Cheery little Pre-Code drama told mostly in flashback while Mary Martin awaits the jury’s decision in her murder trial. Turns out growing up poor, getting locked up for a crime you didn’t commit, becoming a “lady of the night” (hence the nickname), then falling in with gangsters can lead one down a dark path that ends in murder – but there are bright spots, too, like when Mary almost manages to leave her gangster boyfriend for a rich young gentleman who truly loves her.
The bare-faced plot sounds pretty sordid in the retelling, but Loretta Young plays Mary with a kind of resigned luminosity, and William A. Wellman directs with a straightforward empathy, and it’s actually all much more sensitive and stylish than you’d expect, while also being definitely Pre-Code in most every way. I tend not to care for Young too much in her later, more saintly roles, but she’s got a very alluring quality in Pre-Codes – a knowing innocence, almost. Mary certainly isn’t innocent in any sense, but you continue to pull for her anyway.
Meanwhile, as per usual in Pre-Codes, the film is populated with a great supporting cast – a great roll call of “it’s that guy” roles like Andy Devine. Of course, Una Merkel has graduated far above “it’s that girl” for me, and I get a major thrill every time I see in in a cast list, because she always livens up the proceedings of any movie whatsoever. Here she’s Mary’s best friend, who takes to the gangster’s moll life with a lot more gusto than Mary does. Still, because this is largely a drama, she doesn’t get the freedom to really let loose the way she does in something like Don’t Bet on Women or 42nd Street, or even Private Lives. She does get the film’s best line, though, when her would-be beau brings her four orchids and she retorts “that’s vulgar! I never wear more than three.”
Stats and stuff…
directed by William A. Wellman, written by Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola, from a story by Anita Loos
starring Loretta Young, Franchot Tone, Ricardo Cortez, Andy Devine, Una Merkel
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Midnight Mary entered my chart:
Midnight Mary > The Spanish Apartment
Midnight Mary > Ran
Midnight Mary < The Three Musketeers (1973)
Midnight Mary < The Myth of the American Sleepover
Midnight Mary > La jetee
Midnight Mary < I Know Where I’m Going
Midnight Mary > eXistenZ
Midnight Mary < Christmas in July
Midnight Mary < Born to Kill
Midnight Mary < The Devil’s Backbone
Midnight Mary > Sense and Sensibility
Midnight Mary > Cat People
Final #779 out of 3708 films on my chart (79%)
It is now my #4 William A. Wellman film, my #3 Loretta Young film, my #2 Franchot Tone film, my #3 Una Merkel film (though I’d place her PERFORMANCE in Don’t Bet on Woman ahead of this performance), my #30 Melodrama, my #20 Pre-Code, and my #12 film of 1933.
Midnight Mary was recommended by Laura G., a film blogger friend. Averaging together this #779 ranking with my #425 ranking of her other film, Westward the Women, gives Laura an average ranking of 602.
A few more screenshots…