Sunday, March 29, 2020

Now Playing: "When Ladies Meet" (1941)







"I've discovered it doesn't pay to be capable.  Husbands don't approve."



 So says Greer Garson's character, a much put-upon wife (was there any other kind?) of a cheating husband who was having a fling with Joan Crawford's character.  While Joan had marvelously played the other woman in 1939's stellar The Women, in this 1941 MGM offering she's a more kind, sympathetic character - - although it beats me why she'd be pining over Herbert Marshall's publisher when Robert Taylor is just begging her to marry him.


When Ladies Meet was a successful 1932 stage play by Rachel Crowthers and an equally successful 1933 MGM Pre-Code, in which Myrna Loy, Ann Harding, Robert Montgomery, and Frank Morgan  play the parts that Joan Crawford, Greer Garson, Robert Taylor and Herbert Marshall helm in MGM's 1941 version.

Mary and Jimmy.  In an Adrian creation, this is what Mary wears to a book signing



"The only real unhappiness in life is losing a man."


Joan portrays Mary Howard, a novelist with then advanced and modern ideas about love and marriage -- maybe because she's in love with her married publisher, Rogers Woodruff (Herbert Marshall).  Mary's current work-in-progress is teeming with originality - - her heroine is in love with a married man.  In Mary's mind and world, the only logical thing to do in such a circumstance is to lure Rogers away from his wife, Claire (Greer Garson).  After all, all is fair in love and war, even if you are batting against Garson.    Or Crawford.

Mary only has eyes for Rogers
Mary has a longtime friend named Jimmy (Robert Taylor) who is madly in love with her.  Even with her cheaters, Mary is so blinded by Rogers that she simply cannot see Jimmy as anything other than a dear friend.  When he chances to meet Rogers' wife, he invites her along to a weekend party hosted by mutual friend Bridget Drake (Spring Byington), without telling Mary or their host exactly who Claire is.  That leads to the title of this film - - When Ladies Meet.  Mary finds that the wife of her amour is not exactly the woman she envisioned or hoped for.

You can't watch and review this film without comparing it to the 1933 version, which maybe isn't fair to either one.  Although the Production Code came into effect after the 1933 version, the remake was fairly similar, albeit a bit more meaty.  The biggest differences, at least in my opinion, is between the two Mrs. Woodruffs and the two Marys.  1933 Mary seems more matter-of-fact and cutthroat than the 1941 Mary, which is interesting, given that Myrna Loy (1933) is often thought of as more compassionate while Joan Crawford (1941) is more easily seen as a maneater, to put it frankly.  1933's Claire Woodruff is portrayed as a rather timid woman who has nothing other than her marriage, with Ann Harding perfectly cast in the part.  With Garson portraying Claire in this version, she's not only much (much) further away from being timid and rather dowdy but she's so self-assured and independent, there's no doubt she would kick Rogers around and over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Amazing star power and fashion - Crawford, Garson, and Byington



"Death isn't nature's greatest mistake; falling in love is."


Rogers, Mary and Bridget, who can't hide her laughter over either
Mary's hat or her choice in men
Joan is wonderful, as almost always, in the part of Mary, even if she is a bit dense over Jimmy.  While the earlier version leaves no doubt who the audience's sympathy should be with, in this version Joan's Mary is nowhere close to her Crystal Allen of The Women.  This Mary is clearly already having some rumblings of conscience before Jimmy shows up, with Claire in tow, for the weekend party.  She comes off as more warm and humane than Loy's version of Mary.  And as a Crawford fan, I must say that Joan looks absolutely radiant and gorgeous here.

Even gardening calls for high fashion! 
Robert Taylor, in a departure from his usually dramatic roles, is charming as the lovesick (and sometimes drunk) friend-zoned role in which Robert Montgomery specialized during the 1930s.  And like Montgomery, Taylor is dashing in a suit.  

Herbert Marshall was always a solid, dependable actor and he delivers here in what's basically a thankless part.  I mean, he's married to Greer Garson, who is charismatic and charming, and is a serial philanderer.  So yeah, we're not going to feel a whole lot of sympathy for him.

