Sadie McKee is a 1934 American Pre-Code romantic drama film directed by Clarence Brown, starring Joan Crawford, and featuring Gene Raymond, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, and Esther Ralston. The film is based on the 1933 short story "Pretty Sadie McKee", by Viña Delmar. Crawford plays the title character, a young working girl suffering through three troubled relationships on her road to prosperity.
Sadie McKee is the third of seven films Crawford and Franchot Tone made together. At the time of filming, Crawford had recently divorced Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and soon she and Tone were romantically involved. The couple married in 1935.
Sadie McKee (Crawford) works part-time as a serving maid in the same household where her mother is a cook, and is admired by the son of her employer, lawyer Michael Alderson (Tone). However, when Michael talks badly of her boyfriend, Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond), during a family dinner, Sadie openly denounces her employers as snobby and insensitive. Sadie then flees to New York City with Tommy, who was fired from his job in the Alderson factory for alleged cheating.
Nearly broke, Sadie and Tommy are befriended in New York by Opal (Jean Dixon), a hardened club performer, who takes them to her boardinghouse. The next morning, Sadie leaves the boardinghouse to look for a job and makes plans with Tommy to meet at the marriage license bureau at noon. Soon after she leaves, however, neighbor Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston) hears Tommy singing in the bathroom and seduces him into joining her traveling club act, which leaves town that morning.
Heartbroken and embittered by Tommy's desertion, Sadie packs her bags, but Opal implores her to stay and gets her a job as a dancer in a nightclub. Ten days later, Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold), a jovial, rich alcoholic, helps Sadie handle an abusive customer and then demands that she sit at his table, which he is sharing with a friend – Michael Alderson. Still angry at Michael, Sadie ignores his speech to leave his intoxicated companion alone and goes home with Brennan that evening. Soon after, Sadie marries the adoring Brennan and, while enjoying her newfound wealth, does her best to handle his constant drunkenness.
One afternoon, Sadie, who has been following Tommy's crooning career, goes to see him perform with Dolly at the Apollo Theater and is thrilled by the loving looks he gives her during his number. However, when Sadie returns home that evening, she learns from Michael and the family physician that unless Brennan stops drinking, he will die within six months. Sobered by the diagnosis, Sadie sacrifices her chance to reunite with Tommy and, after rallying the servants to her side, imprisons her husband in his house and forces him to quit drinking.
Later Sadie goes with Michael and the now recovered Brennan to the club where she used to dance and is startled to see Dolly there performing without Tommy. After she confronts Dolly and finds out that Tommy was dumped in New Orleans, Sadie confesses to Brennan that she is in love with another man and wants a divorce. The understanding Brennan grants Sadie her request, and Michael, anxious to win her forgiveness, undertakes to find Tommy. Michael eventually locates Tommy in the city and deduces that he is suffering from tuberculosis. Aided by Michael, Tommy is admitted to a hospital. By the time Sadie is allowed to see him, Tommy's condition has worsened, and he dies after telling her that it was Michael who had helped him. Four months later, Michael celebrates his birthday with Sadie and her mother, and looks into Sadie's forgiving eyes before making his birthday wish.
In general, the film received mixed reviews from the critics. The Hollywood Reporter noted, "Swell picture...sure-fire audience...well-tailored for the talents of Miss Crawford.... the stuff the fans cry for...direction of Clarence Brown something to rave about...a humdinger for femme fans."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated