080. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931)
It’s kind of strange to see Miriam Hopkins, the actress who I think is the true Queen of Pre-Code film, playing such a sweet, timid character. No actress during the era enjoyed her sexuality more than Hopkins, but she’s able to play the inexperienced slightly prudish wife of Maurice Chevalier so well and so convincingly that it’s hard to believe it’s the same woman. Until the end, that is, when she becomes the sexual being that Hopkins was known for. It’s almost like watching the birth of the Pre-Code queen. The “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” number with Hopkins and Claudette Colbert is easily the high point of the movie. One wouldn’t think that these women would get along (since they’re rivals for the same man) but they have so much chemistry, almost more than either woman has with Chevalier. This is a Lubitsch movie, so it’s just as sophisticated as it is sexy, and it’s a joy to watch.

079. Conquest (Clarence Brown, 1937)
It’s refreshing when a movie that’s based on fact comes right out and says, before the movie even starts, that the story has been seriously embellished and that it’s a more romanticized version of the events that actually happened. Conquest, a movie about the love story between Napoleon and his mistress, the Polish Countess Marie Walewska, does this. It starts with the disclaimer. It’s nice to see a movie not hide that it’s not 100% fact. Because when the movie is good, that doesn’t really matter, and Conquest is good. It’s very good. It’s kind of amazing that this was made during the strict era of code enforcement considering the entire story is about a romantic relationship between the Countess, who has left her husband, and Napoleon, who eventually becomes married to someone else, even though they never marry. The love story really is beautifully told. It starts out with Marie mostly taking on the role of the Emperor’s mistress to help her country, but she comes to truly love this man. Conquest is also somewhat unique in that Garbo really doesn’t take on the dominant role in the relationship. Usually she’s playing the alpha to a weaker man, but this time that’s not so. It’s a heartbreaking love story that’ s brilliantly performed by the Garbo and Charles Boyer.

078. The Rules of the Game (La regle du jeu) (Jean Renoir, 1939)
Robert Altman’s Gosford Park is one of my favorite films of the 2000s, and it probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Jean Renoir’s amazing examination of the upper class The Rules of the Game. There were a lot of American films in the 1930s about wealthy people, but the most critical Hollywood was of the upper class was usually just depiction them as screwy and kind of lovably out of their minds (see My Man Godfrey and Merrily We Live). But the French filmmaker’s work looks at the real faults of the upper class in the 1930s and just how they were quite different from the common man, not just in their income, but in their attitudes. The most impressive part of the film is how it’s not particularly intimate. The viewer is not treated as part of the experience. We’re merely observers of the action, kept at a distance that almost (almost) makes the film cold. We’re seeing the way these people would act if we weren’t around watching them, which gives the film a voyeuristic feeling.

077. Today We Live (Howard Hawks, 1933)
I really love World War I movies, and I think that there aren’t enough of them. Today We Live doesn’t follow the tradition war movie formula. It focusesĀ  mostly on Joan Crawford’s character and how she deals with the war, with her brother and her best friend (and later husband) serving. We see a little bit of action, but it’s mostly about the effects that the war has on the people on the periphery. Sure, it has it’s faults, like the whole things in the 1930s where, as long as it was set in the 20th century, everyone wore the latest 1930s fashions. But in the end, that really has no effect on ho this story just works on an emotional level. Crawford’s character has a lot of big choices to make, and sometimes she makes the wrong ones, but that perfectly reflects the confusion that comes from being indirectly involved in a war. Franchot Tone plays her brother and Robert Young their best friend, and they both deliver incredibly supporting performances.

