Monday, November 5, 2012

Temple Drake

TCM's programming theme for the month is movies made from novels. Every Monday and Wednesday starting at 8:00 PM and continuing for 24 hours they're going to be airing such adaptations, of which there are a lot. One of the more interesting movies airing on this first night of the salute is The Story of Temple Drake, overnight at 12:45 AM. (It's based on the novel Sancuary by William Faulkner.)

Miriam Hopkins stars as Temple Drake, the granddaughter of Judge Drake (Sir Guy Standing) a respectable judge in one of those small southern towns that populate William Faulkner's oeuvre. While the judge is respectable, Temple isn't so much. She likes to live a wild life, carousing at night and flirting and teasing all of the young men in town. Indeed, Judge Drake would like his granddaughter to marry the nice lawyer Stephen (William Gargan). Stephen proposes to her at a town dance, but Temple would rather go off with the party crowd, running off with Toddy (William Collier Jr.), who gets in an accident and winds up at one of those dilapidated plantation houses that also populated William Faulkner's oeuvre. The only thing is, this one is being used as a place for people to get illicit liquor, the novel having ben published in 1931 and the movie released in 1933, before the end of Prohibition. Gangster Trigger (Jack La Rue) makes a play for Temple; Toddy gets knocked out in a fight trying to defend her; and the mistress of the house suggests Temple take refuge in the barn, guarded by a mentally challenged young man. So far so good, until Trigger and his gang return after having gone on a liquor run. Trigger learns Temple is out in the barn, and shoots Tommy and rapes Temple! He also convinces Temple that the only thing to do is become his moll, and he sets her up at a safe house in town.

Fast forward to the murder trial. Well, not quite that far forward. An arrest has been made in the murder of the young man who had been protecting Temple (who, it's told, has gone north even though we viewers know this isn't true), and of course, it's not Trigger, but the guy who owned the plantation house. And he's not telling the truth because if he did, he'd get killed by Trigger's henchmen. The mistress of the house, however, has no such more dilemma. Not only is she willing to finger Trigger, she's willing to give away the secret of what Trigger is doing with Temple. This is a problem because her husband the defendant is being defended by... Stephen, who had wanted to marry Temple back at the beginning of the movie. You can imagine what happens when Stephen visits the address given by the defendant's wife and finds Temple there as a kept woman.

The Story of Temple Drake is a movie that still carries a good shock value 80 years on. One can only imagine what it was like when it was originally released. The one thing we do know, though, is that there were powerful interests who didn't like it, led by the Joe Breens of the world, with the result being that The Story of Temple Drake was more or less out of circulation for a long time. Obviously, once the Production Code restrictions came into force in July 1934, there was no way this movie could get a re-release. TCM got the movie restored in time for first TCM Film Festival a few years back, and then it finally got a TV premiere on TCM. Hopkins is excellent, the other actors are good, and the material, as I said, is shocking, not only 80 years on but also in spite of the fact that some of the stuff had to be hinted at rather than shown directly (needless to say, you had to be circumspect in how you depicted a rape). The historical significance of the movie would by itself make the movie worth watching, but it's actually a pretty good movie. Unsurprisingly, though, it's not avaialble on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.

No comments: