Midnight Mary

William A. Wellman

Sog.: Anita Loos. Scen.: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola. F.: James Van Trees. M.: William S. Gray. Scgf.: Stan Rogers. Mus.: William Axt. Int.: Loretta Young (Mary), Ricardo Cortez (Leo), Franchot Tone (Tom), Andy Devine (Sam), Una Merkel (Bunny), Charles Grapewin (Clerk), Frank Conroy (procuratore distrettuale). Prod.: Lucien Hubbard per Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. 35mm

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes


Fifty-five years before John Carpenter would give Roddy Piper’s Nada a pair of truth-seeing sunglasses that allowed him to detect the real messages being displayed throughout society in They Live, Well-man would give Loretta Young’s Mary the same perceptive powers in Midnight Mary, though she would only need her luminous eyes to learn that the billboards of Broadway actually advertise society’s supreme bulletin: there aren’t any jobs.  Its one of the movie’s (and cinema’s in general) most haunting sequences, as well as its defining moment, for the message of course, but more importantly for Young’s eyes, which dominate the film, peering over magazine covers and desks, shining in prison cells, and always telling the truth, even as her body is forced to lie in the name of survival. Midnight Mary opens with a typically Wellmanian framing device and finds Mary in court and on trial for murder. As she sits in the clerk’s office (a scene with a quietly powerful turn by Charley Grapewin) and awaits her sentence, she reflects on what brought her there. A flash-back structure reminiscent in pacing and tone of Resnais’s Je t’aime, je t’aime emerges and thrusts the audience into her history. Her past sashays across the screen, the back and forth movement of the frames highlighting her character’s stagnant station in life. In writing about Wellman’s pre-code women, Michael Henry Wilson said, “The heroine is rarely the object of romantic courting. Most often, she is subject to lust, voyeurism, and the brutal advances of men”. This may be more openly apparent in films like Safe in Hell (1931) and Dangerous Paradise (1930), but Mary’s various situations are no different, her survival being defined purely by the desires of men. Here those men range from those in the jury box who will determine her fate, to Franchot Tone’s Tom and his lovable sidekick (Andy Devine, in his first of eight collaborations with Wellman), who may be kind and offer her honest work but who are nonetheless motivated by impulses of a sexual nature. The telling first look at Mary’s past shows her as a child, hugging a discarded statue found in a junkyard as she hears about her mother’s untimely death. Life (and thus the movie) goes on for Mary but she never really moves beyond that moment, that image, the camera (the eyeline of two police officers) peering over Young’s dolled down and terrified Mary, caught in a pile of unending garbage. 

Gina Telaroli 

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