Sunday, July 15, 2012

Midnight Mary and the Mesmerizing Beauty of Loretta Young

Meet Mary Martin: Orphaned and sent away to a reformatory at 14 , hooker and gun moll at 17 and a secretary and murderess by 20. She's a good girl at heart who just has a real string of bad luck. Sounds like a juicy role for Harlow or Stanwyck, but, instead, Mary is played by Loretta Young.
Until seeing this film, I always thought of Loretta Young as the ultimate "great lady." Growing up, I saw her as the regal vision floating down a flight of stairs at the beginning of her TV show. In the movies I was most familiar with, she carried herself always as a lady above reproach. She was beautiful, but she was oh so proper; kind of an American Greer Garson. Imagine my surprise at meeting pre-code Loretta, a luscious, sexy and naughty wench.

Made in 1933, "Midnight Mary" was directed by the two-fisted William Wellman. With a running time of about 75 minutes, it plays like a slam bang Warner Brothers pre-code tale of gangsters and other low-life types, but was actually made by MGM. This gave Loretta the advantage of wearing some very swanky outfits designed by Adrian when Mary was living the high life.
Mary and Bunny: a girl has to eat
Getting ready to give it up in the back seat of a car
We first meet Mary as a woman on trial for murder. While the charges against her are read, she peruses Cosmopolitan magazine. She is a woman resigned to her fate and has not tried to defend herself. While waiting for the jury's verdict, Mary relives the journey that landed her perilously close to the gas chamber. Her memories start at age 14 when she and her friend Bunny (played by Una Merkel) are playing in the neighborhood junk yard. Sweet. Both Loretta and Una played their characters at 14 and it actually works. Mary learns of her mother's death and soon ends up in reform school (unjustly blamed for stealing, Bunny being the real culprit and a continual bad influence). As soon as Mary is sprung, the 2 pals are at it again and Mary gives it up in the back seat of a car when picked up by a stranger. From there, it is a short trip from sex for pay to a gangster's moll when she meets hood Leo Darcy, played by Ricardo Cortez. 

Darcy is nuts for Mary, but she is conflicted about her life as a moll
Mary is very conflicted by her role as live-in gal pal to Leo. He has a serious yen for her and treats her pretty well (for a thug). She tries to break free and find work, but soon ends up back in that apartment with Leo, Bunny and his cronies. It sure beats sleeping in the streets.
Mary whispers lewd suggestions while Darcy sucks her fingertips. Oh Miss Young!
Mary and Leo share a frank and sexy relationship. Mary always looks a little apprehensive (just to show us she really is a good girl), but Leo is one sexy gangster. Plus, Mary looks swell in chinchilla.

As good molls, Mary and Bunny have to assist their men in a robbery at a private gambling house. While Mary is waiting for the hold-up to start (Bunny acting as a diversion), she meets and is instantly attracted to society lawyer Tom Mannering, Jr. (Franchot Tone). Tom helps Mary escape when the cops break up the robbery. Mary sees him as a way out of her sordid life and asks Tom to help her go straight. Tom wants to talk about sex, but he sends her to secretarial school and hires her at his firm instead.
Tom rescues Mary (gorgeous in her Adrian cap and gown)
and feeds her turkey and talks of sex

Tom also serves coffee and talks of sex
Mary works hard and Tom pretends to ignore her, but before long, they are in one another's arms and planning a future. All seems rosy until one night, at a Chinese restaurant, Mary is spotted by one of the policemen who raided the gambling house. To protect Tom's reputation, Mary tells Tom she was only playing him for a fool. She then gives herself up to the law, but refuses to implicate Darcy. For that, she gets sent to prison.

