Pros:strong story; engaging characters; Davis and Bogart; bonus features; direction
Cons:nothing really, but rigged trial concerned me
The Bottom Line: I liked this one better than "Jezebel" the following year that gave her an Oscar.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
This 1937 black-n-white, Marked Woman, is one of Bette Davis' lesser known films, but it's one of her most satisfying and intriguing ones. Though the filmmakers wish to divorce themselves from any character similarities to people living or dead, film historians on the DVD's bonus features point out that it was inspired by New York mobster Lucky Luciano and his sensational trial earlier that year. Warner Bros. always were inspired by the big headlines of the day. They knew this film with a scandalous role for their frustrated top star Bette Davis would make her happy and it did. She made sure she looked scandalously marked, too.
Davis, quite the babe as well as actress at the tender age of twenty-eight, plays a mouthy hostess at one of mobster Johnny Vanning's nightclubs, otherwise known as a clip joint as her character Mary immediately observed when Vanning took over one night. She and her four hostess friends don't like it, but they know they have no other choice since Vanning controlled all of the nightclubs and no other job would pay enough to live on. Mary was putting her kid sister through college, but I don't know about the backgrounds of the other working 'girls.' Mary is the focus in the movie. When the idiot she entertains one night turns up dead in an alley the next morning, she's arrested for murder right when her ignorant sister is visiting. Mary had given the loser her address so he could tell her he had flown home okay. He laughed that his check was no good that he'd used at the joint and Mary advised him to disappear ASAP.
I don't want to give too much away, but this is only the beginning of her problems. In order to get out of jail, she cuts a deal with Vanning that leaves the assistant D.A. disgusted with her. Humphrey Bogart plays him with real aplomb, a guy who just wants to nail Vanning and won't be bought. The next time that Mary needs him to find her now partying sister, he can't help her. It's up to her and her scared hostess friends, one of whom may know what happened to Mary's sister and has disappeared, to try to put Vanning away. Their lives aren't worth anything if they don't.
Marked Woman seems very believable and exciting to me from a tense beginning to a sober ending for our brave girls. The story is strong and fast-paced with engaging performances from the characters. Romance is the last thing on the hostess' minds as they exhaust themselves keeping these fool men entertained on the dance floor, at the gambling table or drinking. Violence is usually implied unless it‘s a slap across the mouth or one unfortunate fall down a flight of stairs. We hear Mary scream from inside her room where Vanning's bullies are teaching her a lesson. There's no objectionable language or sexual situations, but Vanning still was despicable. If I remember correctly from the DVD's bonus feature with film historians, movies couldn't now portray gangsters we could sympathize with. Only the good guys on the law's side could be the heroes.
Perhaps Vanning, played by Eduardo Ciannelli, is one-dimensional, but the other characters had some depth to make them interesting. Davis and Bogart are favorite actors of mine and did not disappoint while most of the other actors weren't familiar to me. Lloyd Bacon directed Marked Woman with some finesse, especially the parting words between Mary and Bogie's character and the slightly disturbing, quiet, final scene. I'm enchanted still with some of the dialogue that must've given the real New York something bitter to ponder. Maybe it still would.
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