As we have to wonder why Joan/Mary would choose Herbert/Rogers over the far more loyal (and single) Robert/Jimmy, we also have to wonder why Greer's Claire would opt to stay with a husband who is a clear womanizer.  She's beautiful, charming, can speak French; surely she could have her pick of men.  It's a mystery.

The scene in which Joan and Greer, neither knowing who the other is, have a frank discussion about whether a husband can be in love with his wife and another woman, is brilliantly done, especially the part where Greer's Claire talks about how much work it takes for love and staying in love.

Claire and Mary talk shop -- and husbands
Spring Byington, as the wealthy see-no-evil, hear-no-evil drama queen Bridget, steals the show between her loose tongue, Freudian slips and hysterics over the thunderstorm.  Byington portrayed Bridget in the original stage version but MGM opted to recast the part in 1933, as Byington was not a "name."  By 1941, she had proven her mettle and she is an absolute gem here, reminding me very much of characters you seen in screwball comedies.  

The plotline is hardly original, maybe less so since it's a remake, but the star power in this flick, along with Cedric Gibbons' set designs (he also did the designs in the 1933 offering) and Adrian's amazing costuming that flatters Crawford and Garson make When Ladies Meet worth watching.   When Ladies Meet is generally not a deep thinker but it's a rewarding way to spend a rainy afternoon.


When Ladies Meet is shown on TCM and is available on DVD for purchase.

Bridget's entry into the sunken living room of her country home

Doesn't everyone have a backyard like Bridget's?  That's a pool, by the way. 



Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day with a gallery of on and off-screen couples!

Real Love:  Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford 

Reel and Real Love:  Greta Garbo and John Gilbert 

Real Love:  Clara Bow and Victor Fleming 
Reel and Real Love:  Clara Bow and Gary Cooper 

Reel and Real Love:  Lupe Velez and Gary Cooper 

Real Love:  Gary Cooper and wife Rocky 

Reel and Real Love:  Carole Lombard and Clark Gable 


Reel Love:  Jean Harlow and Clark Gable 

Reel and Real Love:  Joan Crawford and Clark Gable 



Reel and Real Love:  Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. 

Reel and Real Love:  Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone

Real Love:  Joan Crawford and Alfred Steele 

Reel Love:  Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn 

Reel Love:  Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire 

Reel Love:  Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire 

Real Love:  Nat King Cole and wife Maria 

Real Love:  Warren William and wife Helen
\\
Real Love:  Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg 

Reel Love:  Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery

Reel Love:  Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant 


Reel Love:  Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant 
\\
Reel and Real Love:  Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

Reel Love:  Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift 

Reel and Real Love:  Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart
\\
Real Love:  Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan

Reel Love:  Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck 
\\
Reel and Real Love:  Joanne Woodward  and Paul Newman
Reel Love:  Judy Garland  and Mickey Rooney



Real Love:  Jimmy Stewart and wife Gloria



Reel Love:  Myrna Loy and William Powell

Reel Love:  Kay Francis and William Powell




Monday, January 21, 2019

Now Playing: "The Prowler" (1951)






"I couldn't bring myself to touch a gun again as long as I live."



Famous last words, right?  It's certainly on the optimistic side of the 1951 film noir The Prowler.


Susan and her aversion to pulling down the shade
Van Heflin stars as Webb Garwood (seriously amazing name), disgruntled L.A. cop (before all L.A. cops were assumed to be disgruntled.)  He and his partner, Bud Crocker, receive a call one evening to investigate a possible voyeur or prowler at the luxury digs of Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes), who swears she saw a man outside her window as she was emerging from the bath.    As Webb is both disgruntled and played by Mr. Heflin, he immediately falls for the very blonde and very married Susan, whose husband is an overnight radio personality.  As I've noted time and again, these things happen often in films, don't they?  He is so infatuated that he returns later, sans partner Bud, with the oh-so-transparent excuse that follow-up to sexy women at home alone is apparently a little perk provided by the LAPD.

Before you can blink, Susan and Webb are embroiled in an affair.  As this is a film noir we know that it won't end well for one person, if not all of them.

