Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Girl Week 2019: Marked Woman, a guest post by Joel

Traditionally, Joel gets center stage on Day 2 of Girl Week. Why break up a good thing. The rest of this post is all his.

Directed by Lloyd Bacon and Michael Curtiz (uncredited).
1937. Not Rated, 84 minutes.
Bette Davis
Humphrey Bogart
Lola Lane
Isabel Jewell
Mayo Methot
Eduardo Ciannelli
Rosalind Marquis
Jane Bryan
Allen Jenkins

Mary Dwight (Bette Davis) and her four compatriots-Gabby (Lola Lane), Estelle (Mayo Methot), Florrie (Rosalind Marquis) and Emmy Lou (Isabel Jewell)-work as “hostesses” (a Production Code euphemism for prostitutes) in a Manhattan nightclub that’s just been converted into a clip joint run by mob boss Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli). Their job is to get the out of town rubes to spend as much as possible in the club for which they are rewarded with money (10% of which they kick back to Vanning) and protection should there be a pinch.

Not too happy about it but used to the good life it provides they acquiesce until one night when Mary discovers that one of those out-of-towners has passed a rubber check. Warning him to skip town and giving him her address so he can return the cab fare she lent him she finds herself in the thick of trouble when he turns up dead in an alley with the address still in his pocket. The cops pull all the girls in for questioning including Mary’s kid sister Betty (Jane Bryan) who happens to be visiting for the day from college. Crusading prosecutor David Graham (Humphrey Bogart) attempts to get the women to implicate Vanning but they refuse until Mary is pressured with a veiled death threat to perjure herself to clear Vanning of a murder charge.

Disillusioned Betty drops out of college and one night accompanies Emmy Lou, who has become involved with Vanning against the other girls advice, to a party at his penthouse. During an argument where Vanning tries to force her to “entertain” a lech he strikes her causing her death. He covers up the crime and denies any knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts when confronted by Mary. Livid Mary warns him that if she finds out that Betty has been hurt she’ll get him “Even if I have to crawl back from my grave to do it!”

Heading to the law Mary tries to get D.A. Bogart to do something but after her previous double dealing he is reluctant to help until word arrives of the discovery of Betty’s body in the river. He then approaches the other hostesses who at first decline to say anything out of fear, the resigned Gabby telling Mary she had once loved a man whom she convinced to walk away from Vanning and who was murdered when he tried.

But when Vanning gets wind of what Mary is attempting to do he shows up at her apartment with a couple of henchmen who beat and disfigure her turning her into the “Marked Woman” of the title and the women band together to bring Vanning down.

Warners more than any other studio during Hollywood’s Golden Age filmed stories that were ripped from the headlines such as this. Based on the real life pursuit by Manhattan D.A. Thomas Dewey of crime czar Lucky Luciano who was brought down by the testimony of numerous prostitutes and madams in his syndicate. It’s a sordid tale and though impactful doesn’t have a pretty ending, but it’s well worth the time it takes to watch its story unfold.

A couple of side stories:

During the making of this film Humphrey Bogart, not yet a top level star, met Mayo Methot-at the time a well-known and respected character actress and a considerably bigger name than his, who would become his third wife. Their union was, to put it mildly, stormy. They were known throughout the Hollywood community and newspapers as the Battling Bogarts and his nickname for her was Sluggy. Both liked their liquor far more than was good for them, add in Mayo’s fragile mental state-she once stabbed him in the shoulder during an argument-and intense jealousy and the marriage was on borrowed time from its inception. They struggled along until Bogart meet Lauren Bacall during the making of To Have and Have Not and Mayo realized she had lost him. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic she abandoned her career, which had hit a rough patch because of her volubility, moved back to her native Oregon and steadily drank herself to death by 1951, aged only 47 but looking decades older.

While there is plenty of female unity onscreen there was considerable girl power behind it in the person of Bette Davis. Never a shrinking violet this was her first film after a high profile court fight with Warner Brothers. Having battled her way from first being considered nothing more than an insipid “little brown wren” to a vividly intense actress with one Oscar already under her belt (for 1935’s Dangerous-though that was a consolation prize for her fierce performance the year before as the slatternly Mildred in Of Human Bondage) she had been shunted from one lackluster film to another until after a sub par version of The Maltese Falcon named Satan Met a Lady Jack Warner tried to cast her as a lady lumberjack (!) in a stinker called God’s Country and the Woman.

