MIDNIGHT MARY is a remarkable example of pre-Code cinema, starring Loretta Young at her most beautiful. (For more on pre-Code movies, see this post on MAN WANTED.) This sometimes startlingly adult melodrama, directed by William A. Wellman, moves along at a lightning pace, keeping the viewer engrossed throughout.
As the movie opens, Mary (Young) is on trial for murder, awaiting the jury's verdict. In a series of quick flashbacks, we learn that Mary was orphaned as a very young girl; Wellman daringly had the 20-year-old Young play herself as a child, omitting makeup and using clever camera angles. Mary's teen years include a stint in reform school and, it's hinted, prostitution. Facing starvation during the Depression, Mary ends up in a criminal gang headed by Leo Darcy (Ricardo Cortez). And that's just in the first few minutes of the movie (grin).
Mary is really a good girl at heart, and when she falls in love with a nice lawyer (Franchot Tone) she'll go to any lengths to save his reputation -- and his life.
I consider this one of Young's best performances. She's simply terrific portraying every aspect of Mary's life, from teenager to gangster's moll to a desperate woman in love. As Mick LaSalle notes in COMPLICATED WOMEN, the "Drinking-Smoking Loretta" of pre-Code films is very different from her more sedate image of the '40s and '50s. The climactic scene, in which Young uses her feminine wiles to distract Cortez from leaving to kill Tone, is quite something. Mary is said to have been one of Young's favorite roles.
According to the TCM website, the only actress to make more movies with director Wellman than Loretta Young was Barbara Stanwyck. Wellman and Young's other collaborations, HEROES FOR SALE, THE HATCHET MAN, and CALL OF THE WILD, are happily all in my movie library for future viewing. (CALL OF THE WILD is the film which resulted in Young and Clark Gable having a child, as written about here.)
The supporting cast of MIDNIGHT MARY includes Andy Devine and Una Merkel, whose performances are more restrained and enjoyable than in MAN WANTED. Halliwell Hobbes provides comic relief as Tone's butler.
This black and white film runs 74 minutes.
MIDNIGHT MARY can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. Vote here to indicate interest in a DVD release. Loretta Young is an actress whose work very much deserves a boxed DVD set.
The trailer is available on the TCM website.
Another pre-Code Loretta Young film, LIFE BEGINS, is reviewed here.
January 2009 Update: MIDNIGHT MARY will be released on DVD on March 24, 2009, as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3 set, which spotlights the work of director William Wellman.