Midnight Mary (1933)

There’s a marvellously misleading trailer on the DVD that makes this film look like some sort of femme fatale romance or something, which it isn’t exactly; Loretta Young isn’t really the bad girl the trailer (not to mention the opening courtroom scene) makes her look like… As this review notes, it’s kind of the MGM version of Frisco Jenny (obviously, cos MGM made it), toned down and made a bit glossier, with its female protagonist also made more obviously sympathetic. Like Jenny, she’s had hard times thrust upon her, and associates with bad people and engages in a kind of self-sacrifice to save others, but unlike Jenny she lets herself be “saved” (first by suave crook Ricardo Cortez, then by nice judge’s son Franchot Tone) rather than draw herself up. On top of which, she doesn’t have the same “whatever it takes” determination that Jenny does; the latter has no compunction about taking the path she follows to survive, whereas when Mary’s offered the opportunity to get away from the life of crime, to become a “good girl” again, she takes it (although, obviously, it doesn’t work out as perfectly as it first looks like it will). As for the respective fates of the two ladies… well, as the DVD commentary notes, quite a few critics at the time seemed to find the film terribly depressing given all the trials Mary undergoes, but surely it’s not half as grim as Frisco Jenny; Wellman frames the story as a flashback while Mary is waiting on the outcome of her murder trial, and so we know nothing bad’s really going to happen to her, this film will not have the unhappy ending the other film had the courage to go with. Maybe that’s why, in the end, Midnight Mary doesn’t seem to have the same resonance. As a final note, a somewhat ominous historical touch is provided at one point by a newspaper front page with a reference to the rising popularity of Adolf Hitler…

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