Feed up and frustrated she turned the role down flat and stormed out of Warner’s office turning a deaf ear when he said he had just optioned a novel that hadn’t been released named Gone with the Wind that had a great part for her if she did God’s Country. Replying “I bet it’s a pip!” she departed and signed to do two films in England effectively breaching her Warners contract and setting the stage for their skirmish in the British courts. Though she fought like a tiger trying to convey that she felt that if she continued in the junk that the studio was casting her in her career would be over the lawyers framed the suit as though she were a greedy actress just looking for more money.

She lost the case but won the war. When she returned to the studio Jack Warner, now fully aware of her commitment to pursuit of a quality career, paid all her court costs and starting with this picture cast her in roles that in short order made her the queen of the lot. So successful were her films and the revenue they generated so great through the next decade she was referred to as the Fourth Warner Brother.

Not that she became a complacent little pussycat with success, during this film when the makeup department put a small flattering bandage on her after she was supposedly maimed she left the studio during lunch break, went to her doctor, told him what was supposed to have happened to her character and returned to the studio so believably bandaged that the guard at the gate called Warner and told him Miss Davis had been in an accident. When Warner showed up on the set Davis confronted him saying “If you don’t shoot me like this, you’re not filming me today!” For the rest of her life she was famous for her tenacity and drive and we all benefited with dozens of memorable performances.

Day 1 Entries


  1. This looks so fantastic Dell! The pictures are just phenomenal and help illustrate the post! Hope this inspires everyone to seek the film out if they haven't seen it, it really is a prototypical Warners film of the 30's.

    Thanks for letting me participate. I always look forward to it.

    1. Thanks! You gave me a lot to go on, really made it easy. I especially love the history lesson at the end. Great job!

  2. Great review, Joel! I haven't seen this one but I have it on my list as I'm on a quest to see more of Bette Davis.

    Dell - I have a better post set up tomorrow but I added my Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood review to Girl Week as it's directed by a woman!

    1. Thanks Brittani.

      More Bette Davis is always a good idea! She was a fascinating presence on screen even in the early dogs that Warners stuck her in when she was starting out. Quickies like Parachute Jumper, Bureau of Missing Persons and The Big Shakedown give you some idea why she was so frustrated and walked on her contract despite her participation making them worth sitting through. Her early stuff for Universal where she was first signed and totally misused is even worse!

      I've seen all her films except one of the Universals called "Seed" and while I'd love to track it down for completeness sake she always said her role in it was so small she should have been paid through the extra's union. Considering that fact and the shabbiness of her other films for that studio I don't think I'm missing much.

      She had some successes before it but Marked Woman is really the starting point of her ascent to the top of the heap and it's one of the films where her special brand of attractiveness was at its peak.

  3. ok...third time trying to write here...ughhh. I still need to see this film and it is on my list for years. I can’t believe how many films I have not seen. I love your synopsis and excellent write up about Davis and Bogie with Mayo. Even in these pictures, Mayo looks like one gal you never want to know, she must have been great in bed for Bogie to marry this chick. I always liked Davis even though she was a bit of a diva she was always willing to take chances, never believed in trying to stay youthful and did all for her roles unlike Crawford who was a true narcissistic person.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Birgit.

      Mayo was apparently quite a charming vibrant woman in her youth but the combo of drink and mental issues turned her into a termagant and destroyed her voice as well. She had had a lovely voice-she introduced the standard "More Than You Know" on Broadway to much acclaim-but by the time of her marriage to Bogart her voice was in tatters though she would still insist on performing when she was in a drunken stupor. John Huston witnessed one such performance and it inspired the Claire Trevor scene in Key Largo where she is humiliated by Edward G. Robinson when he forces her to sing Moanin' Low.

      Bette Davis was a tough customer but almost without fail her coworkers said while she was often difficult it was always about making whatever they were working on better whether it was improving her part or someone else's.

      For instance when she and Mary Astor made The Great Lie both felt that the original script was weak and worked together to strengthen the characters ending up favoring Mary much more than Bette and Astor ended up winning a Best Supporting Actress for her work.

      The dichotomy between Davis and Crawford is extremely marked but while they had very different work methods both were considered super professionals-always prepared, always punctual and ready to do the work.

      Hope you get to see this soon. It's worth the time!

    2. Poor Mayo really did do herself in. Davis was notorious but always for her craft. I just can’t stand Crawford who did others in if she felt they got more raves than her like Mercedes McCambridge.

  4. You did an excellent job, Joel! I haven’t seen this yet but it’s on my watching as I’m interesting in seeing more from Davis and Bogart.

    1. Thanks Sonia!

      Hope you get to see it soon. Bette and Bogie are always worth seeing even if their vehicles are less than top drawer but this is a great showcase for her (less so for him but he does fine in an atypical role.)

    2. I also need to see more Davis & Bogey.