Mary Dwight works as a hostess at the Club Intime run by ruthless gangster Johnny Vanning. When one of her "clients" is murdered prosecutor David Graham questions Mary but she won't cooperate and Vanning is acquitted. When Mary's sister Betty is killed by one of Vanning's thugs she decides to spill the beans and is beaten into disfigurement. At her bedside all the hostesses agree to testify.
Bette Davis ... Mary Dwight Strauber
Humphrey Bogart ... David Graham
Lola Lane ... Dorothy 'Gabby' Marvin
Isabel Jewell ... Emmy Lou Eagan
Eduardo Ciannelli ... Johnny Vanning
Rosalind Marquis ... Florrie Liggett
Mayo Methot ... Estelle Porter
Jane Bryan ... Betty Strauber
Allen Jenkins ... Louie
John Litel ... Gordon
Ben Welden ... Charlie Delaney
Damian O'Flynn ... Ralph Krawford
Henry O'Neill ... District Attorney Arthur Sheldon
Raymond Hatton ... Vanning's Lawyer
Director: Lloyd Bacon / Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Bette Davis distinguished herself as an actress in the early 1930s--but even with an Oscar to her credit she found the films offered to her by home studio Warner Brothers increasingly weak. She decided to break her contract, fled to England, and was soon embroiled in a lawsuit that she lost. But as Davis later noted, she lost the battle but won the war: her rebellion forced Warner Brothers to take her demands seriously, and upon returning to the studio she received MARKED WOMAN.
The story was very loosely based on mob boss 'Lucky' Luciano, who was felled by the testimony of New York prostitutes who revolted against his abusive reign. By 1937 Hollywood was under the "production code," a self-censorship program; consequently the script was somewhat veiled; even so, it went quite a bit further than most other films of its time. In the process it firmly re-established Davis as both actress and star and gave Humphrey Bogart a push toward the major stardom he would achieve in the 1940s.
New York night spot Club Intime is a reasonably respectable lounge until it is taken over by mob boss Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli), who adds illegal gambling to the club's attractions and lays down harsh new rules for the "hostesses" in his employ--including Mary Dwight (Davis), who proves as tough as her new boss. But when a club patron is found dead, all the girls are caught up in the investigation, including Mary's innocent kid sister Betty (Jane Bryan.) And when Betty herself falls prey to Vanning, Mary determines to even up the score "if I have to crawl back from the grave to do it!" The script is somewhat inconsistent in the way it presents its characters, who tend to shift in unexpected ways as the film progresses, but the cast easily overrides this defect. This is particularly true of the "hostesses," which include Lola Lane, Mayo Methot (who would marry Humphrey Bogart after the film wrapped), Isabell Jewel (best recalled as Emmy Slattery in GONE WITH THE WIND), and Rosalind Marquis. Bogart is memorable as the district attorney who convinces the girls to testify; so too is Eduardo Ciannelli as mob boss Vanning. But the film belongs to Davis, and she makes the most of it.
Where most film stars worked hard to maintain a glamorous image on the screen, Davis was among the very few who was willing to "look bad" on screen. When Ciannelli slaps her across the face in a pivotal scene, there's no doubt that the slap is real, and although Mary's beating at the hands of mobsters is played off screen it is power stuff--and so to are the results of the beating. According to film lore, Davis was greatly displeased with the dainty bandages the studio gave her for post-beating scenes and went to her own doctor for more realistic ones; she also insisted on realistic make-up in her hospital scenes. Audiences of the day were shocked by the film's brutality.
While it is flawed in terms of inconsistent characters and in the necessity of bowing to censorship of the day, MARKED WOMAN is an extremely, extremely watchable film and a must for Davis fans, as well as fans of 1930s gangster drama. Recommended.
This film moves swiftly in that wonderfully fast-paced,1930s no-holds- barred Warner Bros. manner. The storyline is based on the Lucky Luciano vice lord expose of the previous season, which would have been familiar to most film-goers. Warner Bros.melodramas thrived on the kind of gritty, working class stories that were "ripped from the headlines" during the Depression years. Until the Production Code clamp-down of 1934, the girls in the film would have been shown as more clearly identifiable prostitutes. Here it's all thinly veiled. Just what IS a "clip-joint hostess," one wonders. They obviously perform other business in the upstairs rooms. But the movie never goes there. The women are shown to be strong, independent, yet exploited. Though they are bordello babes, the audience sympathy is for them. The film was made the same year as "Stage Door," and it's got some similarities. These young ladies of the evening seem like they're staying in a sorority house for hookers.
