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The Story of Temple Drake

This most notorious of all Pre-Code films was just screened on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for the first time this evening, September 14, 2011; the television premiere coming a mere 78 years after the film was made. Starring Miriam Hopkins as Temple Drake, and the always ominous Jack LaRue as the despicable Trigger, the film, when first released, aroused  a storm of indignation with its story of a rich Southern belle succumbing to the lure of cheap thrills.

But before the TCM screening, The Story of Temple Drake was part of the To Save and Project series in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art, as curated by Joshua Siegel. Indeed, it turns out that the restoration of the film was a joiny project between TCM and The Museum of Modern Art. As Katie Trainor of MoMA notes,

The Story of Temple Drake was made in 1933 by Stephen Roberts and is based on William Faulkner’s controversial 1931 novel Sanctuary. This steamy melodrama triggered church boycotts and stricter enforcement of the Hays production code. After only a few few screenings, the film was quickly shelved by the Production Code Administration, never to be seen again…until now.

In the early thirties, The Production Code Administration was starting to pull out its big censorship guns. Joseph Breen, who was known as “the enforcer,” came up with three categories for motion pictures—Class 1 were films that had to be withdrawn immediately with no chance for re-release; Class 2 were those pictures that were allowed to finish their extant contracts before being withdrawn permanently; and Class 3 were those that would be withdrawn, re-edited to conform to the Code, and presented again to the Production Code Administration. The Story of Temple Drake fell into Class 1. Aside from its few initial screenings, the film couldn’t be seen then or for many years after.

MoMA received the original picture and track camera negatives back in the 1970s, and the film has been in the vaults since then (at proper temperature and humidity, of course!). Fortunately, the nitrate film elements were in excellent condition, which helped significantly in the preservation process. The print of Temple Drake that is screening at MoMA is only a single generation away from the original camera negative, making this a true rediscovery that is not to be missed.”

I was there for the original screening at MoMA, and indeed, it was an amazing experience. The image quality and detail in the restored 35mm print was truly extraordinary. Now, could we have a Criterion DVD release of this rare, and important title?

You can read Katie Trainor’s complete essay here.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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