Knock knock . . . 
The Prowler's own backstory was script worthy.  Written by Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter and novelist, his work is probably better known than his name, although he was one of the highest paid  and most respected screenwriters at one time.  You might recognize a few little films like Kitty Foyle, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, Spartacus, Exodus, and Roman Holiday, to name a few.  The last three mentioned were post-Prowler.

Trumbo was also one of the "Hollywood Ten," blacklisted because he refused to testify before the HUAC in 1947 -- likely with good reason since he had joined the Communist Party in 1943.   The refusal to narc led him to be charged with contempt and he was sentenced to a year in federal prison; he served ten months in 1950.  Following his release, he moved to Mexico with his wife, who was also blacklisted, and cranked out more than 30 scripts, reportedly in the bathtub while smoking a cigar.  Trumbo used pseudonyms for the scripts themselves and fronts for the money collected when they sold.  The good news was that his scripts continued to sell.  The bad news was that Dalton Trumbo did not get credit for many years.

Webb Garwood reporting for duty
The Prowler was one of the films that Trumbo wrote, with his friend Hugo Butler claiming official writing credits in his stead.  Butler and his wife had also moved to Mexico and Butler, like Trumbo, would soon also be blacklisted.  Ah, Hollywood.

The Prowler's director, Joseph Losey, while considered a talented director, also had an obvious self-destructive streak.  His rumored alcoholism made it difficult for he and his wife Luisa to have a
baby - - something she thought might patch up their shaky marriage.  Is that ever a good idea?  A miscarriage she suffered led her to an extended period of mourning and Losey began to spend his nights with his Prowler leading lady, Evelyn Keyes.  Miss Keyes just so happened to be the estranged wife of Losey's producer, John Huston.  Yikes.

In fact, Huston was said to have arranged for this film to be a star vehicle for his wife as some sort of wacked parting gift in their marriage, as she had often complained about the lack of good roles under her Columbia contract.

That said, as The Prowler centers around obsession, adultery, and pregnancy, Losey was probably a good choice to helm it, as he had personal experience with all three.

The Prowler's assistant director was a gentleman who entered the business a decade earlier as a production clerk with RKO, working his way up through the ranks as associate producer, assistant director, and production manager.  He would work in television during the early 1950s, direct his first feature film in 1953 and go on to direct two of my favorite Joan Crawford films - - Autumn Leaves in 1956 and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.  His name was Robert Aldrich.

I am not super familiar with Miss Keyes' work, other than her supporting role in Gone With the Wind, and I was pleasantly surprised here.  I expected her to be nothing but window dressing, a "dish," as Webb Garwood (I love that name) called her upon first seeing her, but she's presented sympathetically, a woman who loves both her husband and Webb.  Phyllis Dietrichson she's not.  I liked the intro shot of her during the opening credits, where we view her in her bathroom, clad only in a towel, staring at herself in the mirror.  We see her through the window, viewing her through the voyeur's point of view.  It's invasive, lurid, and sets the mood for the film.  She makes eye contact with the camera (i.e., us), lets out a screech and yanks down the shade.  I initially thought maybe this would lead to her being a victim (it is a noir, after all) but good thing I'm not a betting woman because I was dead wrong (no pun intended.)  I also expected that Miss Keyes would slink around in filmy lingerie and seduce Webb -- you know be a seductress.  It doesn't happen.  As I pointed out above, she's seen sympathetically.  Quite unusual for the time, she's portrayed as basically a decent woman who has fallen into an affair and things spiral out of control.

This seems normal
As good as I found Evelyn Keyes, The Prowler belongs to Van Heflin from start to finish.  The last film I saw him in, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, I wasn't that impressed.  (Not just him necessarily but the film overall; I had heard so much about it, I was expecting a lot. and was left disappointed).   This was a whole different ball game.