076. Fugitive Lovers (Richard Boleslawski, 1934)
Road Romances were a neat little subgenre of Romantic Comedy in the 1930s. The most notable is probably Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, but perhaps the most overlooked is Richard Boleslawski’s Fugitive Lovers. It’s another pairing of the endlessly adorable and enchanting Robert Montgomery and Madge Evans. This time Montgomery is an escaped convict who grabs a ride on the bus that Madge Evans is traveling on, trying to get away from the mobster who’s infatuated with her, who follows her anyway. It’s a pretty simple movie, but it’s incredibly sweet and has a surprising amount of character development for such a short comedy. The relationship between Evans and Montgomery has a very natural feel to it. Montgomery is great as always, but I think it’s Evans who’s particularly impressive here. She’s playing a character who’s a little bit sharper and snippier than her usual characters, and there are moments where she’s flat out hilarious. Nat Pendleton is the main supporting player, as Evans’ mobster stalker. He’s always a joy to watch, and this time is no different. He also has one of the most surprising and satisfying character moments in the whole film.

By Katie Richardson

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Year: 1943

Director: Vincent Sherman

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, Gig Young, John Loder

Another women’s weeper pairing two combustible participants: Bette Davis (Kit Marlowe) and Hopkins (Millie). These women are friends but rivals. When Kit publishes a big Broadway hit of a play, she becomes famous in Manhattan circles. Not to be outdone, Millie begins to write trashy romances and they ironically are gobbled up by the reading public. Despite being a hack, Millie has a great deal more financial success than her “friend” who is a respected artist. Hopkin’s character’s obsession with writing alienates her husband Preston — played by John Loder — and he sours on their union. When he confesses to Kit that he really loves her, she rejects him. However, Preston divorces Millie anyway.

MH portrays a female type that I am very familiar with having dated several of them over the years. Bergman calls them pathological narcissists and numerous pictures he’s completed cast this kind of woman in prominent roles. Millie’s focus on life is so myopic that she selfishly concocts plans that are indifferent to the people around her. She expects everyone to incorporate her life design as their own. To not get onboard is to carve a miserable existense for yourself, at least if you don’t break free from such a woman. Needless to say, by the picture’s end the romance novelist has alienated everyone around her. Except oddly, not Kit. Though she has been the picture of propriety throughout this story, Kit has somehow managed to push away any amorous entanglements that might be permanent. When a handsome man 10 years younger proposes marriage to Kit, she rebuffs him.

In the famous Davis/Hopkins moment Kit becomes irate that Millie is oblivious to how good her life has been, culminating in the former shaking the snot out of the latter. Art imitating life? Still, we see them toasting to a New Year in the final shot implying that the two writers are all they have. Sorority sisters if you will. Old Acquaintance is a good film and I really responded to the female archetype played by Hopkins. She’s such a nasty person on the screen that I can’t help but love MH’s performance.

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Year: 1939

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, George Brent

This is a melodrama set in the South @ the beginning of the Civil War and finishing well into the 1880s. Delia Lovell (Hopkins) is the older cousin to Charlotte (Bette Davis). The older Lovell belle grows weary of waiting for her fiance Clem Spender (George Brent) to propose marriage so she dumps him and marries a wealthy banker named Jim Ralston — played by James Stephenson — instead. Having held a torch for Clem herself for several years, Charlotte is thrilled and the two commence a romance immediately. When young Spender gets called to war, Davis’ character “comforts” him. The family eventually receives word that Charlotte’s lover is killed in action. This is the worst possible news because Ms. Lovell finds herself in the family way. Wishing to avoid scandal and any pox on the family name, the expecting mother travels out West to give birth in veiled secrecy.

Upon her return, Charlotte witnesses the devastations that war can leave in its wake. Wishing to contribute to the restoration of the South, our lead establishes a school for orphans. This has the added benefit of being a cover for her own child. When Delia finds out who the real father is to Clementina (Jane Bryan) she pleads with her cousin to move into her own home. Hopkins’ cousin suggests that the child has a birthright to a good name and financial resources. What appears as a gesture of Delia’s kindness at first is revealed to be anything but. As the years follow, Charlotte’s personal life is nearly snuffed out by this competitor for her daughter’s feelings. Davis’ character goes through Clementina’s adolescence reduced to the role of an annoying aunt while Delia pretends to be the child’s mother. Throughout the film, her older cousin’s selfish decisions have thwarted any chance Charlotte had @ happiness whether it be in romance, society, or in motherhood. As Clementine prepares for wedlock, our protagonist is sick of being a martyr and a doormat. The final scenes are a great payoff and combined with the rest of the movie, they make The Old Maid one of the better “women’s pictures” out there.

