Gritty gangster picture featuring two of the all-time greats of American cinema- Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart.
Although released in 1937, the film has a distinctively pre-code feel with it’s gangster theme and an undercurrent of sex and violence. Bette Davis playing true to form is an indomitable night club hostess. Humphrey Bogart plays against type as David Graham, an idealistic prosecutor on the rise wanting to nail the corrupt gangster Davis works for. The film is directed by Lloyd Bacon and was released on 10th April, 1937.
Ms Davis plays Mary Dwight a night club hostess at a clip joint owned by Vanning, a gangster who pays off the law and who rules his staff with an iron rod. Vanning is played by Eduardo Ciannelli.
When a patron pays with a phoney check he is murdered by Vanning’s cronies. Mary gets mixed-up in the murder case having been the victim’s escort. Despite being a witness for the prosecution, Mary deliberately gives testimony that helps the defence knowing that is the only way she can save her own skin.
Mary ultimately fights back against Vanning when her sister is murdered joining forces with David Graham to avenge her sister’s death. Mary faces violence in doing so being physically attacked and branded becoming the ‘marked woman’ of the film’s title. The movie has a Feminist sensibility with the night club hostesses teaming up together to fight back against Vanning.
‘Marked Woman’ is noticeable to film buffs because Mayo Methot would soon become the next Mrs Humphrey Bogart after they starred together in the film. Methot is convincing in the film as an over the hill, past her prime party gal.
Bette Davis utilizes all her considerable star-power in this film. Ms Davis imbues the character with a sexiness befitting the role. Bette Davis has a sexy cat-like walk in the film and tough sultriness.
In line with Ms Davis’ film and public persona she is referred to as a ‘smart girl’ repeatedly throughout the picture. In a show of bravado in front of her girlfriends, Mary Dwight says she is smart enough to always stay one step ahead of her criminal boss. David Graham tells her, ‘You choose to think you can get through the world by outsmarting it. Well, I’ve learned that those kind of people generally end up by outsmarting themselves.’
Bogart is Bogart in the film but in a more understated way as this is not a quintessential Bogart role. He plays a secondary role to Ms Davis. However the film will appeal to Bogart fans as it’s theme means the film sits comfortably in the Bogart canon. Although the character is less hardboiled than most of his characters, Bogart’s David Graham is a tough guy with an underlying sensitivity like most of the actor’s best-known roles.
‘Marked Woman’ is an underrated film in the gangster film genre waiting to be rediscovered by film fans. Despite being very much a film of the 30s, ‘Marked Woman’s depiction of the universal theme of power and corruption is timeless and speaks to a modern audience.