Pleasure deferred: Tom pretends to ignore Mary
While in prison, Mary reads of Tom's marriage to a socialite. Once released, she tries desperately to find honest work, but succumbs to Darcy's offer of the good life once again. One night Mary and Darcy meet Tom at a nightclub. It has been made clear that Tom is unhappily married and Mary can't hide her delight to see him. Darcy spies the two and is instantly jealous. After provoking a fist fight with Tom, Darcy sends his men out to murder the lawyer. Mary follows Tom to his home to warn him. It is there that they both discover that Tom's best friend, who had taken his car, was shot and killed. Clearly, the bullet was meant for Tom.
Before the slapping and shooting, Mary tries to seduce Darcy with those big eyes
Mary returns home to Darcy and pretends that Tom means nothing to her. Darcy almost buys her act until he catches her in a lie concerning her whereabouts after the fight. Realizing the wrong man was killed, he aims to make sure Tom is plugged for good and slaps Mary around for good measure. As he prepares to leave, Mary shoots and kills Darcy in a very effective scene. The jury finds her guilty, but before the judge hands down the sentence, Tom comes forward and requests a new trial, stating that he has evidence that will clear Mary and prove that she only shot Darcy to save Tom's life. Tom then tells Mary that his wife was filed for divorce and that he knows that they will be able to put this behind them and finally be together.

Like all good and juicy pre-code films, this one is loaded with innuendo, girls in underwear and men and women who think nothing of having sex outside of marriage. When Bunny becomes pregnant, she wonders what she is going to do. She does have the baby, but we know that she considers the alternative.

Loretta Young, at age 19, is incredibly sensual and sexy. She later said that she was so naive that she had no idea she and Darcy were living together. I find that a little hard to believe. She is sexy and tough here and just mesmerizingly beautiful. I also liked Ricardo Cortez a lot and found him to be much sexier than Franchot Tone.

So, next time you see that ever-so-ladylike Miss Young floating down a staircase or across a screen, check her out pre-Hays Code and see what a hot tamale she was!


VP81955 said...

There's so much more of the early Loretta to see (most of it now on DVD); seeing her work from this period really caused me to re-evaluate her as an actress (she never needed re-evaluation as a beauty). She's as wonderful as she is luminous.

With the possible exception of Norma Shearer, no actress benefited more from the pre-Code revival than Loretta Young. I'm glad she got to experience some of that renewed appreciation before she left us in August 2000.

Diane said...

Wow I didn't know that about Loretta's early years. You always have such interesting information.

Silver Screenings said...

Loretta was in a few steamy roles in the pre-Code era, wasn't she? I have never seen this film but it sounds really juicy. Will have to watch for it!

Dawn said...

I have always wanted to see this film. Especially, now that I'm on a pre-code journey..

Thank you for the awsesome review.

Christian Esquevin said...

Thanks for covering this little known Loretta Young film - it's a lot of fun. Loretta was one of the great beauties of the 30s and 40s, and a fabulous model for the glamour gowns of the 30s. A photo of her in Midnight Mary serves as the cover of my book on Adrian - it's the back shot of the photo you show of her with her arm raised. Fabulous!

FlickChick said...

@ Vince: great comment. Loretta did benefit from the renewed interest in pre-code and certainly gave viewers a different actress than the one generally well known.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Diane. She sure was a beauty.

FlickChick said...

@ Silverscreenings - I've seen "Employees' Entrance," which was pretty racy, but I am still waiting to see "Born to Be Bad."

FlickChick said...

Hi Dawn - on a pre-code journey? You must be up to your eyeballs in lingerie!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. And as soon as I read your comment, I went and checked your book - and there it was! I just love the way Loretta is dressed in this film (except for that bell shaped fur-trimmed thing which didn't suit my fancy).

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick, The only Pre-Code film of Loretta Young's I've seen (other than silents) is "Platinum Blonde" and the glamor girl in that one is Jean Harlow (Loretta does end up with the man, though). I like the sound of "Midnight Mary" and will keep an eye out for it. I have the sense that possibly because of the ramifications of her affair with Clark Gable, Loretta took great pains to maintain a ladylike profile onscreen and off (thus, later comments about her naivete, at the time "Midnight Mary" was made, which I doubt).

FlickChick said...

@ Lady Eve: I kept thinking of the Gable affair while watching this movie. I agree that Loretta did feel a need to cover up a lot.