Marked Woman (1937)

“I’ll get you — even if I have to crawl back from my grave to do it!”

Synopsis:
A nightclub hostess (Bette Davis) in a “clip joint” — whose college-going sister (Jane Bryan) believes Davis is simply a model — becomes caught up in a case against her corrupt boss (Eduardo Cianelli) led by an assistant D.A. (Humphrey Bogart) determined to fight against organized crime in New York City.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Based on the real-life exploits of notorious crime mob “Lucky” Luciano, this “excellent feminist crime drama” — featuring Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as a crusading D.A. modeled after Thomas Dewey — is primarily about women banding together to fight for their safety and freedom. Davis’s feisty character represents the reality and the determination of women caught under the thumb of criminal dominance: she knows it’s useless to stand up to a mobster as vicious as Cianelli, and clearly sympathizes with the sap (Damian O’Flynn) who thinks he can pull one over on the mob by leaving town without paying his gambling debts. (He’s swiftly killed, and his murder leads to the investigation that sparks the rest of the film.) However, when her guileless sister becomes caught up in Cianelli’s nefarious web, Davis decides she’s had enough, and rallies the support of her professional “sisters” (Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Rosalind Marquis, and Mayo Methot) to finally tell the truth about their situation.

As Peary notes, “We’re impressed by these women because they act bravely although they are terrified about what might happen to them; because they will be subject to humiliation in court when they’re asked about their line of work; and because they don’t stand to gain anything by testifying other than avenging Bryan’s death and freeing girls all over the city who are under Cianelli’s heavy thumb. These girls aren’t angels, they don’t have hearts of gold, but they have integrity… [and] are adament about fulfilling their mission”. The closing scene of the film — as “our five ‘heroines’ walk away into the fog, arm in arm” — emphasizes that despite the noble intentions of some “good men”, it’s “by sticking together” that “women have strength — and that’s the message they want to get out to all the faceless, exploited American women they represent”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Mary
  • George Barnes’ cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

One Response to “Marked Woman (1937)”

  1. A once-must, as a solid example of this kind of hard-boiled WB crime flick (with a rare feminist touch). It’s also notable for its generally strong direction (by Lloyd Bacon), its stylish visual look – and its feverish performances.

    Personally, I might quibble a bit with some of the early scenes in the Club Intimate: it doesn’t, at first, appear to have the tone of an exclusive hot-spot (one of the girls sings a song that’s bewilderingly depressing) and Davis and her ‘sisters’ seem oddly removed from the ‘clients’ they’re supposed to be cozy with.

    But, from that point, the film gets quickly on-track and stays there – with satisfying progressive action.

    It’s nice to see Bogart as a good guy for a change – and he and Davis play well off each other.

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