Thursday 13 December 2007

Midnight Mary (1933) William A Wellman

Midnight Mary is Mary Martin, she's played by Loretta Young, and as our film starts she's up for murder and not likely to get away with it either. While waiting for the verdict, we're treated to the back story that brought her to such a state of affairs, which is as sordid as you'd expect for a William Wellman precode. Mary starts out as a kid rummaging on a city dump, in a surprisingly believable scene that has Young and co-star Una Merkel play their younger selves through nothing but camera perspective and no makeup. There's three years in a house of correction and a gradual slide into crime including hinted prostitution.

She's not entirely indecent though. When she finds herself an unwitting accomplice in armed robbery and lands fifty bucks for her 'work', she promptly gives it to the Salvation Army. It's the depression though so honest work is hard to find and she soon ends up back with the old gang, and in a properly orchestrated job too. Now my schooling in thirties movies, precodes or not, tells me that any time the criminal mastermind says 'I got it all figured out, see,' you know something's going to go spectacularly wrong and needless to say it does. Ricardo Cortez and his gang try to rob a club, which they succeed in doing but they kill a cop in the process and everything goes rapidly pear shaped.

Luckily Mary has caught the eye of millionaire playboy Tom Mannering, Jr, played with relish by Franchot Tone having a ball with his part, and he gives her a way out, not just of the urgent situation at hand but out of her situation in general by giving her a job. As you'd expect, he falls head over heels for her in the process and also as you'd expect, complications ensue and Mary doesn't stay with him for long, jumping back on that downward slide.

Loretta Young is very good here indeed, and I'm slowly starting to appreciate her talent. I don't know why it took me so long to do so, given that this is my tenth of her films. Maybe it was just that I was watching other people in those films ahead of her. I've never been much of a fan of Ricardo Cortez either, but he's much better here than he was in Transgression. He was a fine Latin lover in the silents but I couldn't buy it in the sound era. He's a much better gangster though, here playing one like a junior version of George Raft. His final scene is a great one.

Franchot Tone is superb, though he doesn't have anywhere near the size or scope of part that Loretta Young does. As always, Una Merkel gets nowhere near the screen time she deserves and Andy Devine has only a tiny role also. There's also a small but memorable part from Halliwell Hobbes. A good deal of the credit here though should go to screenwriter Anita Loos, best known for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and to director William A Wellman, who I'm discovering was a prolific worker in the precode era with a whole slew of decent titles to his credit. The volume and scope of them says plenty on its own, beyond their individual merits.

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