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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Romance in Manhattan (1935)
July 21, 2012, 6:59 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Stephen Roberts

For a picture with such a fanciful title, Romance in Manhattan is tinged with an unmistakable feeling of despair. Love will ultimately overcome, it argues, but that doesn’t make things any easier – the convenience of the predictable Hollywood ending is made a little more palatable considering that marriage is only one small victory in what will otherwise prove to be a slog through a relentlessly oppressive economic climate. Francis Lederer plays a Czechoslovakian immigrant who arrives in Manhattan illegally after he was refused entrance due to the recently raised entrance fee. He comes across the charitable Ginger Rogers, who takes him in after she catches him stealing doughnuts from her rehearsal hall. Rogers made a career for herself as a comedienne in playing snarky, modern women who weren’t easily impressed. In dramatic roles, then, she was a natural fit, exuding the same world-weariness but with a much greater understatement (though she would win an Academy Award for her dramatic performance in Kitty Foyle, Primrose Path is her finest accomplishment). She is paired well with the Lederer, who has a childlike optimism but is never lauded for it. His idealized America is particularly naïve given the ongoing Depression, a fact which Rogers is not shy to approach him with. Their relationship, though, lacks the sexuality that came natural to Rogers in her collaborations with men like Fred Astaire or Herbert Marshall, making the “romance” of the title the biggest disappointment of the production.



The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
January 6, 2012, 6:07 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Stephen Roberts

Jean Arthur is delightful as The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, a mystery writer whose love of the genre turns her and her ex-husband, played by a sarcastic William Powell, into amateur sleuths. Though the picture has been acknowledged by critics as a compelling murder mystery, there doesn’t seem to be any discussion about its true merits. This is a film about storytelling. Arthur writes mystery novels, and, from what we hear about her past with Powell, her distracting obsession with the genre was what led to their divorce. In the climax of the picture, Powell requests that a number of cameramen candidly film the events in which the killer is expected to strike again, intending to later screen the results for all of the suspects. Now, having directed a mystery film of his own, Powell’s instincts as a storyteller have at last met his ex-wife’s, and therefore the couple is able to rekindle their romance. Before the end credits roll, the shadows of Arthur and Powell are cast onto a projected image in Powell’s home theater, united by their passion for the genre in all of its mediums, and immortalized on the film-within-the-film as sleuthing heroes. Though The Thin Man is the go-to point-of-reference in discussions about the picture for obvious reasons, it has more in common with Rear Window.