The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
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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.
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.
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. Drake—although amply punctuated by shots in which the screen goes black to conceal everything except Director Stephen Roberts' prudence—is 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!
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!
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 )
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.
Which is not to say that it's a poorly made movie. Quite to the contrary.
Miriam Hopkins, whom I know from a string of fluffy mildly suggestive Ernst Lubitsch-type comedies - The Smiling Lieutenant, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living - gives a very impressive performance here as a Zelda Fitzgerald type who ends up being terrified out of her wits when she encounters a world of people very different from her native high-society circles. I have a lot more respect for her as an actress after seeing this.
The direction here, by Stephen Roberts, is also quite good at times, with very effective cinematography in the scenes set at the gangsters' hideout.
I can imagine that this movie would be very unpleasant viewing for a lot of women. It tells a gruesome story, and does nothing to keep it light. It's certainly worth seeing for Hopkins' performance, but it won't put you in a good mood.
When the film begins, Stephen Benbow (William Gargan) is in love with Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) and has asked her to marry him. But while she cares about him, she's also a flirtatious lady and doesn't want to yet settle down. Unfortunately her lifestyle gets her into trouble one night when she and one of her many boyfriends have an accident and they are stranded in the middle of no where. They come upon a house run by a bunch of very stereotypical white trash and eventually one of them, a thug named Trigger (Jack La Rue) rapes her and then hold her hostage as a love slave for some time thereafter. Eventually, Temple is able to break free of this monster...and walks into the middle of a court case being defended by Benbow...and if she talks about her trials, she could help get Benbow's client acquitted. But this also means talking about her ordeal in front of folks....during an era where no one would dare talk about this.
Fortunately, while the content is rather racy, the rape was NEVER shown and was handled tastefully. And, surprisingly, the topic of rape was treated rather fairly considering this was an era when women were often blamed for the assault. An important and groundbreaking film that actually stands up pretty well today...and features some powerful acting by Hopkins and Gargan.
The art direction, cinematography, underscoring (rare for a film of this era), and atmosphere in general allow the tension to build and let you know that violence is ahead for this young woman. The question is when and by whom. The answer is in the barn the next morning by Trigger. When a simple-minded boy that has been left outside the barn to keep watch over her makes a comment that Trigger should leave her alone Trigger shoots him dead. Afterwards, Trigger hauls Temple back to the city with him like she is some kind of wild kitten he has found and claimed for himself. She stays there with him, in a shabby little room, scantily dressed, and at his disposal as his personal plaything. Another shock, months after the rape, finally brings Temple back into the real world and causes her to deobjectify herself.
The cast is just perfect in this one. Miriam Hopkins was always wonderful at morally ambiguous roles, and here she runs the gamut from tease to terrified to catatonic in a performance that is electrifying. Irving Prechel once again plays a type of deviant. No wonder he switched to directing after all of the weird roles he was given by Paramount. As for Jack La Rue, he is perfect as the completely immoral predator who thinks everyone and everything exists in this world just to give him a laugh. It's a wonder he didn't get better and bigger roles with performances such as this.
I've talked to people who have no compassion for Temple after watching this film. They can't figure out why she stays with Trigger after he rapes her when she has probably had plenty of chances to get away. It's obvious she's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and Stockholm Syndrome. The realistic portrayal of a person in such circumstances puts this film decades ahead of its time psychologically. Compare the way Temple acts after being raped by Trigger in this film and then go watch Lee Remmick's portrayal of a rape victim in 1959 in the excellent "Anatomy of a Murder". She talks to defense attorney James Stewart about the crime as calmly and coolly as one might describe how their car ran off the road and hit a traffic sign.
Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys precode film. There are good quality copies of this old film out there.
The controversial salacious content is pre-code. There is some violence and a lot of suggested sexuality. It's actually effective as a noir style movie. The surprising thing is that it's still very watchable. The acting isn't always the best. William Gargan is a bit stiff. Miriam Hopkins is playing it very melodramatically as is usually the case of this era. It works in this melodrama. Jack La Rue is great as the quietly threatening villain.
The whole cast is great, the best parts are the brothel scenes,which are so hot one could fry an egg on them. I really enjoyed the performance of Jack La Rue, who's Trigger is so hot & so sleazy, it's perfect. Also the fact that this film raises profane thoughts in one's head, that Temple may have enjoyed the rape(the very end of the film), makes this film one of the best of the pre-code era.
