Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Now Playing: "Midnight Mary" (1933)


If you love Pre-Code films, you are in luck with the little gem known as Midnight Mary.  William Wellman directs Loretta Young in the title role of a woman on trial for murder.  She tells her life in flashbacks, from a poor young girl to hapless moll-by-mistake to honest working-for-a-living gal and then to an intentional moll.  That's a lot to accomplish in about seventy-five minutes, no?

Those eyes! 
Wellman tells us from the opening scene that Mary is hardened.  While sitting at the defense table, rather than looking chastened to the all-male jury that is scrutinizing her, she's reading a Cosmopolitan magazine.  All we see of her initially are those incredible eyes peering over the pages.  Wow.  What I wouldn't give to have eyes like that.  But I digress.

Mary doesn't appear to care what the jury thinks of her because, in her mind, they have already convicted her.  Of murder.  Yikes.  She retires in her attorney's office to await the verdict and in order to pass time, tells her life story to her attorney.  Never mind that she probably would have and should have already done that.  We the viewers need to know.

Turns out that Mary was a poor orphan who lost her mother at nine and was then seduced as a teenager.  She is so naive that she becomes an unwitting lookout during a robbery.  Because our gal Mary is a good person deep down, she donates the $50 payment she received for her role to the Salvation Army and disassociates herself from this gang.  She tries to go on the straight and narrow but jobs are few and far between, with meals being even more so.  Shoplifting puts her in the pokey and she has no alternative but to return to the life of crime with mobster Leo.

The hot Franchot, the amazing skullcap and the turkey
It's while she's working a job at a club that she meets Thom Mannering, an attorney who is entranced by Mary's beauty (and that amazing hat she was wearing.)  Mary heads upstairs with Thom to . . . I guess that's left to our imagination . . . and is not present when the heist her "gang" has plotted goes down.  During the fracas, a cop is shot and sees Mary running down the stairs.

Naturally, a police raid is happening and Thom successfully secrets Mary from the premises and to his own residence, which appears to be something like ten feet away.  Bygones.  The two go inside, where they are served coffee by Thom's long suffering butler and chow down on some turkey.  Mary is waiting for the police presence to die down but girlfriend does not do a good job of being casual about it.  She looks positively terrified every time a siren wails.  Mary, if you're going to be a proper moll, you really need to work on your poker face.

When Thom calls a taxi for Mary and escorts her to the front door, girl basically breaks down upon seeing a passing car and throws herself into Thom's arms. She doesn't want to return to her previous life.  I don't blame her - - I would throw myself into Franchot Tone's arms as well.

So Thom, being a good guy and all, pays for Mary to go to secretarial school and apparently pays for her apartment as well.  All without any payment in exchange, if you get my meaning.  When she has graduated from secretarial school, he also arranges for Mary to be placed in the steno pool at his firm.  Thom is a good guy to know.

All work . . . for now
Naturally a pretty girl like Mary does not go unnoticed and another attorney at the firm is a pig who requests that she stay late one night under the guise of working and who totally puts the moves on her instead.  Because bad timing is a staple of movies, this is when Thom, decked out in top hat and tails, enters the office to pick up some alcohol for his party waiting downstairs.  (This was 1933, after all, so keeping alcohol in your office was perfectly normal.)

He sees Mary in a clench with the lech and assumes she's making time with him.  (As if.)  The lech at least has the good sense to realize he may not want to piss off the boss and hurries out, leaving Mary to fend and defend for herself.  She confronts Thom, assuring him that it wasn't what it looked like and the two confess what we have known forever - - they are totally in love with each other.  They kiss.  Again, I am jealous of Mary.

Thom sends his party on the way, naturally wanting to be with Mary.  They go to a Chinese restaurant to eat and gaze in each other's eyes.  Which they do until a cop strolling the beat walks in and sees Mary.  This is the same cop that was shot back on the night Thom and Mary met.  He survived his injury and recognizes Mary.  She sees him looking her up and down and once again, girlfriend is not good at playing cool.  At all.

Not wanting to drag Thom into the mess her life once was, she makes a deal with the cop that she will go with him quietly so long as he does not take Thom as well.  She then picks a fight with Thom, telling him that she had been conning him the entire time and he was a fool to believe she ever fell in love with him.  She was in it for the money.  Ouch.   He believes it, she leaves with the cop and takes the fall for the entire heist.  Again, we're being shown that she's genuinely a good person.  She loves Thom but leaves him in order to spare him.  And even though the mobster she was previously involved with is not a nice man, she doesn't turn on him.

Thom with pal Sam and pill of a wife - his expression says it all
For her troubles, Mary is sent to prison.  She spends three years locked up and during that time she sees a newspaper headline that tells her that Thom has married another.  Heartbroken, she leaves prison and runs into her old mobster boyfriend Leo, who has told her time and again that she will always return.  She does.  This time he outfits her in ridiculous furs and jewels and an impressive apartment.  She seems resigned that this will be her life until she sees Thom (of course) who has been out with his wife at a club.  Mrs. Manning is clearly a pill who only wants to see and be seen and go clubbing, despite the fact that her husband has to be in court at 9 a.m.  She leaves Thom to return home alone and heads to the next venue with Thom's friend Sam.

Enter Mary, Leo and his goons who are there to party.  Mary and Thom see each other and it's clear the old feelings are still there.  As you can imagine, this does not sit well with Leo, who tries to drag Mary away - - something that doesn't sit well with Thom.  A physical fight ensues and Leo promises to get even with Thom.