Heflin is perfection as Webb Garwood (I can't say his name enough).  Between the apparent moodiness (he's disgruntled, remember) and his "I will suck your soul out with my eyes" intense stare, he's deliciously borderline creepy.  We know from the start that something strange is afoot at the Circle K, just because he returns to the Gilvray abode, but he keeps you hoping that your gut feeling about him may be wrong.  Does he truly love Susan or is she a pretty accessory to him, something to show that he's made it?  Or is it Susan and her money?   Or does he love anyone at all?  Heflin is so immersed in his character that he keeps you off balance, unable to determine where Webb and the story are going and what will happen.  Which makes for an excellent little film.

The Prowler isn't life shattering but it's a rather subversive character study of one man whose overwhelming desires lead to cracks in his psyche - - or perhaps those already existing cracks to become mort noticeable.  Thinking back on the film after viewing, it leaves you with one main question - - could Webb Garwood have been the voyeur from the start?  It's an unanswered question that explains both a lot and little.

Joseph Losey, the film's director, said that the film was about "false values," with "the means justifying the end, and the end justifying the means."  See The Prowler for yourself and decide if Losey summed up the picture brilliantly in one sentence.

I have seen better film noirs and I have seen worse but The Prowler is a solid entry in the genre.  It kept me guessing all the way through - - I felt I knew where the story would go and I was only correct in one aspect.  The end came somewhat quickly but it was satisfying.  If you are going to see The Prowler for only reason, Van Heflin as Webb Garwood (you knew I had to get it in at least once more) is it.  He's pretty close to flawless here.

Worth a thousand words (or at least my review)
The Prowler is shown on TCM and can be found on Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as on DVD.


As a post script to the mini bio about Dalton Trumbo above, while his name could not be attached to the project when filmed, he did get some involvement by being the voice on the radio that was Susan's husband.  For that, he was paid a whopping $35.

It would take some time -- decades, in fact -- but Trumbo would eventually be given recognition for the scripts he penned during his blacklisted period.  In 1975, he would finally receive the Academy Award that was rightfully his for his script of The Brave One, which had won for Best Story in 1956.

Ironically, Joseph Losey would also be blacklisted by Hollywood (like Trumbo, he had joined the Communist Party), leading him to decamp to the United Kingdom, where he would finish out his career.    He and his wife Louisa would divorce and he would remarry twice more - -neither time to Evelyn Keyes.

Evelyn Keyes and John Huston's divorce was finalized by the time The Prowler was released.  The one-time paramour of producer Mike Todd, who left her for Elizabeth Taylor, she married for a fourth and final time in 1957 to bandleader and serial husband Artie Shaw, who counted Lana Turner and Ava Gardner among his ex-wives.  Evelyn, who was his eighth wife, remained married to him until 1985 when they divorced.  Neither remarried.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Now Playiing: "The Story of Temple Drake" (1933)






"I've seen three generations of them in my time.  They're a stiff neck lot, most of them.  Proud and all that.  There's a wild streak in them.  Every now and then, one of them comes along like Temple -- with something bad in them.  Something wrong.  Maybe Temple will get over it but there's not one of them that's had it, didn't end up in the gutter."




No Pre-Code movie list is complete without The Story of Temple Drake and there's a very good reason for that.  The picture is in a class by itself insofar as the seamy, sleazy and gritty nature - - never mind the fact that it, coupled with Convention City, a sex comedy, helped to bring on the Production Code and usher in a new era of filmmaking.

 The Story of Temple Drake is based on a William Faulkner work called "Sanctuary," which is about the rape and abduction of a Mississippi college age girl from a prominent local family.   Published in 1931, "Sanctuary" was Faulkner's critical and commercial breakthrough but the novel was highly controversial due to its overriding theme of rape.  While it was generally agreed that the book proved Faulkner was a highly talented writer, most reviewers found the book horrific.  While the general consensus in Hollywood, an industry that always kept one eye on those bestselling and/or notorious works, was that "Sanctuary" was unfilmable, Paramount had no such qualms.