George Raft, who had been scheduled to star pulled out. He had no intention of hurting his newly won box office allure by playing a sadistic gangster who had no sympathetic qualities. He had already played a pretty despicable gangster with both Miriam Hopkins and Mae Clarke so there was method in his rejection. Probably the only role rejection that actually helped his career. Jack La Rue was given the assignment and it certainly didn't catapult him to stardom. He played Trigger (in the book it was Popeye) a city punk living in the Mississippi hill country.
Temple Drake (Hopkins), Southern belle and grand daughter of prominent judge, has rejected Stephen Benbow's marriage proposal as she finds him too serious and unromantic. She craves excitement and unfortunately finds it. Exiting a stuffy party with inebriated Toddy (William Collier Jnr.) she is plunged into a nightmare world when their car overturns and they seek shelter at an abandoned mansion with a group of misfits. There's a baby in a wood box- "so the rats don't get it", a cretinous teenager, Tommy, a worn down woman (Florence Eldridge, Frederic March's wife) and a couple of men who wouldn't be out of place in "Deliverance". The rape scene between Temple and Trigger, a sadistic city gangster, is very powerful. The film drips with sexuality and decadence and the artfully lit soft focus photography of Karl Struss went far to diffuse the story's more shocking implications.
Trigger kills Tommy who has appointed himself Temple's guardian and is determined to see no harm comes to her. Trigger takes a shell shocked Temple into the city to establish her in a brothel. Goodwin (the wonderful character actor Irving Pichel) one of the men from the house, goes to the police to report Tommy's murder and suddenly finds himself charged. Of course Benbow is assigned to the case and it is up to him to find Temple and convince her to testify and with it destroy her character!!!! Temple Drake was a challenging role and Miriam Hopkins, in one of her best screen performances, gives it everything she has. Her scene in the old house where she suddenly realises this is real and there is no escape, she starts to really cry and makes you believe in her. Jack La Rue is simply chilling as Trigger, a thug with no redeeming qualities. It is a pity it didn't lead to bigger and better parts but he could always be proud of his performance in "The Story of Temple Drake".
Mention must be made of Jack LaRue, who plays Trigger, the villain of the piece. A repugnant figure, Trigger is the thoroughly rotten personification of evil and LaRue is terrific in the part. Like Miss Hopkins, this must be the high point of his long career which began in silents.
"The Story of Temple Drake" was shocking for its time and still packs a wallop today. Unlike today's fare, it leaves much off the screen to the imagination, which can be substantial depending on your frame of mind. It was one of the pictures chiefly responsible for the introduction of the Hays Code the following year.
*** (out of 4)
Notorious pre-code tells the story of Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins), a Southern Belle who uses her beauty to turn men on only to quickly throw water on them. To Temple turning men on is just a joke but when a date takes her to a dangerous bar, she's quickly held hostage by a bootlegger named Trigger (Jack LaRue) who will stop at nothing to feed his lust. THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE was highly controversial when it was first released and in large part it was one of the main reasons that the Hayes Office would have to finally stand up and keep on eye out for the "products" being released by Hollywood. Seen today the film is certainly less shocking but there's no doubt that the subject matter is still rather touchy and especially the "wannabe" bad girl who finally gets broken down when sexually, physically and mentally abused by an evil man. I think the best thing going for the film is the performance by Hopkins who was clearly born to play this role. Even though the film runs a very short 70-minutes and a lot of the material from the William Faulkner novel has been left out, the character of Temple Drake still goes through quite a bit of developments. Hopkins nails all of them and I really loved the early scenes where she was just playing the men to get them worked up so that she could just dump them and then move onto the next. These scenes with the actress are perfectly done but she also handles the later moments when she's terrified of what's going to happen to her and then of course at the end when she's broken down. I was also impressed with LaRue who gets to shine even if the screenplay doesn't do too much justice to him. William Gargan plays the lawyer who also just happens to be in love with Drake and he too is pretty good. Flrence Eldridge really stands out in her role and those with a quick eye can spot John Carradine in the courtroom. The pre-code elements are somewhat strong with a rape and several sexual moments with Hopkins either stripping down or showing off her legs. The most notorious scene happens when she strips down to her bra and panties only to have one of the thugs rip off a coat that she's wearing and the viewer gets even more of a glimpse of her. At 70-minutes the film moves extremely fast and there's no question that film buffs will want to search this one out.