The classic love triangle
Mobsters didn't mess around then . . . and the film is only seventy-five minutes.  Leo works his revenge that night.  Thom leaves the club with Leo and his goons in pursuit.  Mary runs after them, knowing what Leo is capable of and worrying about Thom's safety.  She goes to Thom's home and rings the bell, hearing the telephone inside.  She is distraught . . . until Thom walks up, having gotten home by foot rather than taking his car.  He and Mary go inside, where he answers the phone and finds out that his friend Sam, in Thom's car, has been shot and killed by Leo and company in a case of mistaken identity.   Mary tells Thom that Leo will come gunning for him again once he finds out that he killed the wrong man.

She returns to the lavish penthouse where Leo grills her about where she was.  He's already found out that the wrong man was killed - - newspapers came out quickly back then too - -  and he's ready to go hunt down Thom Mannering and finish the job.  Boy, this man cannot take a slight at all, can he?  Mary puts some seductive moves down in order to try and keep Leo at home.  She manages to remove his gun belt but he's distracted by finding out that Mary lied about where she was.  He belts her and heads to the door.  She grabs his gun from the gun belt and fires, killing him.

Forward to current day and the jury has reached their verdict.  In no surprise to anyone, but certainly not to Mary, she's found guilty of Leo's murder.   Hold the presses though!  Thom shows up (it's about time) and dishes the lowdown; i.e., that Mary killed Leo in order to protect Thom because she loves him and he loves her.  Scandalous, since Thom is married to someone else.  Oops.  We get multiple newspaper headlines telling us that Thom's wife has filed for divorce and he has secured Mary a new trial.  The film ends with Thom telling Mary that the new trial will go in her favor and they seal it with a long kiss.  Fade out.

Midnight Mary should be required Pre-Code viewing.  Its depiction of American life before, during and after the Stock Market crash and Great Depression is raw, vivid and was probably all too real for some moviegoers.   We not only see Mary stealing but we see a woman waiting in line for a job with Mary faint, ostensibly from lack of food.  The struggle to find employment, any kind of gainful employment, was very real.

Her life with Leo and his goons was no better.  Mary's friend Bunny is slapped and punched by one of Leo's flunkies and she doesn't blink or break stride over it.  Mary herself is slapped and hit by Leo; his goons are outside the room and hear Mary scream. Their response is to turn up the radio.  Certainly not a glamorous life.

Thom's lifestyle and friends are seen, at least at the beginning of the movie, as aimless and spoiled. All they want to do is go clubbing and drink.  Sam's murder appears to have little effect on anyone.


Because this is a Pre-Code film, there are some racy scenes that would never have been tolerated had the film been made only two years later.  We do get the insinuation that something was happening or had happened with Thom and Mary when they come downstairs during the raid.  When they are at Thom's home and dining on the turkey, Thom asks her flatly about sex and Mary replies that sex is all that men always think about.  She's not stupid, our Mary.   When the two do kiss, they kiss.  These aren't chaste two or three second kisses.  Thom and Mary are passionate and how.   The final scene with Mary and Leo has Mary whispering something in Leo's ear while she's taking off his gun belt.  No doubt she's suggesting to him what she might do for him (rather than having him leave to knock off Thom.)  He even licks her fingers.  Seriously.  I can't even imagine what 1933 audiences thought about this.  It's delicious.

As with most 1930s films, the clothing and sets are amazing. The dress and skullcap Mary wears when initially meeting Thom is to die for.  She is tres chic even in the everyday hats and dresses she wears as a secretary.  Both Thom's home and the penthouse Mary is kept up in are gorgeous to see.

Loretta Young, the star, is phenomenal here.  Only twenty, Loretta plays the hell out of Mary. She has done some bad things but we still root for her.  And is she ever freaking beautiful.

Franchot Tone is a standout.  He's a good guy but no pushover.  He's incredibly handsome and again . . .those kisses.  He and Loretta have sizzling chemistry together.

Ricardo Cortez, a Pre-Code staple, is a suave Leo, who relishes his part.  The cast is rounded out nicely by Una Merkel as the feckless Bunny and Andy Devine as the ever-inebriated but doomed Sam.  Devine's scenes are sadly few but he makes the most, as usual, with his time.

Midnight Mary is a quick watch -- so much happens in this relatively brief flick - - but is well worth your time.  All the blissful Pre-Code-ness, combined with the beauty of Loretta Young and the hotness of Franchot Tone.  How he did not become a big star is beyond me.

Midnight Mary is part of TCM's Forbidden Hollywood DVD set and TCM does occasionally put it in their rotation.


5 comments:

  1. Lori: Great review! I am a big fan of this movie, and was finally able to save it to my DVR last week. Just one slight correction, though. When Mary is telling her story in flashback, she isn't telling her story to her lawyer, she is telling it to the court clerk, played by Charley Grapewin.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ellen and thank you for the correction. Yep, it's the court clerk. Doh!

      Such a great Pre-Code, isn't it? I totally swoon over Franchot Tone and Loretta Young's wardrobe. Sigh

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  3. Thanks for the great recap. I love this movie and LY is one of my favorite actors. She had great chemistry with Franchot Tone in both Midnight Mary and Unguarded Hour.

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    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for reading my recap and commenting.

      Loretta was so stunning, wasn't she? I've got Born to Be Bad in my rotation, which I know I will enjoy because Cary Grant is in the mix. I also love her in The Bishop's Wife.

      I haven't seen The Unguarded Hour. Will have to search for that one.

      Happy Thursday!

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