Flush with stars at the time but cash strapped, Paramount snapped up the rights to the story and cast Miriam  Hopkins, who had created quite a stir in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Trouble in Paradise, in the title role.  Not coincidentally, both pictures made a tidy profit for her studio.  Her popularity alone didn't make Miriam a perfect fit for the role of Temple - - like Temple, she too was a Southern belle (born in Savannah, Georgia and raised in nearby Bainbridge, Georgia), descended from a wealthy and notable family (her great-grandfather was the fourth mayor of Bainbridge and helped establish the local Episcopal church).  She possessed the wild, carefree beauty that Temple had; Miriam could also portray longing, abject fright, and sad resignation.

Surely someone named Trigger is trustworthy
Perhaps the most important part outside of the title character was the role of Trigger, the man who rapes and abducts Temple.  Called "Popeye" in Faulkner's book, the name was changed for obvious copyright reasons.  Paramount assigned the part to George Raft, who was making a name for himself in the parts of gangsters and heavies.  In fact, Scarface, in which he portrayed coin-flipping Guino Rinaldo, released the year before Temple Drake made Raft into a star.  He, however, wanted nothing to do with Temple Drake, feeling that Trigger was a sadist and playing such a role would ruin his reputation and effectively finish his career.  His biographer claims that Raft told Paramount he would the film only if the studio put $2 million into his account, a not-so little insurance policy to support him if the film did indeed torpedo his burgeoning career.  Instead, Paramount put him on suspension in February of 1933 and cast instead Jack La Rue, an actor who had been cast in Scarface but, due to his deep voice and height, had been replaced by -- you guessed it -- George Raft.  

As fair warning, spoilers lay ahead!

Nothing good can come of this

The opening credits of Temple Drake give us glimpses into what's to come, with the dark, moody lighting and the flashes of the broken down, decrepit house.

The first we see of Temple isn't actually all of her but rather her arm as she's attempting to wrangle herself away from a date at three a.m. by getting through the front door.  It's clear that she's laughing and having a wonderful time, while her date is anxious to continue what they've started.  When she does make it through the door, she's literally on fire with the empowerment of control -- sexual and otherwise.  Her grandfather, who is her guardian and also judge of their town, tries to reprimand her for staying out late and, in general, being wild but she quickly wraps him around her finger.  It's clear that she has been doing this - - wrapping males around her finger -- for a long time.

Temple playing with one of her dates
She's presented to viewers as basically a good girl but a flirt or a tease.  She enjoys playing games with her many dates but she apparently stops short of ever allowing them their way or consummating the relationships.  Life for Temple Drake, up to this point, has been nothing but fun with little to nothing raining on her parade.  It's only fitting that when tragedy (or comeuppance as some might see it) strikes, it does so with an actual lightning strike and terrible rainstorm.

Attorney Stephen Benbow has been in love with Temple, as apparently are most of the men in their town, and even proposed to her in the past but she has refused him.  She obviously likes him a great deal, if not feels romantically toward him, but rebuffs him because she believes she is "no good."  As town gossips speak freely about how "wild" Temple is, we have to assume that she believes this because she's heard it for so long.  And also because Stephen, as a straitlaced and very responsible young man who works with her grandfather and sits at home with his elderly aunt and helps her knit, is deadly dull in her eyes.  It's another confrontation with Stephen, during a dance, that starts the ball rolling into her eventual downfall.

Temple and Stephen before the literal storm
Desperate to escape Stephen's pleas for matrimony, monogamy, and fidelity, Temple leaves the shindig with a drunken acquaintance named Toddy who, in short order, manages to crack up their car and get them picked up by the menacing looking Trigger and clearly stunted Tommy who take them back to the rundown house seen in the opening credits.  She isn't keen to accompany them into the woods and back to their place but Toddy, not drunk enough, only wants another drink and has no issue busting into the bizarre band of redneck-y characters that are playing a game of cards in the house.  All the males, except for Toddy, are leering at Temple in such a way that watching the picture today, more than 80 years after it was filmed, is an uncomfortable experience.  Things will only get worse.

