Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the beautiful Loretta Young (1913-2000), whose work we’ve never covered before here on Film Friday! So far we’ve featured Loose Ankles (1930), Employees’ Entrance (1933) and Grand Slam (1933). Today…
Midnight Mary (1933)
An abused orphan sinks into a life of crime. Starring Loretta Young, Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone, Andy Devine, and Una Merkel. Screenplay by Gene Markey & Kathryn Scola. Based on a story by Anita Loos. Directed by William Wellman.
“While waiting for the jury to decide on her innocence in a murder trial, Mary Martin recalls her past to the court clerk: As a teenager, the orphaned Mary is falsely accused of theft and is sent to a house of corrections for three years. After her release, Mary and her friend Bunny fall in with Leo Darcy and his gang.. and become their unwitting accomplices in a robbery… One night while she and Bunny are setting up a robbery at a private gambling house, Mary is spotted by Tom Mannering, Jr., a “blue-blood” lawyer. Tom falls instantly in love with Mary and, when Leo and the gang become involved in a shootout with the police, helps her to escape. Overwhelmed by Tom’s kindness, Mary finally asks him to help her “go straight” and find honest work… While she and Tom plan their future at a Chinese restaurant, Mary is recognized by a policeman… To save Tom’s reputation, Mary tells him that she has been “playing him for a sucker,” and then gives herself up to the policeman.
“After refusing to implicate Leo, Mary is sent to prison, and a year later, Tom marries a socialite. Once free… Mary returns to Leo and accepts his lavish gifts but is stunned when she runs into Tom in a nightclub. Suspicious of Mary’s feelings for Tom, Leo threatens the unhappily married lawyer and, after a fight in the club, sends his henchmen to kill Tom. While Mary rushes to warn Tom about Leo, the henchmen mistakenly murder Tom’s best friend. Although Mary pretends to be indifferent about Tom, Leo persists in his demand that he be killed and prepares to do the deed himself. To save Tom, Mary finally shoots and kills Leo and is arrested for murder. Back at the courthouse, Mary, who has said nothing about Tom during the trial, is found guilty. Just as the verdict is read, however, Tom bursts into the court and, after confessing his relationship to Mary, demands an immediate retrial. After Tom’s wife sues him for divorce, Tom prepares to defend his beloved Mary in her new trial.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)
Loretta Young is dynamite in her best role to date as a bad girl groupie of Ricardo Cortez who tries to go straight when she meets and falls in love with Franchot Tone. When Cortez threatens Tone’s life, Mary kills him and is put on trial for murder. The entire film is framed as a flashback, and the viewer is treated to exactly how and why Mary became the woman who she is at the start of the picture. It’s a device that sometimes is used gratuitously (especially now), but it really works here — especially because the pacing of the film allows it to flow seamlessly and with great excitement.
Meanwhile, the premise is delightfully Pre-Code. Young and her gal pal, the always spunky Una Merkel make excellent molls, and the story trucks along with a deliciously seedy irreverence. Ricardo Cortez is our antagonist, and he’s allowed to be really villainous; there are no half-baked attempts to make him a relatable anti-hero. He’s a bad guy. And this direct storytelling is refreshing. In Mary’s life, Leo is nothing more than a bad guy (albeit, a sexy one — for danger is HOT). And so when he commits robberies, has his henchmen murder the perfectly likable Andy Devine, and slaps around Loretta Young with violent force, it’s exhilarating. So when Mary finally picks up her gun (and that jazzy music rages on at a surprisingly high volume), it’s a cinematic explosion — exactly towards what this mesmerizing film has been building. And wisely, the story quickly cuts back to the trial, where a verdict is revealed!
As mentioned above, this picture really belongs to Loretta Young. Sure, Devine and Merkel are welcome presences, and Tone and Cortez fulfill their duties, “nice guy” love interest and “bad guy” villain, respectively, with their usual aplomb. (They don’t really get the chance to stretch.) But Young carries the film on her back, and she’s everything the picture requires — and more! She’s sultry without effort, she’s complex without self-indulgence, and she’s sympathetic without asking. This is the best Loretta Young film we’ve covered yet on this blog. I encourage anybody reading this to seek out Midnight Mary, a quintessential Pre-Code.
Great article. Too bad Loretta Young couldn’t (or wouldn’t) play bad girl roles after 1934. She was quite good at them. Could you upload the Midnight Mary clip again? For some reason, the current one doesn’t have any sound.
Hi, Just Another Classic Movie Fan! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. left the video up, but opted to remove the audio. You can, however, purchase the film (one of my Pre-Code Essentials) as part of this collection: https://www.amazon.com/Forbidden-Hollywood-Collection-Purchase-Midnight/dp/B001OSC4G0
Thanks for the quick reply. At least now I know that it isn’t a technical issue. What’s strange about this (and I hope I’m not derailing here) is that Warner Bros. muted such a short clip. I could see if you had uploaded the whole movie….
I find it commercially unwise too — particularly with older content, one has to first bring the material to an audience member’s attention before persuading him/her to make a purchase.