Hats off to Goulding for playing referee in this project as none of the notorious enmity each of these divas harbors for the other shows up in the frame. I have to compliment Davis with not being a grandstander in several scenes, as she chose correctly to play Charlotte stoically with measured reserve. Hopkins plays a detestable southern belle with verve and her insidious, machiavellian treatment of Davis’ Charlotte alienates the viewing audience. In short, she nails the part. What could have unraveled as a weepy, lame melodrama is given booster rockets by Hopkins and Davis. Give The Old Maid a spin if you want to see an acting clinic.

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Year: 1931

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert

I’ve commented numerous times on these boards on how much I dislike Mo Chevalier. I saw a thread the other day entitled “Celebrities you’d like to punch in the face” and the French actor came immediately to mind. So it is a measure of my devotion to the great Hopkins that I would sit through another musical with him as a headliner. And am I glad that I saw The Smiling Lieutenant last night! It was brilliant.

The movie’s setting is Vienna, early 20th century. Chevalier plays a young lieutenant named Niki who is a real wolf with the ladies. He joins a friend for an adult beverage at a local beer garden and comes across a beautiful violinist known as Franzi (Claudette Colbert). She is performing on stage with her band The Swallows and her playing is mellifluous. Even during the number Franzi and Niki are flirting via eye contact. The two strike up a scorching romance and it would seem that the lieutenant’s lecherous ways have been thrown aside. One day while attending a royal entrance as platoon leader, Chevalier’s character spots his sweetheart waving at him from across the street. Since he is standing at attention, he can only smile and acknowledge her with a wink. At that very moment, Princess Anna of Flausenthurm (Hopkins) is passing by in her carriage and she mistakenly takes Niki’s wink as a lewd gesture meant for her. She is outraged and impresses upon the king — her father — the importance of a punishment for this insolent military man.

When Niki reaches the Viennese royal home where Anna and her father are visiting for diplomatic reasons, his smooth charm and excessive compliments toward Hopkins’ character slowly win her over. Forget punishment, the princess wants Niki all for herself. Without consulting the lieutenant himself, Anna demands that the king let her marry the lowly military man “… or I’ll marry an American!” Our lead is railroaded into a marriage he never wanted and he is heartsick for his beloved Franzi. Chevalier’s character is miserable with his new bride and despite her advances, he fails to consummate the marriage. Beside herself with grief, Franzi goes to the Flausenthurm castle to appeal to the princess. When she sees Anna, Colbert’s kind character sees how sweet and really naive the young girl is. The princess bears her soul to Franzi about Niki’s lack of sexual interest in her. Since this is a Lubitsch musical, the two girls have a bonding experience through their mutual love of music culminating in the wonderful tune “Jazz up your Lingerie.” The ending involves a selfless gesture and such an original twist that it could only have come from the Pre-Code era.

The Smiling Lieutenant is by far the best example I know of “The Lubitsch Touch.” There is an opening scene where a taylor seeking payment rings Niki’s doorbell several times and leaves when the door goes unanswered. Immediately afterword a beautiful young woman clandestinely gives a secretive knock on the same door and the lieutenant lets her in at once. There is a pause and then Lubitsch’s camera pans to an overhead light that suddenly illuminates. There’s also some clever business about the location of the pillows on the royal bed. Another hilarious sequence captures Niki as he is hounding Franzi for sex. She playfully suggests that they play checkers and she sets the board on the table. Chevalier’s character tosses it on the floor. She then sits next to the game board patiently waiting for him to join her. This flirtaiton continues around the room until the lieutenant brazenly tosses the board onto the bed. After a holding closeup shot of the bed, the two lovers look at each other with big grins.

If I were to rate this film it would be in my top five Hopkins pictures. As good as Chevalier and Colbert are, Hopkins is unbelievable as Princess Anna. Her transformation at the end of the picture is unforgettable and it is pure Lubitsch. See this great musical and you won’t regret it.

