Monday, October 3, 2011

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

This does not end well.

For lovers of pre-Code, this is somewhat of a Holy Grail. Not on DVD and shown infrequently on cable, I was thrilled to finally watch it – and boy, does it earn its reputation. Promiscuity, rape, violence, murder, intoxication, bootlegging: you name it, Temple Drake has it…including a very pre-Code ending.

The beautiful and sadly forgotten actress Miriam Hopkins plays Temple Drake, a party girl who one day runs away with one of her many, many boyfriends. An accident steers them off the road and into some really big trouble, from which Temple might never recover. How does she handle the changes in her life? How will she tell her family what’s happened? Will the man who loves her make her come clean about everything before an entire courtroom?

Hopkins is fantastic in the lead role, infusing it with enough fire and passion for two films, yet somehow never overplaying or inching towards melodrama. William Gargan is excellent as Steve, the man who loves her but loves justice more, and has to find a way to choose one over the other. But the man who steals the show is Jack La Rue. He oozes onto the screen as Trigger, the gangster who changes Temple’s life, and there’s never a moment where he isn’t genuinely menacing, the ever-present phallic cigarette dangling from his lips.

I think my favorite part is when Temple and Toddy, her flavor of the month, are forced to hole up inside a bootlegger’s shack. It is truly a house of horrors, and I will not spoil it for those who haven’t seen it; but trust me, it’ll give you the shivers. Florence Eldridge as the bootlegger’s common-law wife is chilling.

I really, really liked this – if you ever get the chance to see it, walk, don’t run.

I give this one:

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