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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New program featuring a conversation between cinematographer John Bailey and Matt Severson, director of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, about the film’s visual style, along with archival materials relating to its production
  • New program with critic Imogen Sara Smith about the complexity of the film and its central performance by Miriam Hopkins
  • New interview with critic Mick LaSalle about the film, censorship, and the Production Code
  • An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien

The Story of Temple Drake

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Stephen Roberts
1931 | 71 Minutes | Licensor: 20th Century Fox

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #1006
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: December 3, 2019
Review Date: December 1, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

Loosely adapted from William Faulkner’s controversial novel Sanctuary, this notorious pre-Code melodrama stars Miriam Hopkins as Temple Drake, the coquettish granddaughter of a respected small-town judge. When a boozehound date strands her at a bootleggers’ hideout, Temple is subjected to an act of nightmarish sexual violence and plunged into a criminal underworld that threatens to swallow her up completely. Steeped in southern-gothic shadows by influential cinematographer Karl Struss and shot through with moral ambiguity, The Story of Temple Drake is a harrowing vision of sin and salvation that boasts an astonishing lead performance from the fiery Hopkins, whose passage through the stations of terror, trauma, and redemption is a true tour de force of screen acting.


PICTURE

Never receiving an official home video release in North America up to this point, The Criterion Collection presents Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake on Blu-ray sourced from a high-definition restoration scanned from a 35mm internegative. It is presented on this dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with a 1080p/24hz encode.

I’m not sure if this presentation comes from an older restoration or a more recent one (the fact it was done in high-definition and neither 2K nor 4K does hint it could be older) but in either case it looks remarkable. Considering its history (banned shortly after its release thanks to the Hays Code) I was expecting something in terrible condition, but, as suggested in one of the disc’s included features, it may be completely intact because it was banned and was taken from general circulation. There are some minor marks and some fading present, but it’s shockingly minimal the overall picture can be spotless for lengthy periods.

The digital presentation also looks quite good and was a pleasant surprise. Seeing it was a high-def restoration I figured we’d get something a bit spotty, but it still delivers a solid, filmic look. Grain is rendered well and looks sharp, not noisy or blocky. Details are also very good, particularly in close-ups, though there is faint haze present most of the time, but I attribute more to the photography. Contrast is good, and black levels are strong, which aids in Karl Struss’ dark photography, which is laced with large shadows.

I wasn’t anticipating much, maybe something more along the lines of what Criterion delivered in their silent von Sternberg set, but this ends up going well and beyond and is a wonderful little surprise.

8/10

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AUDIO

The film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack. Considering age this does sound pretty good. Fidelity is limited and the whole thing has a flat sound to it, with little to no range, but it’s clear, sharp, and the soundtrack is free from any issues, other than some minor background noise, though I would expect this.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Not a packed special edition by any means, but Criterion throws in some good features, with a heavier focus around the production code and how this film (along with others) led to it being enforced. This aspect is explored thoroughly in a new interview with Mick LaSalle, under Honest Expression. For around 14-minutes LaSalle talks about the period prior to the Production Code and how the fear of government regulation (after a handful of States started their own censorship boards) led to Hollywood looking into self-regulating. It wasn’t until a number of “salacious” films came out that these rules would become fully enforced for many years after, which also led to a number of films (including Temple Drake) being banned.

Imogen Sara Smith then pops up next for the 19-minute Pre-Code Powerhouse, talking about the film’s look and Miriam Hopkins’ performance, as well as her under-appreciated career and attraction to riskier, more complicated roles. Cinematographer John Bailey and Matt Severson (director of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) then go through archival material for the film in the feature Casting a Shadow. The nicely edited 18-minute features the two first showcasing the gorgeous storyboards created for the film (the two even state they’ve never seen anything like them, calling them “works of art”) that also show off the planned use of shadow in the shots. This leads to the two talking about Karl Struss’ photography (comparing to his work on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) while also getting into the production code and how Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary (which Temple Drake is based on) brought out concerns over a possible adaptation. Severson even digs a letter out of the archives addressing this concern (which promisingly starts off “This is a sadistic story of horror…”). It has been superbly put together (even offering a comparison of the storyboards to the finished film) and may be the best feature on here.

Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay closes off the release in the included insert, covering the film and analyzing a few key scenes. Ultimately, it’s a slim selection of material and in this respect the release ends up being underwhelming when the film’s reputation is taken into account, along with how difficult it had been to see prior to this. I was admittedly expecting more. Even something about author William Faulkner would have been welcome. At the very least what’s here is excellent.

6/10

CLOSING

The supplements are good but leave one wanting in the end. The presentation, on the other hand, goes well and beyond what I was expecting.


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