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Year: 1932

Director: John Cromwell

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, George Bancroft, Alan Mowbray

What’s with the weird title given the subject matter? I guess this was a rushed second choice to the original (Red Harvest) because they didn’t want any confusion with Daishell Hammett’s popular novel by the same name which had been published just three years prior. To be honest, if this wasn’t Hopkins in a steamy Pre-Code film, I probably wouldn’t have watched it after reading the synopsis. MH plays a Tsarist aristocrat on the lam with some of her contemporaries. The setting is during the 1919 Russian Revolution and the Red Brigade is looking to execute any of the monied classes of the current regime. They manage to narrowly escape via a train car to a safer city behind the skirmish line. Once settled, the privileged waste no time resuming their nonstop lifestyle characterized by black-tie dinners and the consumption of copious amounts of expensive wine and fine foods.

Kylenko (George Bancroft) is the leader of the Resistance and he and his minions descend on all this decadence with other ideas in mind. They crash the glamorous upper class setting and vulgarly grab the food right off people’s plates and brazenly mock the entitled. There is mayhem with frightened diners running everywhere. Except for Maria (Miriam Hopkins). She defiantly stays at her table and stubbornly orders the ruffians out of the establishment. The mob find her insolence under the circumstances humorous and Bancroft’s imposing soldier takes an immediate interest in the sexy aristocrat. He learns later that Maria was not born into wealth but managed to maneuver the class waters between the wage-earner and privileged sectors of Russian society. The Brigade takes its prisoners on a ship set to sail for a Revolutionary stronghold, where their captives will face trial for their lives.

Hopkins’ character and her friends realize that they must somehow get the ship turned around and headed to a friendly port along the Crimean coastline. They devise a plan to fool the navigator by messing with the ship’s compass so that it will display the opposite direction that the vessel is actually traveling. There’s just one problem: they need a diversion and her name is Maria. She pretends to have come to her senses and confesses to Kylenko that she knows her place is alongside her people. To prove her newfound loyalty, Maria makes it clear that she will sleep with him as a gesture of earnestness. The viewer witnesses some pretty intense Pre-Code moments when the elegant Ms. Yaskaya looks doomed to service this sweaty cad.

I was quite surprised when I saw the quality of this picture. The performances of the headliners are excellent and this happy outcome is in no small matter due to Cromwell’s deft handling of two tremendous egos. Bancroft’s temper was legendary and we’ve already covered Hopkins’ endless demand for retakes. The double entendres used by Hopkins are exquisite in their Pre-Code sumptuousness. There is another great scene where she continues to play the piano as if she hasn’t a care in the world while everything around her is in chaos.

By James White

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Year: 1933

Director: King Vidor

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Beulah Bondi

The most notable aspect of this Vidor Pre-Code film is the mutual fondness that emerges on the screen between Hopkins and the great Lionel Barrymore. Their tender moments really sustain the picture and become its backbone.

Louise Starr (Hopkins) is a big city woman with small country roots. She divorces her husband at a time when a girl emerging from the dissolution of a marriage was looked down upon. On a holiday, this metropolitan woman decides to re-discover her sense of self and visit the old family farm. Grandpa Storr (Barrymore) couldn’t be more thrilled to have his granddaughter back in the fold. She gets a much cooler reception from her relative Beatrice — played by Beulah Bondi — who runs the household and cares for Barrymore’s character. Quite active for a man of his years, Grandpa takes great delight in showing his granddaughter just how addictive rural life can be. When he introduces Louise to his favorite neighbor, Guy (Franchot Tone), she is instantly enamored with the intelligent farmer and surprised by his sophistication. Unfortunately, Guy is married with a young child and unavailable. Still, the two spend much time together because they find common interests. Naturally, the town is rife with gossip. Despite these ill-feelings, our lead finds that the farm has grounded her and the longer she stays, it becomes harder to leave.

