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Midnight Mary

Screening on Film
Directed by William Wellman.
With Loretta Young, Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone.
US, 1933, 35mm, black & white, 76 min.

One of a number of Wellman films centered on the scandalous survival tactics of a desperate woman, Midnight Mary stars Loretta Young in an unusual “bad girl” role. While waiting for the jury’s decision at her murder trial, she reviews her life through a series of flashbacks, which reveal that her “badness” is the result of a series of unfortunate and unfair circumstances. Filled with startlingly racy scenes, even for pre-Code, that detail Mary’s life in and out of crime and prison, Wellman’s tale is one of a woman whose existence becomes determined and defined by male desire. He describes the fine tightrope women walk, with one missed step spelling certain doom. Between Mary’s colorful gangster coterie and her charming courtship with Franchot Tone’s upper-class Tom, Wellman depicts a whirlwind world of funny antics, quick thrills and deep, dark sacrifices, encased in beautiful cinematography by James Van Trees—who elegantly crops and abstracts crucial moments—and the dynamic technique of scenes “sliding” into frame, like panels of a graphic novel.

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