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Temple Drake is a well brought up Southern woman who has a strong wild and
crazy streak. She refuses marriage proposals from Steven Benbow, a
dedicated and ethical young lawyer, because she knows she isn't ready to
settle down. She is, in fact, a notorious sexual tease. Soon she's
held by a group of bootleggers and is raped by a hood named Trigger.
Temple's wild streak takes over and she decides to stay with Trigger,
perhaps working as a prostitute. Pretty heady stuff for the 1930's!
I particularly liked the character of Benbow who willingly takes all of the pro bono criminal cases assigned to him by the judge (Temple's haughty father) and handles even the hopeless ones with great dedication. In the courtroom scene that ends this film, Benbow's skill and ethics are put to the test.
There is an extensive discussion and analysis of "Temple Drake" in Thomas Doherty, "Pre-Code Hollywood" (1999) at 114-17. The story of the film's struggle with the censors (both in Hollywood and in the states) is told in Thomas Vieira, "Sin in Soft Focus" (1999) 149-50; stills from the film appear at 158-59.
I saw this many years ago at a film festival and have never forgotten it. Even though they toned down the source material (William Faulkner's "Sanctuary") considerably, this is strong stuff for 1933. The acting is good, it's well-directed and has an ending that censors of the 30s hated (I won't give it away, but you can see why). One question--why isn't this available? It's never been on TV and never even got a video release. A real shame--this is one great movie. If you get a chance, see it.
This is probably the most daring precode picture made. Miriam Hopkins starred and I can't think of anyone else who would have been just as good. Even Harlow wouldn't have worked. She never played such an amoral C.T. as Temple. Jack LaRue was absolutely perfect as Trigger. Such a face. Extraordinarily good looking and yet resolutely menacing. I'll never understand why he never was used as a romantic lead in any of his movies that I know. Read the other reviews for plot details. They are precise. I purchased my copy privately on DVD. I've always wanted to see it. It was worth it. The settings and lighting were extremely good for the story and time in cinema history. Hooray for the director and all of the technicians,
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Amazing pre-Code film but only if you can see a great print
of it and I did
(part 2 of 2) PLOT: Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is
known about town as a fast and loose party girl, but all the men in
town know she's really all talk and no action. She's got a suitor in
lawyer Stephen Benbow (William Gargan), who has repeatedly asked Temple
to marry him, but she doesn't want to give up her hard partying
lifestyle. She's also the granddaughter of the town judge, which gets
her out of a lot of trouble. It also helps that her grandfather remains
completely oblivious to her wild lifestyle.
As seen in the wonderful documentary on pre-Code, COMPLICATED WOMEN her court room testimony is the high point of the film and Hopkins is fragile and brilliant. I think Miriam Hopkins not being nominated for this film is the real controversy.
The Story of Temple Drake is one of the best examples of the provocative nature of pre-code films. This picture exhibits several traits that distinguishes it from movies made following the strict enforcement of the Hays code. Drinking to excess, pervasive promiscuity, misogynistic violence, and enough skin to shock a depression-era film-goer. Makes me wonder if the lost CONVENTION CITY if found today might be more tame or would it too be rated PG-13 if released today? It was remade (some say poorly) in 1961 starring Lee Remick as Temple and Yves Montand as the gangster. If they tried to re-make this today, I'm sure it'd still create a huge stir.
The director, Stephen Roberts, graduated to features after cranking out two-reel silent comedies in the 1920s to THIN MAN-like mysteries like STAR OF MIDNIGHT & THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD. (voters on IMDb rate TEMPLE his best film.) And the director of photography was the gifted Karl Struss (SUNRISE), who gave the shots in the mansion some Caligari-like dimensions.
The style of the film is very Southern Gothic, too; shades of Expressionism with a languorous underbelly of sweat and grime. The lighting and art direction clearly signal the change between Temple's safe and knowable world and the world she enters with the car crash, but it's not merely a contrast of good and evil. There are degrees of good among the bootleggers, just as there are men among her society friends who wouldn't be much better than the bootleggers if given half a chance. Also, the implied comparison between Temple and Ruby is striking Ruby is both the woman Temple may become (in social position), and a woman who is utterly dedicated to one man, which Temple is not and by society's standards should be.
