Cast & Crew
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 of thieves and become their unwitting accomplices in a robbery. When Mary realizes how Leo used her, she leaves him but is unable to find legitimate work. Broke and desperate, Mary eventually returns to Leo and, within two years, becomes his mistress and partner in crime. Then, 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. Although fully aware of Mary's involvement with Leo, Tom takes her to his nearby house and hides her from the police. Overwhelmed by Tom's kindness, Mary finally asks him to help her "go straight" and find honest work. With Tom's help, Mary enrolls in a secretarial school and is hired as a stenographer in his law firm. Determined to make her own way, Mary avoids Tom at work but, when Tom catches Tindle, the head clerk, accosting her after hours, she breaks down and confesses her love. Later that night, while she and Tom plan their future at a Chinese restaurant, Mary is recognized by a policeman who was present at the gambling house robbery. 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 begins another fruitless search for work and is approached by Leo, who again offers her a place in his prospering gang. 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.
Robert E. O'connor
Dr. William Axt
William S. Gray
James Van Trees
The story opens with Mary Martin (Young) in the docket, awaiting the jury's findings in her just-concluded trial for murder, and reflecting on the tawdry past that brought her to her present circumstances. As a young orphan, she takes a bum rap on a thievery charge, leading to years of institutionalization. Upon her release, she and her cohort Bunny (Una Merkel) are at loose ends when they fall in with the slick thug Leo Darcy (Ricardo Cortez), who has no problem using the girls as unwitting accomplices in a robbery. Mary leaves Leo in disgust, but after her efforts at leading an honest life are rebuffed, she slinks back to an existence of working his rackets and sharing his bed.
A few years later, Mary is casing a gambling house Leo intends to knock over, when she catches the eye of upper-crust attorney Tom Mannering (Franchot Tone). The smitten lawyer helps her escape when the robbery goes awry, and hides her from the cops at his home. Moved by Mary's desire to go straight, Tom sets her up with stenography lessons and a secretarial position at his firm. Unfortunately, the truth about her past ultimately comes to light; hoping to spare Tom's feelings and let him move on with his life, Mary gives him a brusque brush-off on her way back to prison. Leo's all too happy to have her back in the fold once she gets out, but he's much less pleased when he discovers her lingering affections for Tom.
The film's scenario was adapted from an Anita Loos story by the team of Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola, a duo who provided plenty of pertinent pre-code proto-feminist sagas during the era, such as Baby Face (1933) and Female (1933). Wellman had a marked fondness for the device of flashing back to the youth of his pivotal characters; in this instance, he took a risk by convincing Young and Merkel to portray themselves as pre-teens. "By shooting them without makeup and slightly elevating the camera's gaze to look down on them, the effect was quite convincing," declared Frank T. Thompson in William A. Wellman (The Scarecrow Press).
MGM received the services of both Young and Wellman on loan from Warner, and Midnight Mary marked the macho and often abrasive filmmaker's first effort for Metro since his dismissal after completing The Boob (1926). While it seems unlikely that "Wild Bill" could be very simpatico with the demure actress, only Barbara Stanwyck made more appearances (five) as Wellman's female lead. (Young's other Wellman vehicles included The Hatchet Man (1932), Heroes for Sale (1933) and The Call of the Wild (1935), where she had her notorious off screen liaison with Clark Gable.)
"I felt very secure when I was working with Wellman," the actress was quoted in Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein's Loretta Young: An Extraordinary Life (Delacorte Press). "There was nothing phony or artificial about him. He was also attractive in every way. He liked to shoot fast, in one take, and his energy went right through him and into the actors. A director is boss for a reason, and Bill was good."
Wellman came through on the project professionally, with the possible exception being his tenuous relationship with assistant director Mike Lally, whom the director had reportedly once fired a gun at for moving too slowly. Later that year, the two would get into a well-publicized fistfight on the set of the rather ironically titled Looking for Trouble (1934). Midnight Mary is also notable as it represents one of the very rare bad-girl assignments on the famously strait-laced Young's career resume. "In one scene she couldn't understand why [the Cortez character] slaps her," Morella and Epstein recounted. "'Because you're his girl,' Wellman explained. 'He doesn't have to slap me.' 'Yes, he does.' Wellman never came right out and said, 'Because you're sleeping with him,' and Young said years later that even if she had known what Wellman was talking about she would have put it out of her mind."
Producer: Lucien Hubbard
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola, Anita Loos
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Film Editing: William S. Gray
Art Direction: Stan Rogers
Music: William Axt
Cast: Loretta Young (Mary Martin), Ricardo Cortez (Leo Darcy), Franchot Tone (Thomas Mannering, Jr.), Andy Devine (Samuel Travers), Una Merkel (Bunny), Frank Conroy (District Attorney).
by Jay S. Steinberg
Midnight Mary - Loretta Young is MIDNIGHT MARY - One of the Pre-Code Delights in "Forbidden Hollywood Vol.3"
A superbly executed montage starts with her at age 9, when she learns her mother has just died. Amazingly, 19-year-old Young plays herself here. It's only for a few shots. She is costumed in a child's dress, some dirt on her face, her hair in braids, and she flails around the frame, all arms and legs. (Supporting actress Una Merkel, as Young's best friend, does the same -- and she was 29!) For one shot, Wellman has Young push open an exaggerated, oversized door in order to make her look small and help the trick work. It's a pretty audacious choice by Wellman, but Young carries it off surprisingly convincingly.
