The opening credits of "The Story of Temple Drake" start with the image of a decaying Southern plantation house during a storm. Immediately you are aware that something darker is coming. But this is not a horror film. Instead is an adaptation of Faulkner's novel "Sanctuary". What follows is one of the most unique, key films from the 1930s that due to rights issues (methinks) has lingered around in vaults (originally a Paramount production, if I am not mistaken 20th Century Fox now holds the rights).
From the introduction and the introduction to her lingerie, we know
Temple Drake is not as virtuous as her grandfather would like, and
certainly not as girls should be. She herself states she isn't, even if
there is a half hearted attempt to disguised it later on when we see
what some of the more frustrated men wrote on the toilet's wall. The
character enjoys sex and she knows it: later there is a clear
implication that during their time together, the only moments when she
"doesn't look down" on Trigger are those in bed.
It is surprising that the film was made at all. The novel was deemed
innappropriate material for cinema audiences, and while the film presents (as far as I know) a
more sanitised version of the story, it still manages in its very short
and fast paced 70 minutes to be extremely dark covering murder, rape and Stockholm Syndrome. As if to provide the contrast, the film is beautifully shot by Karl Struss (who won an Oscar for "Sunrise") with the key night sequences shot with a very noir feel.
Furthermore, it's not just Temple and Trigger, all the characters are unsympathetic except the murdered boy: the judge, the grandfather, the boy who abandons Temple, the couple, even the lawyer who wants to marry Temple Drake. The film neither needs or asks for your sympathy. "Baby Face" the closest I can think in that it doesn't ask sympathy from the viewer. The irony is that two of the most daring films of the 1930s in terms of characterisation (along with Mae West) helped a new order that enforced the Production Code and forced into the underground the seedier side of life.
"The Story of Temple Drake" is a very special film. For a moment in
time, it promised to set a direction for a (Hollywood) Cinema that never came to be.
The surest sign of this is the impact the film continues to have in the
lucky few than have found it. If you have a chance to watch it, grab it.