Toddy is knocked unconscious when he attempts to defend Temple and her honor from one of them, who wants the pretty college girl, dressed in sheer, wet clothing, to sit on his lap.  As all the men in the house are due to take a truck into "the city,"  Trigger - - clearly the alpha male -- decides that Toddy will be carried out to the truck and taken to the city but Temple will stay put.  The only woman in the house, an old-before-her-time and understandably bitter Ruby, who is forced to wait on the men (one of whom is her maybe legal husband) and keep her baby, whom she refers to as "it," in the wood box so "the rats don't get it," has a mixture of both pity and resentment to the classy Temple.  She's jealous of Temple, warning her to stay away from Ruby's own man, condescending of Temple, lecturing her about the type of girl -- tease -- she is, but also tries to protect her by sending her to the barn, with Tommy, to sleep as Trigger has stayed behind.

Ruby is having none of Temple's angst 
Up to this point, the film has been dark and utterly disturbing.  Knowing the subject matter, and having heard about the infamous rape scene, waiting for it to come is almost unbearable.  The rain, with accompanying thunder and lightning, the spooky house, knowing that a bad man is hiding somewhere, along with the highly effective lighting, are all precursors to the horror movies that would see popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.  These scenes alone reminded me so much of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that I felt outright fear while watching.  The Story of Temple Drake did it first, and without a bit of gore.          

It turns out that while Tommy is "off," he's a decent enough person overall.  He sits in the barn with a gun to watch over Temple.

T
Uh oh
he next morning the sun is out and the mood of the picture lightens considerably - -but only very, very briefly.  We see feet heading to the barn and we're in no doubt that it's Trigger, who has apparently waited long enough to claim Temple and her virginity.  He skulks around the sleeping Tommy to pounce on his prize.  The scuffle awakens Tommy who, after poking his head around to see what's going on, is rewarded with a bullet to his head, killing him instantly.  We see Tommy fall, we see Trigger close the barn door and approach on the frozen Temple.  She screams and then the screen goes blank.

Next time we see her there is no doubt as to what happened.  She has tears streaming down her face and appears comatose in the car next to Trigger.  He apparently likes her and is taking her away to "the city," where he has a room in what is clearly a bordello.  He's going to turn Temple out.

Meanwhile, Ruby's partner, Goodwin, finds Tommy's body and notifies the sheriff, who immediately suspects that Goodwin himself is the killer and promptly arrests him.  Ruby saw Trigger driving off with Temple and correctly deduces that Trigger must have killed Tommy in order to snatch Temple.  Goodwin, afraid of Trigger's wrath, would rather stay mum and face the hangman than turn snitch on Trigger.

It's Stephen Benbow who is assigned to represent the indigent Goodwin and he eventually gets Ruby to tell him who actually shot Tommy.  He goes looking for Trigger at the "house of ill repute" and is shocked to find Temple there, lounging about in a negligee and clearly for hire.  Seeing that Trigger is prepared to shoot Stephen, she tells Stephen she went with Trigger willingly and is living with him, and working for him, willingly.  To further prove her point, she gives Trigger a bit, wet kiss.  Stephen is heartsick and leaves, but not before handing both of them a subpoena to appear in court.

Living in a bordello and dressed like this . . . hmmm.
It all becomes too much for Temple who packs up to leave Trigger.  Trigger, who actually believed that Temple might have feelings for him that don't include revulsion and outright hatred, tells her she will never leave and slugs her.  She shoots him with his own gun and takes off for home.

She goes to the courthouse, where her grandfather is upset that Stephen would actually subpoena his granddaughter for a trial involving someone like Goodwin.  Temple does not want to take the witness stand, even to save an innocent Goodwin from the hangman's noose, because then everyone will know how far she's fallen.  Stephen believes the right thing to do is provide testimony that she saw Trigger shoot Tommy but when he calls her to the stand, he cannot bring himself to ask, knowing that her reputation will be forever ruined.  It's Temple herself that tells the story and it's Temple who tells the judge that they cannot find or question Trigger because she killed him.  She then faints, as all proper ladies in the 1930s did when it just became too much.   Stephen scoops her up and tells her grandfather that he should be proud of her for what she did and fade out, with the assumption that Temple's reputation won't be permanently ruined and Stephen will marry her.

