Marked Woman (1937)

Marked Woman (1937)


A tenacious district attorney (Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) tries to convince a clip joint “hostess” (Bette Davis) to testify against her boss, a notorious kingpin (Eduardo Ciannelli, Passage to Marseille). At first, the “hostess” refuses, but when her kid sister (Jane Bryan, The Old Maid) disappears under mysterious circumstances, she decides to help the D.A.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I’ll get you, even if I have to crawl back from the grave to do it!”

Fast-paced, no-holds-barred Warner Bros. melodrama, splendidly directed by Lloyd Bacon (42nd Street and Footsteps in the Dark). Marked Woman is based on gangster “Lucky” Luciano’s sensational 1936 trial. The screenplay by Robert Rossen (All the King’s Men and The Hustler) and Abem Finkel toys with facts, but the film remains a persuasive and powerful indictment of the unforgiving world of crime.

Marked Woman has been the subject of much analysis because it is perhaps the only gangster movie from Hollywood’s Golden Era that is told from the perspective of female characters and that alone makes it interesting.

Most of the film’s accolades have rightly gone to Bette Davis, who gives a terrific performance as the tough-as-nails “hostess” (aka prostitute). Granted, Davis is a tad too poised and articulate to be completely believable as a common hooker, but she infuses her character with hypnotic energy. Years later, film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “As the smart, lively young clip joint hostess who turns informer, Davis is the embodiment of the sensational side of the ’30s movies.” I couldn’t have said better.

Marked Woman is also known in some circles as the movie that began Davis’s “golden period” at Warners. She was genuinely shocked that she was given such a juicy part after battling the film studio in court — it’s a fabulous role that Davis plays to perfection.

There is a particularly great scene where Davis is interrogated by the D.A., played by Humphrey Bogart. Speaking of Bogie, he is very good as an uncharacteristically super-decent guy — Bogie’s case summary is impressive too. In addition, cinematographer George Barnes (Rebecca) gives the film a quasi-noirish feel to it. The film’s final shot, which I don’t want to spoil, is justly legendary.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Marked Woman is a key film in both gangster and women’s picture canons. It’s a great thriller movie: One of Warners’ most enjoyable crime movies. The cast also includes Mayo Methot (soon-to-be Mrs. Humphrey Bogart), Henry O’Neill (Jezebel), Allen Jenkins (Dead End) and Lola Lane (Four Daughters). B&W, 97 minutes, Not Rated.

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