The Story of Temple Drake
(Stephen Roberts; 1933)
I'd heard that in the upper echelon of lurid pre-code titles, The Story of Temple Drake, based on William Faulkner's Sanctuary, was a leading contender for the top spot. Naturally, the film is frustratingly unavailable, as a Paramount production now in the hands of Universal, which doesn't care about any old film that doesn't feature someone they can also sell on a t-shirt.
Eventually, I was able to latch onto a terrible VHS copy, and through the fuzzy images, bad sound and jumpy tracking I was able to discern that the film was everything I had been led to believe, as Miriam Hopkins plays a teasing Southern belle dragged through the dirt after she falls into the clutches of a hoodlum named Trigger (Jack La Rue). When it was announced that Paramount would be filming Faulkner's then-scandalous novel, declarations went out that this would destroy the moral fibre of the nation and be the most sinful production in motion picture history. Sounds good to me.
The scene above shows Temple at the backwoods hideout of a band of bootleggers, where she winds up after she and her date crash their car in the middle of nowhere. Downstairs, the men have been circling like vultures, practically salivating over the delicious blonde who's stumbled into their midst, until finally the girlfriend of one of them takes Temple out to the barn to sleep, where she's discovered in the morning by Trigger, who finally acts on his impulses and rapes her. Now in the novel, Trigger is impotent and he violates her with a corncob (hey, it is Faulkner), but in the film version, the Hays Office dictated that they didn't even want to see a corncrib in the background in the barn scene. Hopkins, previously tormented by a libidinous monster in Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde plays the scene in absolute terror, letting out a chilling scream as the scene fades to black, in a moment that would be a defining one in cinema, if anyone could actually see the damn thing.
for the series: Seminal Images