Saturday, November 3, 2012
MOVIES IN THE CAMPER: THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE
One of the highlights on TCM’s viewing schedule this week is the 1933 film The Story Of Temple Drake. The movie that apparently many film historians consider to be the straw that broke the pre-code camels back, leading to the introduction of the Hays Code. It's based on the controversial William Faulkner novel Sanctuary. However, even in pre-code Hollywood, not everything is filmable and Temple Drake is missing some of the more disturbing, graphic scenes from Faulkner’s novel (such as the notorious bloody corn cob. Don’t ask).
The film stars Miriam Hopkins who is the title character, a judges daughter and southern wild child party girl. She's even "popular" enough with the boys to have a dirty limerick written about her on the men’s room wall. But Temple gets more than she bargained for when she ends up stranded at the home of creepy bootleggers and is raped. From there her degradation continues as she ends up living with her bootlegging rapist in a brothel where she ultimately kills him.
Her only hope of escaping the world she's found herself in is the Lawyer who loves her and whose proposal of marriage was spurned by her (for his own good as Temple tells him and boy, she ain't kidding!). He knows that her testimony can save a man who is soon to be hanged for murder. But to do so Temple has to tell the truth about herself and the murder she committed. While I enjoy Hopkins in pretty much everything she’s ever been in as well as in this film(I don‘t think I‘ve ever seen Hopkins look more stunning than she does in this film with the possible exception of Becky Sharp), I’m not sure I can honestly say she was the best choice for this particular role. Hopkins is far too resilient and perky for someone who is subjected to all sorts of misogyny and degradation as well as what should be a horrific psychological metamorphosis. Watching her in this role I kept flashing back to her performance in Becky Sharp. Another disappointment is the finale when Temple must face what has happened to her in a courtroom finale. Instead of powerful, emotional catharsis, we get Hopkins fainting. Oh well.
The film is attractively shot. The beauty of the film comes in the many close ups. There are many facial reactions and scenes between the characters where the actors are talking at the camera. Many scenes are like watching talking George Hurrell head shots thanks to the lovely Karl Struss photography. Really nice stuff. The Story Of Temple Drake is salacious, tawdry, violent and disturbing in the best possible Hollywood pre-code sense. It’s not perfect, but it is very entertaining. If, like me, you‘re a fan of early thirties, pre-code Hollywood, then be sure to watch The Story of Temple Drake this Monday, November 5th on Turner Classic Movies.