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.
Jeanette MacDonald is mostly remembered for her series of light operettas with Nelson Eddy, and for slightly more adventurous classic film fans, for her series of Pre-Code musical comedies with Maurice Chevalier and Ernst Lubitsch. That doesn’t always stand her in good stead, since her particular brand of coloratura soprano singing phased out of mainstream popularity by the 1960s. I’m still a fan of her musicals, but I’m the first to admit they aren’t for everyone. It was a particular joy, then, to hear of Don’t Bet on Women, which is one of MacDonald’s very few non-musical roles, and quite a rousing Pre-Code as well.
Pre-Codes fascinate me not only because they tend to be more risque and innuendo-filled than films either earlier or later, but because the combination of nearly unrestrained sexuality and a society still bound to a great degree by traditional mores often yields films with a very conflicted view of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles. Don’t Bet on Women, aka All Women Are Bad (you can see where we’re headed here), starts off with Roger Fallon (Edmund Lowe) swearing off women following a tender scene where his ex-wife convinces him to pay her a generous allowance since she doesn’t want to make her new husband go to the trouble of, like, working. He and his buddy Chip decide to take a boys-only cruise.