Marked Woman (1937)
Bette Davis takes center stage as a “Hostess” caught up in mob doings while Humphrey Bogart finds himself shedding his gangster persona to fight crime as a crusading district attorney for director Lloyd Bacon at the trio’s home studio, Warner Brothers.
Remembering we are now past the pre-code era, this Robert Rossen penned script plays it carefully with Bette and her gal pals. Played by Isabel Jewel, Rosalind Marquis, Lola Lane and half of the Battling Bogart’s, Mayo Methot. The five are employed as hostesses at a swank nightclub that is owned and operated by mob boss Eduardo Ciannelli. No the word hooker or prostitute is never uttered but it’s clear the five “dames” are there for the benefit of the suits who frequent the joint.
Prior to the heart of our plot kicking it into high gear Bette comes across as a strong willed woman of the night when cornered by Ciannelli who has recently taken over the nightclub. When Bette hooks a high roller (debuting Damian O’Flynn) who proves to be anything but wealthy that’s when her troubles begin. He’s passed a bad check at the illegal casino and when he confesses it to her she warns him to get out of town quick. The warning comes to late and the mobster’s hoods leave him dead in the streets.
While this is going down, Bette, welcomes her kid sister, Jane Bryan to town but is quick to cover up what she really does for a living with her roommates. Her world is to come crashing down when she and all the gals including her sister are brought in for questioning over the death of the gambler. Time to introduce Bogie as the man who wants nothing less than to see Capone like Ciannelli put away for good.
Bogie will fence with Bette until she’s ready to come clean about her involvement with the dead man and how Ciannelli can be connected to him. In the meantime he throws her in jail on suspicion of murder. Ciannelli and his slippery lawyer, John Litel, then plot how to free her and embarrass the crusading Bogie. And so they do with Bette’s help. She plays Bogie for a sucker and though it’s a setback, he’ll bide his time to get his man.
The fact that Bette’s life and profession have been splashed across the headlines has done irreparable damage to her relationship with her kid sister. When the young girl takes up an invitation from Bette’s roommate Miss Jewel to accompany her to a party the second half of our 96 minute crime drama begins. Not wanting to go any further with plot points I can only state that under tragic circumstances Bette will see the err of her ways and is set to blow the whistle on Ciannelli’s empire. That’s assuming she lives long enough to tell Bogie the facts.
As was the custom with Jack Warner’s pictures, Marked Woman was “ripped” from the headlines of the 30’s. In this case the script supposedly borrows heavily from a recent courtroom decision against Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
Bogart was not yet married to Miss Methot during the filming of Marked Woman. They’d wed the following year and according to legend would battle their way into 1945 when he’d divorce her for Lauren Bacall. While his career and legend continued it’s trajectory northwards, hers would sadly end in 1951 of acute alcoholism.
Davis and Bogie spent a good deal of time working together at Warner’s during the 1930’s. They’d already appeared in The Bad Sister (1931) which was Bette’s debut film, Three On a Match (1932), The Petrified Forest (1936) which gave Bogie his breakthrough role, Marked Woman and Kid Galahad which also hit theaters in 1937. They rounded out the decade with Bette’s classic weeper, Dark Victory, in which Bogie played a supporting role. Aside from cameos as themselves in 1943’s star studded Thank Your Lucky Stars, the pair never costarred opposite each other once the 1930’s came to an end and I might add on equal footing. Bogie was still a character/part time leading man in the 30’s while Bette had secured her place as a top flight star by this point. It’s rather unfortunate that they were never paired following Bogie’s rise to acclaim in the early 40’s.
This proved the only film that long time Warner director, Lloyd Bacon, guided Bette Davis but he’d work with Bogie a number of times. Among their titles are San Quentin, Racket Busters, Invisible Stripes and The Oklahoma Kid, both released in 1939, Brother Orchid and Bogie’s war time leading role in 1943’s Action In the North Atlantic.
The cast is rounded out by many Warner “faces” that film buffs will point to. None more popular than Allen Jenkins who makes an appearance in the girls apartment looking to sell off some hot furs and collect the money owed him from previous visits. Giant sized Ben Welden (in the mold of a Mike Mazurki) is another recognizable character player that most of us might have to look up for a name to associate with the face. Playing a thug as was his usual forte, he also appeared with Bogie and Bette in Kid Galahad and kept busy in 1937. According to the IMDB he appeared in 19 films released that year to theaters!
One more “face” that popped up was that of Henry O’Neill seen above. Another long time contract player at Warner’s. He supposedly appeared in nine films with Bogie and 11 with Pat O’Brien making him one of those that we’re sure to point to in recognition when tuning in to these Warner Brother classics of yesteryear. Marked Woman is an easy film to locate on DVD sets for Davis and Bogie if you’re on the hunt or if you’d prefer, just keep your eyes on the TCM schedule where it plays on occasion.