2014 TCM Film Festival: The Stranger’s Return (1933)

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The tightest scheduling block I attempted was between How Green Was My Valley (see here) and this film, and I was extremely lucky to get in – I was, in fact, the LAST person into a very full theatre. I felt kind of bad (and still do, since I know several people who tried the same schedule and didn’t make it in), because this was initially a filler film on my schedule. It’s short and fit in between How Green and Hat Check Girl, the Pre-Code comedy and MOMA restoration that I expected would be my favorite discovery of the festival. For some reason I didn’t read the program carefully on this film, and I thought “the stranger” was an aging man coming home to be with his family and their struggles in accepting him. I have NO IDEA why I thought that based on this program.

In the end, though, I’m very glad I did make it in, because THIS, not Hat Check Girl (though that’s fine too, post forthcoming), turned out to my gleeful discovery of the fest. Unlike the description I gave above, the story actually concerns a quick-witted and cantankerous old gentleman played by Lionel Barrymore sporting a gruff-looking beard, whose dubious excuse for a family is basically waiting around for him to die so they can take over his lucrative farm. The “stranger” of the title is his orphaned granddaughter from the city (Miriam Hopkins), who has never been to the farm but is cut from the same cloth as Grandpa.

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TCM Film Festival: The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

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One of the biggest joys of this festival has been the opportunity to catch new restoration prints of films that haven’t been seen at this level of quality since their original release, and even see a few that have been unavailable for quite a while. The Story of Temple Drake is an even more special case. The film was made in 1933, just when the Hays Office was cracking down, monitoring films more closely and exercising more control than they had in the previous few years. They ranked films according to whether they could be recut and exhibited, allowed to fulfill their existing runs before being suppressed, or outright banned. Temple Drake was outright banned, assumedly because of its frank (though non-explicit) depiction of sexual desire, rape, and multiple non-marital relationships. According to the Museum of Modern Art representative at the festival, the film was screened a very few times in 1933, then shelved until TCM asked MoMA (who had received a high-quality camera negative from Fox as part of a general archive donation) to restore and strike a print of it for this festival. As far as I could gather, it has been extremely difficult to see at all in the intervening years, outside of a few lower-resolution prints belonging to collectors. (One of these prints has been put on YouTube, but not in the kind of quality of the MoMA restoration.)

TempleDrake-poster.jpgThe film is based on a William Faulkner story, and you can definitely see his Southern Gothic style and themes coming through. Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the flirtatious granddaughter of a well-respected judge. She flits from boy to boy, teasing and going further than a respectable woman of the time should, but not as far as the boys would like. She’s loved by the upstanding Stephen, a young lawyer who she refuses to marry. One night as she’s out with another boy, their car crashes and they’re intercepted by a rough family of bootleggers – a family with men who take what they want and won’t put up with Temple’s “no” the way the boys she’s used to do. This is a world where she’s not in control, and sex is a weapon wielded by men, not a game played by women.

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