Miriam Hopkins

Design for Living (1933)

Design for Living 1933 Fredric March Gary Cooper Miriam Hopkins

Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Gary Cooper) are a couple of artistic best friends.  Tom is a playwright and George is a painter.  They may not be rich, but they’re happy living together in their dingy apartment.  But all that changes when they meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins), an artist working for an advertising agency, on a train trip.  She immediately hits it off with both of them and the duo becomes a trio.  However, Tom and George both fall in love with Gilda and Gilda loves both of them back.  When Tom and George realize this, they agree to try to forget about Gilda, but that doesn’t last long.  The thing is, Gilda can’t decide who she loves more so she suggests that she move in with both of them so she can make up her mind.

When Gilda moves in, she helps the guys out by criticizing their work and inspiring them to be more creative.  She takes one of Tom’s plays and gives it to a producer, who agrees to produce it in London.  While in London, just as Tom is dictating a letter to Gilda and George about how much he’s looking forward to seeing them again, he gets word that Gilda has chosen George over him.  Even though Tom is heartbroken, his play goes on to become a huge success.  One night, he runs into Gilda’s former employer and wannabe lover Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), who tells Tom that George has become a successful painter.  Tom goes to Paris to see George, only to find he has moved to a swanky penthouse and that George is out-of-town working on a portrait.  He’s told he can talk to George’s secretary, who turns out to be Gilda.  Gilda and Tom quickly rekindle their romance and he spends the night at their place.  They are quite surprised when George returns a few days earlier than expected and immediately figures out what happened and throws both of them out.  But before Tom and Gilda can leave, she writes each of them a farewell letter and runs off to marry Max.

With Gilda out of the picture, Tom and George become good friends again.  However, once Gilda is married, she loathes having to entertain Max’s clients and playing inane party games.  The night Max is having a very important party for his clients, Tom and George decide to crash the party and hide up in Gilda’s bedroom.  When she escapes from the party and finds them there, the three of them have a great time telling stories and laughing.  After Max comes in and finds them, he throws them out, but they just go downstairs and start a big fight with the guests.  Gilda decides to leave Max and heads out with Tom and George to resume their old lifestyle.

I adored Design for Living!  Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins had real chemistry together, they were absolutely delightful to watch.  With Gary Cooper and Fredric March both at their most handsome, who can blame Miriam Hopkins for having a hard time choosing between the two?  The writing is smart, witty, and sophisticated, even if it was drastically rewritten from the original Noel Coward play.  Only one line from the original play made its way into the movie.  And with Ernst Lubitsch in the director’s chair, it’s got that infamous sleek, stylish touch.  I loved everything about it.  If you’ve never seen it before, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

The Story of Temple Drake 1933 Miriam Hopkins

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.  One night, she goes out to a party and ends up leaving with Toddy Gowan (William Collier, Jr.) to go get a drink.  Toddy drives even though he’s already been drinking and he ends up wrecking the car.  Stranded, they are met by gangster Lee Gowan, who brings them to a dilapidated mansion full of bootleggers.  The couple is forced to stay there, even though Temple really, really doesn’t want to stay.  She tries to stay in the kitchen with Lee’s wife Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t like her being there because she thinks Temple is trying to steal Lee’s affections.  Unwelcome in the kitchen, Temple tries to go out with the bootleggers.  When a bootlegger tries to make a pass at her, Toddy tries to defend her, but between the head injury he got in the accident and the fact that he’s still drunk, he’s of little help.  Lee, on the other hand, does defend her.  Ruby suggests Temple go sleep in the barn so the men won’t bother her.  She does, and even though the men leave her alone during the night, Trigger comes in the next morning and shoots Tommy, who is supposed to be protecting her, then rapes Temple.  He takes her with him to a brothel and forces her to be his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s murder is under investigation and who else but Stephen is assigned to the case.  Lee is reluctant to name Trigger as the murderer, but Ruby is more than willing to name names and even tells Stephen where to find him.  When Stephen  shows up at the brothel to serve Trigger with a court summons, he’s shocked to find Temple with him.  He tries to get her to leave with him, but to protect Stephen, she tells him that she came with Trigger on her own free will.  Stephen believes it and gives both of them summonses and leaves.  Temple then tries to escape and in the ensuing tussle, she shoots and kills Trigger.  She gets away and heads back to town, where she begs Stephen not to question her in the trial.  Her grandfather also begs him to not put her on the stand, but he does anyway.  However, once he gets her up there, he doesn’t have the heart to interrogate her like he planned to.  However, she finally cracks under the pressure and confesses to everything: what happened the night of the party, witnessing Trigger kill Tommy, being raped, and killing Trigger herself.

The Story of Temple Drake is one of the most scandalous of all the pre-codes, with good reason.  Very few movies deal with the subject of rape as frankly as The Story of Temple Drake.   The only other one I can think of off-hand is Anatomy of a Murder.  Not to mention it has all the classic pre-code elements of a loose woman, gangsters, murder, and violence against women.  When it was first released, it was banned in Ohio and Pennsylvania and it ultimately went completely unseen again until the 1950s.  If they tried to re-make this today, I’m sure it’d still create a huge stir.

I thought The Story of Temple Drake was quite fascinating.  Miriam Hopkins was excellent in it, especially in the scenes following the rape.  I loved that scene where Trigger is driving her away to the brothel and she just sat there with this look of absolute defeat on her face.  To see her go from being a carefree, free-spirited party girl to apparently suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after being raped so effortlessly is really quite remarkable.  I also found the structure of the movie to be quite interesting because it starts out looking like it’ll be a run of the mill pre-code, but then the script suddenly takes on the tone of a horror film.  I felt like I should have watched this a few weeks ago around Halloween.  A couple getting stranded with car problems on a rainy night and are forced into staying the night in a run-down old mansion full of sinister people sure sounds like the beginning of a lot of horror movies.  That’s not even getting into how horrific of a character Trigger is.  Not only is he an awful character, they kept showing him with an evil look on his face in tight close-ups that were really rather terrifying.

The Story of Temple Drake is still a rather hard to find movie, it’s not available on DVD.  At the time of writing this, it is up on YouTube.   If you have any interest in pre-codes at all, it’s absolutely worth tracking down.  It definitely lives up to its reputation of being one of the most infamous pre-codes of all time.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

I’m pretty sure everyone has a general idea of what Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about: a doctor invents a concoction that turns him into an evil creature.  But if you’d like to be more specific, Fredric March plays Dr. Jekyll, a kind and respected scientist who believes that all people have good and evil sides to them.  So Dr. Jekyll comes up with a potion which he believes will bring out the evil side of the person who drinks it.  Sure enough, the potion works and when Dr. Jekyll takes it, he becomes the hideous beast, Mr. Hyde.  As Mr. Hyde, he pays a visit to Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), a barmaid and prostitute Dr. Jekyll had helped out earlier.  Mr. Hyde tries to come onto Ivy, and even though Ivy is terrified of Mr. Hyde, she can’t refuse his offer to take care of her.  When Dr. Jekyll realizes what he’s done to her as Mr. Hyde, he sends Ivy some money.  Ivy then visits Dr. Jekyll to personally thank him and begs him to protect her from Mr. Hyde.  Dr. Jekyll agrees to help her, but unfortunately, he soon begins turning into Mr. Hyde without even taking the potion.  As Mr. Hyde, he goes to see Ivy again and strangles her to death.  When he goes back to being Dr. Jekyll again, he vows to never make the potion again and decides to give up his fiancée Muriel (Rose Hobart) to punish himself.  But when he goes to call off his engagement to Muriel, he turns back into Mr. Hyde and attacks Muriel.  Muriel is saved, but Mr. Hyde runs back to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, where he is cornered by police.

The Academy Awards have always been a bit snobby when it comes to horror films, but I’m glad to see they were able to set that aside for once and give Fredric March the Best Actor Oscar because he really deserved it.  He played both roles superbly.  Well, actually that year was considered a tie between him and Wallace Beery in The Champ, even though  Fredric had one more vote than Beery.  The Academy just figured it was close enough to be a tie.  I also loved Miriam Hopkins’ performance, it’s really too bad she couldn’t be nominated for an Oscar for it.  A lot of her performance had to be cut out when it was released because of censorship, but I thought the scenes of her being terrorized by Mr. Hyde were outstanding.  She managed to get just the right mix of vulnerable and terrified.  Although one of her scenes is one of the most unmistakably pre-code scenes of all time:

This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a whole, is simply remarkable.  Not only for Fredric March’s and Miriam Hopkins’ acting performances, but the direction by Rouben Mamoulian, the cinematography, and the special effects.  It truly is a high note in horror films.