William Collier Jr.

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

The Story of Temple Drake Miriam Hopkins

Plot

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.

Street Scene (1931)

Street Scene 1931 PosterWhile New York City is in the grips of a heat wave, the residents of one building beat the heat by sitting on the building’s stoop and catching up on gossip.  Emma Jones (Beulah Bondi), the building’s resident busybody, is only too happy to make sure everyone knows what Anna Murant (Estelle Taylor) has been up to.  Anna, married to the abusive and controlling Frank (David Landau), has been not-too-discreetly carrying on an affair with Steve Sankey (Russell Hopton), her married milkman.  Everyone knows what has been going on with Anna and Steve, but Frank is only suspicious at this point.

Meanwhile, Anna’s daughter Rose (Sylvia Sydney), like her mother, longs for something more satisfying out of life.  She has a job, but has to put up with constant advances from her boss, who wants to turn her into a kept woman.  However, Rose doesn’t want to take the easy way out.  Rose’s best friend is her neighbor, Sam (William Collier, Jr.), who is in love with her, even though she doesn’t feel the same way about him.  He’s studying to become a lawyer, but would gladly throw everything aside for the chance to be with Rose.

When Frank leaves town on business, of course Steve goes to see Anna.  But when Frank returns unexpectedly, the neighbors are powerless to stop the confrontation they know is about to happen.  When Frank finds Anna and Steve together, he shoots and kills both of them and runs away.  The police get to work investigating the crime while the neighborhood is both aghast and morbidly excited by the scandal.

Movies set during heat waves tend to fascinate me because they often seem to show how the heat can bring out the worst in people.  In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries’ neighbor murders his wife.  Do the Right Thing is about racial tensions that are brought to a head on the hottest day of the year.  Even in comedies like The Seven Year Itch, it’s still a movie about a married man tempted to cheat on his wife.  Street Scene is definitely an early example of that theme.  Amidst the gossip about Anna’s affair with Steve, we see the residents of this neighborhood reveal their prejudices and other negative traits.  In fact, Street Scene is more of a character study than it is about the affair between Anna and Steven.  This is the kind of material that director King Vidor excelled at handling.  Street Scene isn’t one of my favorite heat wave movies, but I still found it very interesting and it is absolutely worth watching at least once.