Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Story of Temple Drake

The Story of Temple Drake
seen online via YouTube

Why were 30's actresses blonde? Do you know how tough it can be sometimes to keep track of who was who back then when it seems like 90 percent of the young actresses from that period were skinny and blonde? I suppose it's less of a problem today, though not by a whole lot. I remember reading once that Amy Adams is a natural blonde, but she became a redhead just to get noticed - and whaddya know, it worked! Still, these days, even natural blondes tend to change their hair for different roles. I don't think that was the case back in the 30s. In terms of looks alone, it makes many of them seem interchangeable - at least those that didn't have Davis' eyes or Dietrich's cheekbones.

Take Miriam Hopkins for instance. When I saw her in Design For Living a few months ago, that was when I realized that she was the same woman who was (non-blonde) Olivia De Havilland's aunt in The Heiress. Yeah, she was younger, but still, I've seen The Heiress a dozen times; it's one of my favorite classic movies. I should've recognized her, but I didn't. She easily fits into that 30s-blonde mode, and while she's known by classic film fans, she wasn't a superstar like Dietrich or Harlow or Davis.

Still, I liked her well enough to decide to see this pre-Code movie she made called The Story of Temple Drake. Ivan recently said this was an underrated movie, and I had an opening in my schedule, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Set somewhere in the South (though it feels about as Southern as the Lower East Side), it's about a young belle who gets around, if you know what I mean, and won't settle down no matter how much the hapless male lead wants her to. Then after getting in a car accident in the country, she runs afoul of a gangster and some assorted local bad men, witnesses a murder, and that's when things get complicated.

Drake is based on the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner, though apparently the screenplay diverges significantly. Faulkner, of course, is the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who would eventually come to Hollywood and help craft the films To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep for Howard Hawks. I've never read his novels, but I've seen both of those films, and while Drake doesn't seem to be in quite the same mold, it has its moments, and Hopkins is quite good in it.

Unfortunately, I can't talk about the heart of the movie without giving away stuff, so, spoilers for an 80-year-old movie to follow. The abrupt ending seems to suggest the possibility that Temple, Hopkins' character, may have perhaps fallen for Trigger, the gangster who abducts her, even though it's implied that he probably raped her. That's what went through my mind at the very end, anyway. It's hard to say for sure since there were probably lots of things that had to be implied and changed around from the book, which is ultimately what makes the ending more than a little frustrating for me: the things that couldn't be said. Still, there are just enough shades of grey in this story that make it worth watching.


  1. Great review, Rich! (I really love this movie, one of my favorite pre-Codes.) I like Hopkins in The Heiress, too...and you might like her performance in The Mating Season...

    1. I'll look for it.

      I kinda get where you were coming from when you said that Hopkins tends to indulge in histrionics sometimes, though I thought she reined it in well enough here. Her character in 'The Heiress' is supposed to be flighty, for instance, but it never bothered me that much.

  2. In the early '30s, platinum or ash blondes were all over the place, as scores of actresses tried to emulate Jean Harlow's appearance (at the same time Harlow herself, a relatively untrained actress, tried to emulate some of her more experienced counterparts, and succeeded by 1932). Carole Lombard was at her blondest about this time, as publicity stills indicate; Paramount stablemate Marlene Dietrich often thought Carole was trying to copy her look. Constance Bennett was blonde, slender and gorgeous and at the peak of her career. Even Davis was ultrablonde in those days.


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