The Story of Temple Drake (Stephen Roberts,1933): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at Mann’s Chinese Theater as part of the 2010 TCM Film Festival.

The Story of Temple Drake

Based on William Faulkner’s controversial novel, Sanctuary, and one of the films that brought about the strict enforcement of the Production Code, The Story of Temple Drake seems not only tame today, but somewhat laughable. While it includes themes of rape and promiscuity the film’s overall message is heavy handed and clumsily presented overwhelming the film’s risqué subject matter.

Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the daughter of a well known judge. Her family is wealthy and, what is more, of a high reputation. Her own reputation is of a rather loose, flirty tease. She enjoys getting men riled up only to leave them high and dry so she can move on to the next man, often in a matter of minutes. When she goes for a ride with one of her men who is very drunk they get into a car crash. A bootlegger gangster named Trigger (Jack La Rue) finds them and forces them to stay at the farm he is hiding out at. All the men are attracted to Temple, but it is Trigger who sets his sights on her.

There is definitely a tawdriness to Temple Drake. She teases men because she can, but when she runs into someone who doesn’t take no for an answer her past behavior comes back to haunt her. There are several sexual themes going on that no doubt raised the eyebrows of some of the more conservative groups of the time, but also attracted an audience as well and remains the film’s most attractive feature.

Unfortunately, the film tries too hard to put forth a message about character through a lackluster and predictable courtroom scene which becomes laughable today, and other contrived scenarios and thin characters give the film a dated feel.

Miriam Hopkins doesn’t really capture the sexiness or coquettishness I would expect from the character Temple Drake. I don’t believe she is as desired as she is and her fears, desires, or changes in her character never seemed convincing to me either. Jack La Rue looks the part of the lascivious gangster, but doesn’t do much more than that with the role of Trigger. The rest of the cast are little more than adequate with William Gargan rather lackluster as the attorney who loves Temple.

While it is good that it is finally seeing the light of day and it would certainly make a nice fit into TCM’s next Forbidden Hollywood DVD series it is more of a curiosity than anything else and is one you should not feel too badly about missing.

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