Marked Woman was made in 1937 and featured the wonderful Bette Davis in a gritty, less than glamorous role. The movie is all about crime, the mobster underworld and hard-bitten alluring hostesses. There's violence and cruelty to women and murder, with most of the more grueling scenes taking place behind closed doors. One can just imagine the sensors take on this movie - they were almost certainly appalled at the subject matter, which was probably quite provocative for the time.
The story pretty much centers on the racketeering at the New York Club Intimé and the group of "hostesses" who work there. Underworld huckster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Cianelli) has acquired the Club after renovations, and he wants to make sure that the girls are giving him the appropriate cut and that they are fulfilling their duties of encouraging men to spend on champagne and gamble in the secret casino hidden in the back room.
Mary Dwight Strauber (Davis) rooms with a number of hostesses who go along with the new deal, even though they know Vanning has murdered men who think they can trick the club. Mary is well aware that Vanning is up to no good, but her very life is placed on the line when a witness sees her with one of the men who was murdered.
Along with the other girls, Mary is hauled down to the DA's office and forced into a lineup. Mary then gets an offer of protection from David Graham (Humphrey Bogart), and she agrees to help, only to have her reputation as a professional party girl backfire on her - now she's got her picture in the paper, her reputation forever ruined.
There's a trial and a Mary gives a bent testimony, mainly because she's terrified of what Vanning might do to her. Things get even more complicated when Mary's innocent sister Betty (Jane Bryan) arrives in town, and not only accidentally gets pulled in on the police raid, but decides to adopt the hostess lifestyle. Disillusioned, she accompanies the least dependable and rather flighty call-girl Emmy Lou (Isabel Jewell) to one of Vanning's parties.
Perhaps the most memorable scene - and the most violent - is when poor Mary gets roughed up by one of Vanning's henchmen. Of course the director Lloyd Bacon wasn't allowed to show anything, so it all takes place in her bedroom, but this ironically gives the scene even more of an impact. Davis is really good here, not just in the one-to-one scenes with Bogart, but also when she's with her group of girls and she really manages to portray Mary's strength and fragility in the same moment. It's a very atypical role for an actress at this time.
Of course, the movie is all about the triumph of women over men who treat them badly and exploit them, and punch them out at the lightest provocation, and you can really feel the social relevance oozing off the screen - even if the full impact of it was tempered by the sensors. All these women must find their inner strength after an initial false boldness and it is only with the help of each other can they band together to eventually take these henchmen down. Mike Leonard July 06.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents "MARKED WOMAN" (1937) (96 min/B&W) -- Starring Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Eduardo Ciannelli, Rosalind Marquis, Mayo Methot & Jane Bryan, .
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Lloyd Bacon directed this tough, fast-paced film about "hostesses" in a nightclub run by a ruthless gangster. Star Bette Davis shines in the leading role, but it's cobra-like Eduardo Ciannelli who steals the film as the crime kingpin. A sleek, urbane actor, Ciannelli was a doctor before turning to the stage. He made his film debut in the previous year's Winterset, and would go along to become a top movie villain for the next several decades. Ciannelli had about him an air of refined cruelty that made him compelling to watch. Unlike Davis, his is a name that never became well-known.
Dedicated to realism, Bette Davis left the set when the makeup department outfitted her with dainty bandages for the hospital scene following the physical attack on her character by mobsters. She drove to her own doctor and instructed him to bandage her as he would a badly beaten woman. Returning to the set, she declared, "You shoot me this way, or not at all!" They did.
This film also shows wonderful examples of the Art Deco style in the Club Intime nightclub sequences. The design is lustrous. Hollywood Deco always signified glamor, modernity, and sexual liberation.
This film also has an up-and-coming actor by the name of Humphrey Bogart along with his soon-to-be-real-life-wife Mayo Methot. Get a load of some of the other female names in the cast: Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell and Rosalind Marquis - all "marked" women!
Special footnote -- Screenwriters Rossen and Finkel capitalized on a sensational trial reported by the "New York Times" between May 14 and June 22, 1936 according to film historian Charles Eckert. Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey was the prosecutor and Charles "Lucky Luciano" Lucania his target. Dewey went on to become New York governor and a two-time Presidential candidate while Luciano went on to organize Dannemora, the New York dock workers, and the international drug trade. The women whose testimony led to a conviction left the House of Detention and were sent to Dewey's offices in the Woolworth Building, where they received sums ranging between $150 and $175 dollars, barely a half week's wages that they earned as prostitutes. Then, according to Eckert they "disappeared, as they do in the film, into the fog."
BIOS: 1. Lloyd Bacon [aka: Lloyd Francis Bacon] Date of Birth: 4 December 1889 - San Jose, California Date of Death: 15 November 1955 - Burbank, California
2. Bette Davis [aka: Ruth Elizabeth Davis] Date of Birth: 5 April 1908 - Lowell, Massachusetts Date of Death: 6 October 1989 - Neuilly, France
3. Humphrey Bogart Date of Birth: 25 December 1899 - New York City, New York Date of Death: 14 January 1957 - Los Angeles, California
Mr. Jim's Ratings: Quality of Picture & Sound: 4 Stars Performance: 4 Stars Story & Screenplay: 4 Stars Overall: 4 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 96 min on DVD ~ Warner Bros. Pictures ~ (05/30/2006)
Marked Woman is directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by Robert Rossen and Abem Finkel. It stars Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Mayo Methot and Eduardo Ciannelli. Music is collectively arranged by Bernhard Kaun, Heinz Roemheld and David Raksin, and cinematography by George Barnes.
In spite of the film’s disclaimer put out at the pic’s beginning, Marked Woman is an adaptation of the real life case of Lucky Luciano, who the previous year was found guilty of compulsory prostitution after sterling work by U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Dewey. Ciannelli plays Luciano as Johnny Vanning, Bogart plays Dewey as David Graham and Davis is “madame” Cokey Flo Brown as Mary Dwight Strauber.
Unsurprisingly for the time it was made, Marked Woman is a distinctly sanitised version of events, full of euphemisms and hinted at unlawfulness, with the beatings et al off camera. However, it still packs a punch, both in narrative thrust as the underworld shenanigans are brought to life, and as an acting curio to see the young Davis and Bogart bouncing off each other before their respective stars were about to be ignited with petroleum.
Interesting aspect of the picture is that it is in essence a gangster movie, with a good guy/bad guy scenario at the core, yet it’s the women who rightly dominate the story. The girls are held up as bastions of hardship and heroism, and it gives the production a riveting edge, as well as some much needed glamour in amongst the sordid machinations.
Well acted, well told and well interesting. 7.5/10
There is only one actress that can play this role with conviction and the film industry were bang on to allow Bette Davis to play the part. Brilliant performances from the other characters in the film as well. I believe this is one of Bette's best film roles to date. Humphrey Bogart didn't do a bad job either. Wonderful film! Highly recommended!!!