Midnight Mary (1933): The Mesmerizing Beauty of Loretta Young

Midnight Mary (1933) Starring Loretta YoungGuest blogger Marsha Collock writes about the exploitation classic Midnight Mary:

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 1950s 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.

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 junkyard. 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 two 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.Midnight Mary (1933) starring Loretta Young

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 works and see what a hot tamale she was!

Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of  classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films. Visit her Facebook page.

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  • Wayne P.

    Good post and great pic from the classic Pre-Hayes Code days of the Studio Age!  Its storyline reminds me somewhat of that from another melodramatic suspenser called Sadie McKee (1934) with Joan Crawford and also starring Franchot Tone too.   Their real life relationship around that time seemed to add sparks to their on-screen chemistry and I put Loretta Young in that category as well…thank you very much!  

    • Wayne P.

      Forgot to add that Clark Gable was Loretta Young’s hook-up on film and real-life ala their performances in the Call of the Wild, when talking about how the sparks fly off and on screen in the Golden Age, and how nice it was to use our imaginations and not to have everything shown and/or spelled out for us, like it is too much these days!

  • http://profiles.google.com/vp81955 Vincent Paterno

    Loretta’s centenary is this January (that’s right — she had not yet reached 21 at the time “Midnight Mary” was made) and if Turner Classic Movies has any sense of decency, it will make her its Star of the Month, just as the channel did for the centenary months of Carole Lombard (October 2008) and Jean Harlow (March 2011). Young was ethereal and a revelation in the pre-Code revival that began in the ’90s; thankfully, she got to experience some of that appreciation before she left us in August 2000.

  • Donald

    Loretta was a great beauty. Right up there with Gail Russell, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.

  • http://twitter.com/laneandrussell laneandrussell

    Loretta was gorgeous and I enjoyed this film – far from boring.

  • KenR

    ….Interesting read Marsha, will keep an eye out for this one.
    Another milestone in 1933, this time from WB was “Heros For Sale”
    Loretta and Richard Barthelmess worked well together – once again under William Wellman’s
    direction. Where is Hollywoods true social document filmaking today?
     (that is with heart and soul, not Blood lust)  

  • http://twitter.com/Mr_Sheldrake Danny Reid

    Wellman really goes all out to make this story work, and Young plays it perfectly. I didn’t remember that it was Franchot Tone as the young suitor– color me surprised! Good flick; thanks for making me want to watch it again…

  • byron1815

    There are several pre-codes like Midnight Mary, but there is something special about this one.  Loretta was a seasoned veteran but she was only about 19 at the time.  It’s a keeper at my house!

  • Bill DeLeshe

    Yes that is right about Loretta Young…I have a lot of her Pre-Code movies and she was real sexy
    in a lot of those movies….And just plain Gorgeous in others like “The Hatchet Man”…She was just plain beautiful as that Chinese Girl…Just wonderful….

  • Christinekay

    Thank you for a fascinating article – I’d never heard of this one, and it certainly sounds very intriguing. It’s illuminating to see just how racy the pre-Code films were, and how prim and proper many pictures were after the Code kicked in.  It reminds me that, in the British crime thriller of the 1950s ‘The Blue Lamp”, Dirk Bogarde mentioned that his character visited his girlfriend’s house and put his hat on the coffee table.  The production crew told him to keep it on at all times, as otherwise the audience might think they were cohabiting.  That is just taking things a bit too far for me ….

  • Tommy Kelly

    gorgeous Loretta Young in the early 1930s.  Midnight Mary is my favorite film from that period.  From 1931 to mid 1934, she was the lead in many pre-code films and a darn good actress for being just 18, 19, and 20 years old.  She was a real beauty in all of them: Employee’s Entrance, They Call It Sin, Taxi, Big Business Girl, Heroes For Sale, Hatchet Man, Grand Slam, Born To Be Bad, and many others.  I personally thought she was prettier in the early 1930s than any other time, and her hair was not long during most of that time, short, fluffy, natural and very appealing.  I’ve watched Midnight Mary many times and never tire of it.  What a lovely looking girl.   What a thrill to see this actress in films made before I was born.  I’m glad these films were not among the lost ones.