Jack La Rue

Pre-Code Essentials: The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

The Story of Temple Drake Miriam Hopkins


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.

My Thoughts

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.

Virtue (1932)

When Mae (Carole Lombard) gets arrested for prostitution, she’s lucky to get a judge who believes that streetwalkers have a good chance to turn their lives around if they are sent back home.  So instead of being sent to jail, she is put on a train to her hometown of Danbury.  But she has no intention of actually going to Danbury so she gets off the train before it even leaves New York City and gets into a cab being driven by Jimmy Doyle (Pat O’Brien).  When she asks him to stop at a store for her, she sneaks off without paying and goes to see her friend and fellow streetwalker Lil (Mayo Methot) for advice on what to do next.  Lil suggests that she get her life on the right path and find a legitimate job.

The next day, Mae decides the first step to getting on the right track is to find Jimmy and pay him the fare she stiffed him.  She finds him, but he doesn’t want to take her money.  The two of them get into a big argument, but a mutual attraction between them wins out and their conversation quickly turns civil.  Jimmy thinks that Mae is an out-of-work stenographer and Mae doesn’t correct him, so he helps her get a job as a cashier in a restaurant.  As it turns out, Gert (Shirley Grey), an ex-streetwalker friend of Mae’s, also works at the restaurant.  Things are really starting to turn around for Mae.  She’s got a real job that she enjoys, she’s got a good friend in Gert, and her relationship with Jimmy has been going so well that they get married after only three weeks.

But her happiness comes crashing down when she and Jimmy get back from their honeymoon and find a police officer waiting to arrest her for coming back to New York.  Since Mae is a married woman now, she’s allowed to stay free, and even though Jimmy is a bit shocked to find out about his new wife’s past, he still wants to give their marriage a chance.  The two of them make a good team and work together to save enough money to make Jimmy’s dream of owning his own gas station a reality.  Just when they get very close to their goal, Gert gets sick and asks Mae to lend her $200 for an operation.  Mae reluctantly agrees and is horrified to find out that it was all a scam and Gert has skipped out with their money.  And to top it all off, Jimmy needs the money immediately because the asking price of the gas station he wants to buy has suddenly come down.  Not about to take this sitting down, she hunts Gert down and smacks her around until she agrees to repay the money the next day.

Only getting the money back isn’t exactly easy since Gert gave the money to Toots (Jack La Rue), her new boyfriend and pimp, and he doesn’t want to give it back.  She takes it from him when he isn’t looking, but he notices and kills her in the ensuing fight.  When Mae comes to collect the money, Toots and Gert’s body are still in the apartment, but hidden in another room.  Mae doesn’t see Gert so she just takes the money and leaves, totally unaware of anything being wrong.  She’s also unaware that Jimmy had followed her because he was afraid that she was turning tricks again.  He saw a silhouette of what appeared to be Mae embracing another man in front of a window, but it was really Toots holding Gert’s corpse.  When she comes home, Jimmy confronts her and later she is arrested as a suspect in Gert’s death.  Jimmy had been so heartbroken that he went on a bender for several days and was totally oblivious to the news that Mae was arrested.  When he sobers up, he knows that Mae couldn’t have killed Gert and sets out to prove it.

Virtue is one wonderfully sordid movie, a pre-code through and through!  I loved everything about it!  It’s an excellent story and Carole Lombard and Pat O’Brien were both terrific in it, they had great chemistry together.  The rest of the cast was all pretty great as well and there isn’t a single dull moment in the movie.  It instantly became one of my favorite Carole Lombard movies.  Although, I must say, Toots has got to be the worst name for a pimp I have ever heard.