At age 13, Young is sent to juvenile prison for a crime she didn't commit. Three years later, free again, she and Merkel are out looking for a good time and hook up with a couple of sleazy guys in a car moments after meeting them -- the first of many entertainingly frank scenes regarding sex. Penniless, Young falls into prostitution and then becomes a moll and unwitting accomplice to gangster Ricardo Cortez, who leads a gang of robbers.
While Young may get one tough break after another, she is really a good girl underneath who longs to make an honest living. She tries to do so multiple times, only the conditions of the Depression work against her and she finds herself sheepishly going back to Cortez over and over again. When she meets rich, kind, eligible lawyer Franchot Tone, she is able with his help to turn her life around and start a real job as secretary. The problem is, her past catches up to her and the old pattern reasserts itself.
The picture is a time capsule in the best way, illustrating the gritty Depression landscape without hitting us over the head about it in a self-important way. The fact that times are so tough Young can't get a job is treated as a matter-of-fact ingredient in what is basically a melodrama; it's not presented as a "message movie." Viewed decades later, this has the paradoxical effect of making the tough times on display even more vivid.
Midnight Mary is also an excellent vehicle for Loretta Young, luminously beautiful as she delivers a powerhouse performance that demonstrates a nice range of emotion. Under contract to Warner Bros. at the time, she was borrowed by MGM for this film, as was director Wellman. MGM also borrowed Ricardo Cortez from Paramount and supporting player Andy Devine from Universal, leaving only Franchot Tone and Una Merkel as home-team players. Anyone entering the movie after the credits, however, would be forgiven for assuming this to be a Warner Brothers film, such is the grittiness and luridness on display. Midnight Mary was very atypical for MGM.
Also in the cast and deserving of mention are the very fine Robert Greig and Halliwell Hobbes, each beloved by movie audiences for their character roles in so many films. Greig and Hobbes were archetypical butlers in movie after movie during this era, and to see them both in the same picture is a treat. (Surprisingly, they appeared in seven films together.)
Cortez plays his mobster character really intriguingly. He's not all bad; he has a heart and a sense of loyalty and responsibility that soften his toughness and make him more fully dimensional than he might have appeared on paper. This also makes it much more devastating when Cortez's full bad-guy nature comes out in force at the end of the story.
Cortez has fun with many of the pre-code elements of the film, in one scene slapping Young around quite brazenly. In another, Young whispers something obviously very, very naughty into Cortez's ear, in a desperate attempt to keep him from leaving the apartment and murdering Tone. Young is clearly listing the dirty things she will do for him if he stays; Cortez lights up sleazily, and the ploy almost works. This is one of the racier moments in any pre-code film this viewer has ever seen, and all the more impressive because it is still more implied than shown. Isn't it fascinating how even in a pre-code movie, something which is merely implied ends up standing out as so deliciously shocking?
Wellman started his career in silent film, and his techniques from that era are on great view here. He is able through careful framing to convey the clearest and most vivid emotions and story advancement without relying on dialogue. Young's descent into prostitution and her ensuing guilt are shown with incredible economy and visual storytelling; there's no need to even hear the word "prostitute" for us to know what's going on. The sequences of Young pounding the pavement doggedly looking for work are also pretty impressive. Wellman gives us shots of her legs walking, walking, walking... interspersed with inserts of want ads, and ending with Young on a park bench looking at a hole in her shoe. Now that's telling a story with pictures!
Midnight Mary is one of six pre-code features in Warner Home Video's essential new collection Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3. The rest are also all directed by William Wellman: Other Men's Women (1931), Frisco Jenny (1932), The Purchase Price (1932), Heroes For Sale (1933) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933). In addition, Warner has thrown in two documentaries on the director -- Richard Schickel's 1973 The Men Who Made the Movies: William A. Wellman, which has extensive interview footage with Wellman, and the longer 1995 documentary Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick, executive produced by Wellman's son and featuring interviews with dozens of famous admirers. There are also cartoons, short subjects and trailers throughout, and the packaging follows in the attractive footsteps of the first two Forbidden Hollywood volumes. Three of the films come with commentary tracks (including a good one on Midnight Mary from Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta), and the overall technical quality is very good, though print quality varies from title to title.
All in all, this is a superb collection and a must-see for classic movie fans.
For more information about Midnight Mary, visit Warner Video. To order Midnight Mary (available only with the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3 set), go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Midnight Mary - Loretta Young is MIDNIGHT MARY - One of the Pre-Code Delights in "Forbidden Hollywood Vol.3"
The working titles of this film were Lady of the Night and Midnight Lady. According to a Film Daily news item, John Miljan was a cast member, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. M-G-M borrowed Loretta Young from Fox for the production, and photographer James Van Trees from Warner Bros.