Friday, November 11, 2011

The Story of Temple Drake

1933, US, directed by Stephen Roberts

This Paramount pre-Code isn't as snappy as its Warner Brothers counterparts, with the action dragging on toward the end, but there's no shortage of hair-raising content - rape, murder, drunken lechery, prostitution and gangster shenanigans, all wrapped in an old dark house that might have wandered in from the back lot at Universal.

Miriam Hopkins, whose work is mostly unfamiliar to me, plays the eponymous Temple Drake, a carefree and rather careless party girl who ends up way over her head when a night-time escapade goes wrong. I haven't read the William Faulkner novel, Sanctuary, on which the film is based but as the film tells it Temple is essentially the architect of her own unpleasant destiny. While individual responsibility is surely no bad thing here Temple is required to destroy her honour, in the eyes of her peers, despite being one of the film's primary victims.  The content may be modern, then, but the sexual politics certainly aren't, although arguably not much has changed for many people similarly victimized.

The central sequence in a decrepit mansion populated with bootleggers is terrifically atmospheric - sheets of rain, wonderful use of shadow, sweaty, perhaps crazed, characters - and there's an interesting slice of class tension at work, too, with Temple suddenly exposed to a part of the Southern underbelly usually only seen in her grandfather's courtroom.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States