The biggest source of aggravation between Beatrice and Louise is the question of inheritance. Bondi’s house frau has put all her eggs in one basket, weezling her way into what she thinks is a massive inheritance when the patriarch passes on. With Hopkins’ character in the picture, will she get screwed? The elderly former military man has no intention of dying quickly, however, and he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.

The Stranger’s Return is not a great film. What it does have is Miriam Hopkins @ the pinnacle of her physical perfection. She is a star in the biggest sense of the word and the performer’s onscreen magnetism will leave you wanting to see as much of her work as you can.

By James White

Year: 1931

Director: Marion Gering

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Clive Brook

The director takes an interesting approach to this story by setting it during a 24 hour period in Manhattan. Literally one day, from 11:00pm to 11:00pm. The camera opens the movie with an exterior shot and swings through the window into a posh Park Avenue apartment. A handful of uptight people dressed to the nines are exchanging banalities following the evening meal. All except for one couple: Jim and Fanny Towner — played by Clive Brook and Kay Francis, respecitvely. They are arguing non-stop and it becomes quite clear to the viewing audience that their marriage is an unhappy one. Tired of bickering, the couple doesn’t even go home together. Jim is still thirsty and he’s got numerous squeezes on the side. He staggers down the sidewalk until coming across a speakeasy he frequents. Brook’s character notices the blood on the snowy steps that lead to the door, but Jim shrugs it off and proceeds to take a couple of belts.

Having really tied one on, Mr. Towner decides then to visit his favorite lover: Rosie (Hopkins). She is a chanteuse @ a popular night spot not far away. When Jim arrives at the club, Rosie is in mid-song and the crowd is eating out of her hand. He gets a booth and the singer joins him for cocktails between takes. When the waiter informs the lovers that a man is waiting to see her, Hopkins’ character is irritated but she excuses herself to see who it is. Unfortunately, it’s her no good husband. He is dressed in rags and obviously not doing well for himself. As they talk and argue we understand that Rosie’s been disappointed by this bum over and over again. She refuses to let him come home with her and won’t give him any dough either. Eager to get rid of this embarassment, the singer orders the bouncers to throw him out on his ear. Tony (Regis Toomey) swears he’ll get even.

Aware that her sugar daddy has been overserved, Rosie takes Jim to her home to put him into bed. She helps him with his things and discretely puts him in another bedroom where he passes out. Not long after, Tony breaks into the house and becomes insanely jealous. He knows she’s got another man with her. They struggle all over the home until the brute heaves her onto the bed and begins choking her accidentally while cross examining at the same time. Will her lover be aroused from his stupor in time to intervene? Much of the remaining film plot is fairly lame as Mrs. Towner has an epiphany and realizes that her husband is the only man for her.

Given such a small role relative to the characters Brook and Francis get, Hopkins’ Rosie is unforgettable and she steals the show. The beautiful blonde is easily the most memorable aspect of this picture. She performs two songs exquisitely and her brassy, take-no-guff nightclub singer is one of the best characters in Pre-Code film. A decent copy of 24 Hours isn’t easy to find but if you get the chance to see it, don’t hesitate.

By James White

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1932

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis

Since Valentines Day is tomorrow I tried to brainstorm on which films I’ve seen that best exemplify aspects of both romance and cinema from Hollywood’s Classic Era. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it recently or the fact tha I just completed a Miriam Hopkins countdown on another website, but Trouble in Paradise hits the sweet spot. The acting, direction, and narrative thread for this film are such a potent combination that Lubitsch’s great comedy is considered among the best movies ever made. But enough of that already, lets get to the romance: you get two great love stories for the price of one here. Although Marshall and Francis never consummate their attraction physically, the perfume heiress and the thief share several moments where you swear they are making love mentally. It is Hopkins’ grifter that holds the key to Marshall’s heart, however. They were made for each other and when Hopkins lets out a squeal of joy upon hearing Marshall’s commitment, it is an affirmation that romance isn’t dead. If you’re looking for a good Valentines Day movie to watch this weekend, look no further. This is the picture.

Here’s a review of Trouble in Paradise that I wrote on January 15th of this year:

This movie is a scream.

