Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the granddaughter of a prominent Alabama judge, which lets her get away with lots of wild behavior. She has a reputation for being a party girl and for cavorting with lots of men, but all the men in town know she’s all talk and no action. She could settle down and marry respectable Stephen Benbow (William Gargan), but she’d much rather live the high life. At a dance, Temple turns down Stephen’s marriage proposal to go for a ride with a drunk Toddy Gowan (William Collier, Jr.) instead.
After Toddy crashes the car, the weather starts getting bad and they are forced to take shelter at a dilapidated mansion occupied by bootleggers Lee Goodwin (Irving Pechel), Trigger (Jack La Rue), and their entourage. Todd wants another drink so he leaves Temple alone to go play cards with the bootleggers. Temple has a horribly uneasy feeling about that place and desperately wants to leave, but has no way to get home. To stay safe, Lee’s wife Ruby (Florence Eldridge) suggests that Temple sleep in the barn with Tommy (James Eagles) guarding her. But that doesn’t stop Trigger from murdering Tommy, raping Temple, and forcing her to come with him to a brothel in another town.
Back at home, Temple’s absence is explained by saying she’s visiting family, but most of the people in town don’t believe it. When Stephen is appointed to defend Lee, who is accused of murdering Tommy, he goes to serve Trigger with a subpoena and finds Temple being forced to be his girlfriend. He tries to convince Temple to leave, but she refuses. Once Stephen is gone, Temple tries to make a break for it and when Trigger tries to rape her again, she shoots him. When Temple gets back home, she arrives just in time for Lee’s murder trial.
Have you ever seen a Miriam Hopkins movie before? If your answer is no, then you need to see The Story of Temple Drake ASAP! She was one of the great pre-code actresses, but in Temple Drake, she gives a real tour de force performance. This is a role that gave her a lot of complexity to work with and allowed her to demonstrate so much range. This movie is a big reason why I think Miriam Hopkins is vastly under-appreciated as an actress.
The Definitive Pre-Code Moment
The rape scene.
Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code
Over the course of this essential pre-code series, I’ve written about a lot of movies that are about fallen women and Temple Drake is quite possibly the ultimate fallen woman story. In the beginning of the movie, she’s dancing around dangerously close to the edge, but when she falls, she falls hard. I love how The Story of Temple Drake doesn’t shy away from showing how completely terrifying the situations she finds herself in are and how reprehensible Trigger is. This movie goes way beyond being gritty and gets absolutely filthy.