Temple on the witness stand
Not surprisingly, The Story of Temple Drake was banned in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  New York would only agree to show it if the scenes involving sex and violence were reduced to a minimum (seriously, was there much left to the film?)   So controversial was it that when the Hays Code went into effect, Joseph Breen ordered that the film never be re-released and the movie did not resurface for more than 20 years.

Amazingly, the film was reportedly significantly watered down in order to pass the censors in the first place.  As such, the film version is quite different than the story in the novel, which has very different endings for Temple, Stephen Benbow, Trigger, and Goodwin.

I found Miriam Hopkins to be perfectly cast in this role and absolutely mesmerizing.  Despite being 31 years old at the time of filming, she captures the flirtatious manner of the spoiled and aimless Temple as expertly as she captures the crushed, defeated, and resigned Temple post-rape.   Her face is such a masterful window of emotions that even with no speech following Stephen Benbow's defection after finding her and Trigger, the viewer knows very well that was the last straw.   The fact that she wasn't nominated for an Academy Award for this performance is infuriating and very likely more due to the scandalous and salacious story than anything else.


Jack La Rue as Trigger
It feels almost wrong to say this but I found Jack La Rue electrifying as Trigger.  The camera captured his menacing approach and focused on his deep, mesmerizing eyes.  He's a bad guy, no doubt, and probably has zero redeemable qualities but he's got that something.  Some say The Story of Temple Drake negatively impacted his career, as George Raft had predicted, but looking up his credits showed him working throughout the 1930s and 1940s and into the 1950s and 1960s.  Would he have become leading man material without Temple Drake?  That's a hard question to answer but La Rue was Bogart before Bogart was Bogart.


The Story of Temple Drake continues to create debate even to this day.   Was Temple a willing participant in her rape?  Did Trigger satisfy her bad-boy/bad-girl fantasies?  Was the rape merely an excuse for Temple to leave town and kick up her heels as a prostitute?  Did she kill Trigger because he had her motivations nailed?

Anything is possible.  Even before the Production Code was put into place, the censors in 1933 only allowed certain aspects to be shown and suggested.  It's too bad on the one hand but thank God on the other that the film was made when it was.  A year later, The Story of Temple Drake would never have seen the light of day, much less gotten to a soundstage.  It does make you wonder what pictures might have come out of Hollywood had the Production Code never existed, if The Story of Temple Drake is a model to base a theory on.

Regardless of what Temple's motivations may or may not have been, she's ultimately portrayed as a victim.  A victim of Trigger.  A victim of society and cultural norms at the time.  She's just an average gal at the start of the film, one that is enchanted by her own domination over men who really will do anything to sleep with her.  And one with natural and normal hormones and hormonal impulses.  Were she not in a small town in the late 1920s, when the story takes place, and not the granddaughter of Judge Drake, Temple could sow her wild oats and not be scandalized for it.   Were she allowed to do that, and not suffer the guilt of turning Stephen Benbow down because she's "no good" and can't promise that her urges won't impact their relationship, she may never have ended up in Trigger's path to begin with.

I find The Story of Temple Drake one of the most intriguing, puzzling, unsettling, and unusual of the Pre-Code era.   It's not a happy film and therefore not satisfying in the feel-good sense but it's brilliantly told and made, directed by the solid hand of Stephen Roberts, excellent camera work by Karl Struss, and wonderfully acted all around with the aforementioned Hopkins and La Rue, aided by Florence Eldridge as Ruby, William Gargan as Stephen Benbow and even a small part for the amazingly underrated Louise Beavers.   The New York Times, back in 1933, found The Story of Temple Drake to be "a highly intelligent production . . . grim and sordid but . . . enormously helped by its definite dramatic value."  

Interestingly, Miriam Hopkins had mixed feelings about the film in her later years, saying that she felt she needed to shower after viewing it for the first time in years and commending viewers in 1972 for sitting through it.



The Story of Temple Drake is not available on DVD as far as I know and is shown only rarely on TCM.  At one time it was available to view on Amazon Prime and was available in its entirely (75 minutes) on YouTube.  It's worth the search.