One night she leaves a party with a drunk guy who drives too fast and crashes the car. They are found by Trigger, a lowlife bootlegger, which is the least of his crimes...he is also a rapist and murderer, as Temple will soon find out. She and the drunk driver are invited into a house, with a motley group of Trigger's cohorts. The Drunk Driver is happy to accept the invitation, as he wants another drink...but Temple insists she'll wait outside, as she senses trouble. Eventually, she is forced inside, as it starts to thunderstorm, as it does in all those creepy old Boris Karloff movies.
Temple is witness to repulsive deeds by this Trigger, including the murder of a young boy who was trying to help Temple. He arranges for an innocent man to go on trial for the murder, and the trial attorney is the one in love with Temple.
Temple is afraid to take the witness stand, because the scandal of her being involved with these criminals would be too hard on her Grandfather.....can the attorney who loves her convince her to take the stand, free an innocent man and get the true heinous criminal off the streets ?? Will she do it ? ! Buy the DVD and see !
This is why films of an earlier era genuinely fascinate me. Not to mention how thin a plot could often be in order to advance the story. Wouldn't anyone have noticed that when Benbow issued the subpoena, he stated to Trigger (Jack La Rue) and Temple Drake that he was presenting it to both of them. How would that subpoena have involved Temple since Benbow had no idea she would even be there, which was certainly more than evident when he expressed his shock and surprise to see her with him. Sometimes I wonder how a director or the principals in a scene would let something like that go by.
It wouldn't be unusual in the Thirties to see a story like this in one of those exploitation flicks dealing with the same type of subject matter. A few titles that come to mind would be "Gambling With Souls" (1936), "Slaves in Bondage" (1937) and "Mad Youth" (1940), all having to do in one way or another with the theme of prostitution. To see it here in a more or less mainstream film must have been quite a shock for it's time, perhaps even making it difficult for some movie goers to even concentrate on the story.
The finale does allow the title character a redemptive moment by having her summon the courage to testify against her evil captor, but at the same time the picture leaves a lot more questions for the viewer than it answers. How is it, for example, that no one ever made mention of the car crash that resulted in Toddy and Temple heading for the Godwin house in the first place? It's not like the aftermath of the accident would have disappeared once the story turned into a murder investigation.
In the novel, the lawyer Benbow (whose first name is Horace) is less enamored of Temple and much more concerned with defending his client Lee Goodwin (and Goodwin's companion Ruby Lemarr) from prejudices both legal and social. In the film, Ruby briefly alludes to prostituting herself in order to get Lee out of prison.
SPOILER: The sudden ending of the film is the opposite of what happens in the book. Suffice it to say that in Sanctuary, Temple is untroubled by conscience and unswayed by Benbow. The bad guy gets away, and the good guy doesn't. It's my favorite of Faulkner's early novels.
Miriam Hopkins does well portraying the two sides of Temple Drake (with a stronger Southern accent than anyone else in the film). Florence Eldridge convincingly conveys her contempt for Temple. Jack La Rue shoots daggers with his depthless eyes, but the screenplay can't possibly capture the complexity of Trigger's character, known as Popeye in Faulkner's underrated novel.
After her "lingerie scene" for theater viewers, Hopkins is raped by head bootlegger Jack La Rue (as "Trigger"). Mr. La Rue memorably plays almost his entire villainous part with a just-lighted cigarette in his mouth. This film's lighting and photography by Karl Struss is excellent, by the way. The story is based on the novel "Sanctuary" by William Faulkner. Therein, "Temple Drake" is known as an easy lay; but here, her bathroom wall advertisement is altered to "Temple Drake is just a fake. She wants to eat and have her cake." That she enjoyed her sexual encounters with her abductor is downplayed; in the book, those where accomplished with a corncob and other men, since the novel's character was physically unable to perform. Many viewers familiar with the book imagined those events simply took place off screen, and this film welcomed the thoughts.
******* The Story of Temple Drake (5/6/33) Stephen Roberts ~ Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan, Jack La Rue, William Collier Jr.