For Reel

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
March 12, 2016, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Stephen Roberts
5 Stars
The Story of Temple DrakeEven if The Story of Temple Drake did not achieve notoriety as one the most lurid examples of pre-Code depravity, it would undoubtedly be remembered for its remarkable visual style, with cinematographer Karl Struss imagining the material in a way not unlike the horror films of the period. Watch, for example, the way in which the cast is introduced in the opening credits. Many pictures of the period utilized a roll call technique wherein scenes of the film appear with the cast member’s name superimposed on the image. The Story of Temple Drake uses an innovative method of setting the tone by intercutting the roll call shots with establishing shots of a looming dilapidated mansion during a thunderstorm. The scale of the mansion increases each time it is returned to, bringing the audience closer into the mansion that houses unspeakable horrors. Throughout the picture, Struss continues this atmosphere of dread by using lamps, candles, and even matches as primary light sources–it is not uncommon for the screen to go completely black in moments, with characters like the sinister Trigger (Jack La Rue) lurking in the dark. Star Miriam Hopkins was no stranger to the perversity of the horror genre after her memorable turn in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but as Temple Drake she brings something new entirely, revealing herself to be an actress capable of expressing not only deep fear, but pain and self-hatred. Her victimhood as a result of the notorious rape scene brings her to a near-catatonic state, with the climactic confessional scene serving as both a rebirth and a plea for forgiveness–not just to her lover (William Gargan), but to herself. More than the pinnacle of pre-Code sleaze, The Story of Temple Drake is both an enormously accomplished mood piece and an impeccably crafted character study, with Hopkins and La Rue giving two of the best interpretations of their respective character types of the era.

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