Another joltingly energized facet of the production was the appearance of stage actress (and wife of Fredric March) Florence Eldridge, who was given the best line: when Temple is in the mansion's kitchen, she sees a baby in the wood box by the stove. Asking why the baby is in there, Eldridge let's drop a shocker Mordant Hall of The New York Times said, " Considering the changes that were to be expected in bringing this novel to the screen, the producers have wrought a highly intelligent production. It is grim and sordid, but at the same time a picture which is enormously helped by its definite dramatic value. Miss Hopkins delivers a capital portrayal as Temple Drake (and paraphrasing) as does sinister-eyed Jack LaRue as Trigger there is splendid work from the rest of the cast." Time magazine said, " Books as conspicuously concupiscent as William Faulkner's Sanctuary always challenge and worry Hollywood. The U. S. public will tolerate between book covers material which could never be exhibited in a theatre. Admirers of Sanctuary may therefore be disappointed in this transcription of it, but The Story of Temple. Drakealthough amply punctuated by shots in which the screen goes black to conceal everything except Director Stephen Roberts' prudenceis more effective than might have been expected. It is a dingy and violent melodrama, more explicit: about macabre aspects of sex than any previous products of Hollywood. In the part that George Raft refused because it would "offend his public," Jack La Rue a heavy-lidded young Italian who went to Hollywood to play in Scarface and lost the part to Raft is effectively sinister. Miriam Hopkins gives a brilliant performance as Temple Drake." William Gargan is fine as the lawyer/boyfriend; Sir Guy Standing is distinguished as the grandfather/retired judge and Irving Pichel is grimy as the farmer/bootlegger. The writer of the screenplay Oliver H.P. Garrett would the next year share an Oscar with Joseph L. Mankiewicz for best screenplay for MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).
Many fans of novelist William Faulkner state THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE, the first film version of SANCUARY, as probably the best film version made from a Faulkner novel. As a screenwriter he worked as script doctor on two classic films THE BIG SLEEP and TO HAVE AN HAVE NOT (the second is the only film to make use of two Nobel Prize winning authors.) But the bottom line, after all the controversy is the reason to see it. It's a good film!
The notorious and rarely-seen (it's not even listed in Maltin's book)1933 adaption of William Faulkner's "Sanctuary" was unveiled to NY audiences last week at the Film Forum. The film is beautifully shot, and has an amazing performance by Miriam Hopkins as the southern belle who gets kidnapped and raped by a gangster, but stays with him by choice. At the conclusion, there was a richly-deserved round of applause. The rights are owned by Universal Home Video now--start writing them to get this lost masterpiece onto the video shelves.
It's odd that this pre-Code morality tale was withdrawn by Paramount
shortly after release, considering that despite its salacious content
it pointed out that the girl at the center was capable of noble
redemption. However that may be, "The Story of Temple Drake" works well
on its own terms as a story about a flirtatious Southern belle (Miriam
Hopkins in one of her best performances) whose behavioral excesses get
her into a mighty mess with a band of bootleggers, including a
character named Trigger (Jack LaRue in a role George Raft refused) and
an embittered harridan interestingly played by Florence Eldridge (real
life wife of Fredric March). Both actors benefit from Karl Struss's
Director Stephen Roberts and screenwriter Oliver H.P. Garrett do their early 30's best to cinematize a complicated novel (by William Faulkner) by crunching long passages of text into visually suggestive nuggets. The trouble with the gang of ne'er-do-wells is that none of them have even a twinge of a southern twang except James Eagles as the dimwitted Tommy. Besides him, the only key actor with even a slight southern accent in the whole film is Hopkins. William Gargan contrasts perfectly with the criminals as the clean-cut lawyer who loves and defends Hopkins despite her dark side. The drama builds to a breathless, memorable conclusion, concisely shot and directed for maximum effect.
Just caught this gem last night at the Film Forum during their incredible
Pre-Code Women festival!
Top acting honors to Miriam Hopkins, Jack La Rue et al. It is truly amazing how some of the pre-code dramas and comedies (sadly most of them missing from video, much less dvd!) hold up so incredibly well.
While I admire the ingenuity and class that some of the later 30's and 40's movies had in dealing with the Code restrictions, early dramas like The Story of Temple Drake demonstrate the same artistry in handling a sexually frank storyline.
Little Faulkner is left in this, but the mood and atmosphere of this film is superb!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Good god, I can't publish this. We'd both be in jail." Wrote William
Faulkner's publisher in 1929 after reading an early version of his
fifth novel, Sanctuary.
The Hays Office forbade any reference to the novel in advertising for the film. (In the opening credits of The Story of Temple Drake it only says, "From a novel by William Faulkner.")
The challenge then was how to present it in an engaging if not entertaining movie without gutting the inherit drama of the story. By blending what they could show with what the audience was left to imagine it becomes a near horror film.
