dolly's act, featuring Tommy, comes back to town, and Sadie realizes that despite everything, she still loves Tommy.
It's the kind of plot usually unwound in 65-70 minutes, and while Sadie McKee takes a full 93 minutes to tells its story, it is an interesting enough journey that time is not an issue. Crawford runs the gamut from lovesick and inexperienced to defiant and mercenary, before completely taking charge of her own destiny and then molding the fates of those around her. Very strong offering for her.
Edward Arnold is captivating as the alcoholic millionaire, a character we're laughing along with until we realize how much of a problem he really has. Gene Raymond's character is interesting in that he's extremely flawed, but viewers are inclined to stand by him because of Crawford's love and loyalty. The Franchot Tone part is the least interesting of the three main men in Sadie's life, colored mostly by his misjudgment of others, including Sadie.
From top MGM contract director Clarence Brown, who was very busy with Crawford during this period, also directing her in Possessed (1931), Letty Lynton (1932), Chained (1934), and The Gorgeous Hussy (1936).
Sadie McKee is the earliest of five features found in Warner Home Video's 2008 DVD release The Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2. Other titles in the set are Strange Cargo (1940), A Woman's Face (1941), Flamingo Road (1949), and Torch Song. (1953).
My IMDb rating: 8/10.