For Bogart fans, this is a rather stilted, seemingly out-of-character performance for him. It's like watching Bogie's clone--the role doesn't quite seem to fit him.
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.
Bette Davis insisted her make-up following the beating and slashing look horrific. If Joan Crawford had played this role, she might have sported a slight bruise. Here Davis is heavily bandaged--realistic and frightening.
This is an overblown melodrama but it shows Warner Bros. and Bette Davis doing what they did best--telling a fast-paced story with lots of scintillating, snappy dialogue. Jack Warner may not have been much different than Lucky Luciano in many ways, but his studio sure could churn out some gripping tales.
"Marked Woman" was banned on it's original release here in Australia then abruptly withdrawn at the last moment from it's initial television screening here in 1966. Why all the fuss? Well it's because of those female leads playing "hostesses" in a "clip joint" are obviously playing prostitutes! Shock! And in a film from 1937!
This film followed hot on the heels of the sensational and newsbreaking 1936 trial of mobster Lucky Luciano who was convicted on the evidence of the prostitutes who worked for him. This was the sort of material ("torn from the headlines") that was the staple and was very much a part of the house style of 1930's Warners - gritty, hard boiled, tough stories concerning the working person facing the depression. At the end of the opening credits there is a title card disclaiming any resemblance to persons real or otherwise in the film. This was rarely if ever stated so strongly in films of this period. Warners were obviously very conscious about being seen to be not capitalizing on such a headline event so soon after - which they were!
Simple sets abound reflecting the obsession that Warners had with economy - even the nightclub is rather plain with not too many long shots to expose too much. This nightclub over at RKO would have had a distinctly chic Art Deco look as per the trademark of that studios Art Director, and the whole production is also in stark contrast to the lavish Crawford and Shearer vehicles over at MGM.
This film is late in Davis' "early period" - one which I find fascinating with it's odd mix of narrative concerning women and crime. It is also a very interesting vehicle of Humphrey Bogart still years off from the super-stardom he found from "High Sierra" in 1941. His role is very much the reflection of the censors requirement from 1934 that the law makers be glorified and not the law breakers as was very much the case and staple of pre-1934 Warners output. His speech as District Attorney in court has an abundance of force and conviction.
Other players in the film to my mind fit like a glove. Eduardo Ciannelli is suitably creepy and sleazy as the crime boss. Lola Lane, Rosalind Marquis (both giving us two nice Warren and Dubin numbers in the nightclub), Mayo Methot (soon to be Mrs Bogart in real life in what was a very stormy union) and Isabel Jewell (the perfect little gold-digger) portray with the toughness required and as the other "marked women" trapped in a life on the wrong side of the law. Costuming reflects perfectly their "class" in spite of their lucrative profession.
"Marked Woman" also closely followed the landmark court case between a very unhappy Davis (trapped in what was very much a man's studio) and Warners over the crummy scripts she was repeatedly presented in spite of her landmark performances in "Of Human Bondage" ('34) at RKO and "The Petrified Forest" ('35). After being off the screen for almost a year she lost the case and came back humbly with the studio relieved to have their "upcoming" leading female star back in action (tempramental star Kay Francis career at Warners was winding down by this stage) and eventually giving her more meaty and suitable parts like "Marked Women" with their really coming to the party in giving her "Jezebel" in 1938.
"Jezebel" was the doorway for Davis' "mature" phase for it was the director of "Jezebel" (and subsequent vehicles "The Letter" (40) and "The Little Foxes" (41)) William Wyler was able to tame her and provide much assistance in maturing her performances. Simultaneously Warners became a outfit turning out extremely polished vehicles and one of the champions of the "Womens Picture" through the 1940's.
We are very fortunate in the Australian National Film and Sound Archive having a good 16mm copy of the film which we will be screening at our film society this year. There's nothing like seeing a film like this in it's intended environment - the big screen!
Enter a suspended state of disbelief and enjoy this entertaining and gritty melodrama from Hollywood's golden age!
# Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot fell in love during production. They were married as soon as he had divorced his second wife, Mary Philips.
# 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.
# Based on the life of gangster Lucky Luciano, who was finally imprisoned when some of the prostitutes who worked in one of his brothels, tired of the beatings and maltreatment meted out by him, informed on him to the police.