Joseph Breen, would say it was "the vilest books, but that the film was tame in comparison to the novel."
This steamy melodrama triggered church boycotts and stricter enforcement of the Hays production code. After only a few screenings, the film was quickly shelved by the Production Code Administration, never to be seen again until now.
A few collectors' 16mm prints have surfaced over the years, but a 35mm print hasn't been seen since the 1930s. So why did it take until now? The Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) was approached by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to work on a collaboration. This long sought-after title came up, and fortunately the MoMA holds the original elements and in excellent condition! This print of Temple Drake that we are screening is only a single generation away from the original camera negative, making this a true rediscovery that is not to be missed!
The pivotal role of Temple Drake was entrusted to Miriam Hopkins, best known for Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise & Design for Living. But Hopkins seizes the opportunity to extend herself as a performer, arguably her finest performance. The role itself is much more complex than many of the parts offered to women in studio films today.
George Raft was suspended by Paramount for his refusal to appear as "Trigger" in this film. Paramount head Adolph Zukor's reasoning that Raft turned down the part not because he objected to the material, but because he wanted more money.
I first read about it in books on films of the 1930s, later I heard about it in documentaries on Pre-Code Hollywood. When I finally saw this forbidden film it was no gem. Like many of you I first saw Temple on VHS made from a worn 16mm collectors print years ago. It ranked as one of the worst transfers I had ever seen, almost unwatchable. But there was something there, to the story and the characters that drew me into the fuzzy darkness on the screen. The raising of ideas, situations and life mysteries that I found fascinating. Kind of like Dr. Jekyll wanting to know more about Hyde (another great Pre-Code Miriam Hopkins film.) But this screening is of the MoMA "To Save and Project" film preservation program and is a recently printed 35mm print made from the original negative that played to rave reviews at last years TCM Film Festival.
One of the most daring Pre-Code films ever produced, this audacious film has been credited with being a catalyst for the creation of the Roman Catholic Church's National Legion of Decency. It was banned in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Joe Breen ordered the film to never be re-released again once the Production Code came into effect in June of 1934.
For many classic film fans, 1933's "The Story of Temple Drake" has long been something of a holy grail. Based on William Faulkner's novel, "Sanctuary", the story of a young Southern débutante with a wild side created a huge scandal upon its original release. The film was quickly pulled from release and went largely unseen for decades. Until now. Showing in a new 35mm print struck from the original camera negative!
Georgia native Miriam Hopkins portrayed Temple Drake, (she made this film between Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) and DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933)) The gangster is played by pop-eyed Jack LaRue in another of his great Pre-Code sleaze-bag performances.
(This is only part 1 of 2, Continued )
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Miriam Hopkins stars as flirtatious tease from the good Southern family
who goes joyriding with drunken boy and gets trapped in a den of
thieves in the middle of nowhere. She witnesses a murder, gets raped,
and is taken away by the vicious killer (Jack LaRue) to a whorehouse.
She is so shellshocked by the events that she stays with him until a
lawyer (and former boyfriend) sees her there. His visit shakes her back
to reality and she tries to leave. LaRue stops her and starts to beat
her but she shoots him and escapes. Later the lawyer (William Gargan)
calls her to the witness stand when an innocent man is charged with the
killing she witnessed. She tells her story and collapses. The End.
Based on William Faulkner's "Sanctuary," this pre-Code film skirts several issues but is amazingly frank and powerful in its storytelling. Lurid. Moody. Noirish. This film, which has only recently re-surfaced after 60 years boasts brilliant performances by Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan, Jack LaRue, and Florence Eldridge. Co-starring Elizabeth Patterson, Irving Pichel, Guy Standing, Louise Beavers, Jobyna Howland, Frank Darien, and William Collier, Jr. as the drunken boy.
Terrific sets and use of close-ups. The finale is superb as Gargan faces off against defiant Hopkins.
Provocative and racy this hard to find film is loaded with infamy. If you started watching not knowing it was a pre-code it would only take a few minutes to realized it. Full of a wantonness and sense of depravity that wouldn't be seen in movies for decades after, this sin-fest features rape, murder and many other shocking events with a frank candor. Even the advertising for the film was lurid, just look at the poster to get an idea of how the film was sold. Many of the cast are rather ham handed in their portrayals, William Gargan in particular, but Miriam Hopkins lights up the screen with a vibrant sensuality and a compelling presence. A truly talented actress it's a shame that behind the scenes she was such a difficult and brazen up-stager that it irrevocably damaged her career and shortened her star period.
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