It is said that this is Lubitsch’s favorite of all the films he made and boy, you can see why. If someone were to ask me what the best example of a Pre-Code comedy is, Trouble in Paradise comes immediately to mind.

MH (Lily) plays a jewel thief who poses as a visiting aristocrat in Venice. She meets Gaston Monescu — played wonderfully by Herbert Marshall — the greatest jewel thief in the world who is pulling the same charade. He arranges for a private dinner in his suite. As the two discuss the banalities of being a baron or countess of the aristocratic class, Lily confesses that she found out he really is the great Monescu and not only is she not disappointed, but she is proud of her chosen profession. What follows is a show of affection and then, in my opinion, the best scene of the film. Each thief starts to reveal what they’ve stolen from their counterpart in a strip poker-esque, escalating exchange culminating in a coup de grace for Gaston. These two thieves were made for each other.

The lovers quickly establish a grift partnership and the road eventually leads to Paris. They seek out the recently widowed Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) whose deceased husband left her the largest perfume manufacturer in France. Gaston scams his way into Mariette’s circle via his considerable charm and hutzpah. Having already stolen her diamond-encrusted purse, Marshall’s character returns it only after a reward is offered. So impressed with his “honesty” and candor, Mrs. Colet hires him as her personal business secretary. To set the con in place, Gaston brings Lily onboard as his assistant. When our protagonist learns that his boss keeps $100,000 French francs in her house safe, the prize is in sight.

To really sell the scheme, the jewel thief does more than just flirt with Mariette. He rolls his sleaves up and discovers some improprieties that have occurred under current management. It is clear that Francis’ widow has strong sexual urges where her new secretary is concerned. While Gaston starts out encouraging her behavior as a necessary part of a successful heist, he becomes quite attracted to the perfume magnate. Hopkins’ assistant is quite jealous of all the unprofessional attention this woman is showering on her man. Yet like a pro, she keeps her eye on the ball and gains Mariette’s confidence. When a previous theft victim recognizes Monescu and then the firm’s chairman of the board accuses him of embezzlement, the thieves fear the jig is up. Amazingly, Madame Colet defends her secretary and they are in the clear even if the window of opportunity has shrunk.

Gaston and Lily agree on the big night, one where Francis’ character will be out on the town for a social commitment. But Marshall’s thief, so smitten with his target’s appeal, can’t resist arranging to consummate their mutual attraction. When Lily finds out about this impending tryst, she is furious and steals the safe’s valuables herself. When Gaston discovers what his partner has done out of jealousy on his behalf, he decides to come clean (sort of) with his employer. He claims to have stolen the $100,000 francs himself, confesses that he is really Monescu the notorious jewel thief, reveals that he can prove her chairman of the board has been embezzling funds for years, and that despite all that’s gone on, he still loves her. Lily comes clean and strikes a bargain with Mariette: she’ll give permission to Gaston for a conjugal visit if she can keep the money she stole. At that moment, Monescu realizes there is truly only one woman who possesses his heart. He tastefully declines the proposition and joins his beloved enroute to the next paradise of their choosing.

Right from the opening scene — Lubitsch’s camera establishes we’re in Venice via a medium shot of a trash-laden gondola — we find moments throughout where this great German emigre is winking at the audience. Even the opening title credits begin with “Trouble in…” and you see a picture of a bed before a pause and then the word “Paradise” comes into view. The dialogue sizzles with sexual innuendoes, double entendres, and very adult, intelligent banter. The three primary players are awesome all around. Marshall is especially effective as the handsome rake and irresistable con man. What to say about Hopkins? She’s cute as a button in this great film. To hear her squeal w/ happiness in the final frame when she knows that Gaston is hers, is to experience a slice of heaven. Avoiding Trouble in Paradise is to miss out on arguably the best comedy of the Pre-Code era.

by James White

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1934

Director: William Seiter

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea, Fay Wray

The Richest Girl in the World is a thinly veiled attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Woolworths heiress, Barbara Hutton. The lead character’s name has a similar ring to it: Dorothy Hunter (Hopkins). The film doesn’t have a particularly fresh plot as The Prince and the Pauper story and several others come to mind involving the exchange of identities. What this picture does have, however, is excellent acting from the three principals. Oh yeah, putting Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea in a Pre-Code film doesn’t hurt much either.

The narrative of this story is basically told through the self-absorbed POV of Miss Hunter. She is obsessed with the prospect of falling in love. But she demands 100% affirmation that a potential suitor would not be wedding her for the sizable fortune she stands to inherit. Dorothy’s best friend and secretary is Sylvia (played by a brunette Fay Wray). They conspire to switch identities with the idea being that any guy who chooses the secretary over an heiress would be pure of heart. Sylvia is very happily engaged so that limits any complications. Along comes Joel McCrea’s bachelor, with his athletic build and breezy charm, and he sweeps the wealthy young woman off her feet. Against the protests of her estate Chief Trustee, she really puts Tony (McCrea) through the wringer with a series of tests involving Sylvia (who he thinks is Dorothy).

Despite Tony’s repeated attempts to romance her (Hopkins) instead, our heroine manages to convince him that Sylvia would accept his marriage proposal and that he would gain a financial windfall. The handsome bachelor is flummoxed by his feelings for Dorothy, but he asks for Sylvia’s hand. She pretends to accept and Dorothy realizes that her fixation has screwed herself out of what could have been a wonderful relationship. Instead, her duplicitous shenanigans have backfired. Later that evening, McCrea’s suitor is sitting on top of a staircase when he sees Sylvia’s real fiancee enter her room in a stealthy manner. Tony is incensed. He jumps to the conclusion that the “heiress” is nothing but a wealthy tramp. The next morning at breakfast he really lets her have it claiming that she is unfit for matrimony. Surprised and thinking fast, Dorothy manages to convince him that the two women had switched rooms and it was really her receiving the late night visit from Phil — played by Reginald Denny.

What leads up to the ending then of this briskly paced film is somewhat strange. I’ve read several complaints about the resolution seeming rushed and illogical. For my part, I’ve come to expect the unexpected from the Pre-Code era and learn to relish it. The picture poses some interesting philosophical questions about love and who is worthy of it. Her elderly guardian suggests that no human male should be expected to successfully pass her tests of pure love and that Dorothy’s charade is psychologically cruel to Tony. A woman as rich as Miss Hunter is a target for gold diggers. While I sympathize, her wealth is an important aspect of her identity and representing yourself as otherwise might make an interesting premise for a film but doing so in real life would sabotage any potential union. I have an enormous crush on Miriam Hopkins so The Richest Girl in the World gets an endorsement from me. One “genius” @ IMDB.com is quoted as follows:

Miss Hopkins was a good actress, but not very attractive. I would put her in the same category of Glen Close today. Fay Wray, her co-star, was far prettier.

One glance at the image above and I am convinced that this amateur critic has had a frontal lobotomy.

By James White

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Year: 1933

Director: Stephen Roberts

Starring: Miriam Hopkins, Jack La Rue, William Gagan, Guy Standing

This wonderful pre-code film from 1933 is based on the salacious novel (Sanctuary) written by William Faulkner, one of my favorite authors. The pivotal role of Temple Drake was entrusted to none other than the divine Miriam Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins is perhaps better known for her beautiful performances in two Lubitsch pictures of the same era: Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living. But in Roberts’ film the great actress seizes the opportunity to really extend herself as a performer. Temple Drake is arguably Hopkins’ finest hour on the silver screen.

Temple’s penchant for carefree, promiscuous behavior is established from the start as the movie opens with her coming home from a date @ 4:00 in the morning. She manages to get her lecherous suitor pushed out the front door just as Judge Drake — played by Guy Standing — descends the stairs to see what the disturbance is. Her grandfather reproaches Temple for being out with a boy so late but she quickly assuages his concerns via her charms and revealing that her beau goes to a good school. This scene makes it clear that Hopkins’ character is excellent at manipulation and she’s used to getting her way 100% of the time. This flaw in Temple’s nature comes back to haunt her throughout the film.

One of Temple’s many suitors, the only one who she really respects, is Steven Benbow (Gagan). Benbow is an ambitious, altruistic defense attorney who will take on any case even if it’s pro bono and/or hopeless. The esteemed Judge Drake admires young Benbow’s spirit and he thinks the counselor would be the perfect husband for his granddaughter. While Gagan’s character loves Temple to a fault, he explains to the old man that she does not want to settle down and marry him. The movie cuts to our protagonist and a drunk college boy making out in a parked automobile outside a large mansion. When she stops necking and pushes his pawing mits away its clear that Temple is a tease. She runs into the house and proceeds to dance with several men, effectively spreading her alluring scent like a veil around the room. When the lothario who brought her to the party somehow persuades Ms. Drake to go for a drive and get some adult beverages, it’s difficult not to wonder at her bad judgment.

Not surprisingly, the inebriated boy wrecks his car out in the middle of nowhere. The couple is startled by two suspicious figures that come upon them from out of the woods. One of these unsavory characters is the notorious pimp and bootlegger called Trigger (La Rue). They are taken by gunpoint to a dilapidated old farmhouse deep in the woods. Her beau goes right inside but she stops dead in her tracks when spotting how many grubby men are inside. Having no choice because of a downpour, Temple is forced to seek shelter inside. All the gangmembers shoot leering, lascivious looks at their new female guest. While her boyfriend pounds alcohol, our heroine begins to panic as the men start to jockey for position. When her boyfriend gets knocked out cold it is surprisingly Trigger who keeps her from getting picked apart like raw meat. The leader yells for them to lay off and Temple goes with the farmer’s wife to secure some warm clothes.

The older woman starts out cold and unsympathetic toward Hopkins’ character, but as she recognizes how naive the young girl is, she takes pity on Temple and fixes her up in the barn for a good night’s sleep. Tommy (James Eagles), a simpleton member of the gang, takes a post outside the barn door with a rifle, presumably to keep our protagonist safe. Restless and scared, Temple barely gets any shuteye and she awakens to Trigger’s lustful gaze from the loft of the structure. The gangster shoots Tommy dead and advances on the girl despite her screams of protest. The rape seems to transform Hopkins’ character into a pliable zombie, easily influenced by the pimp and she begins to work for him in a house of ill repute.

When Benbow hears what Temple’s doing in the big city, he is incredulous. The attorney finds that much too his dismay, his beloved former girlfriend has in fact become a hooker. He confronts La Rue’s character in his office with Temple in attendance. Benbow chastises the bootlegger for what he’s doing to a respectable woman until Trigger has had enough. The presence of the lawyer shocks our heroine into embarassment and a realization that if she doesn’t do something fast, her pimp will kill him. Temple selflessly claims that she is at Trigger’s side willingly and that Benbow should go back home immediately because he’s not wanted. Seeing someone she cares about from her hometown shames Hopkins’ character and she attempts to leave to make amends. When it dawns on the gangster that Temple’s loyalty to him was all a ruse to save her friend, he begins to beat her and she is forced to shoot him in self defense.

Meanwhile, the farmer is falsely accused of the murder Trigger committed. Gagan’s lawyer takes on his defense and when he finds out that Temple is a friendly witness to the killing, he appeals to her sense of honor to do the right thing by coming forward. Wracked with guilt and fearing that she’ll be forced to testify about all the terrible things she’s endured, Temple initially resists but eventually relents to take the stand. Her testimony is the high point of the film and Hopkins is brilliant.

The Story of Temple Drake was nearly impossible to find in video form. I’m glad I eventually did. It is one of the best examples of the provocative nature of pre-code films. This picture exhibits several traits that distinguishes it from movies made following the strict enforcement of the Hays code. Drinking to excess, pervasive promiscuity, mysoginistic violence, and enough skin to shock a depression-era filmgoer. My favorite actress is Barbara Stanwyck but she is getting serious competition for my heart the more Miriam Hopkins performances I screen.