Midnight Mary (William Wellman / U.S., 1933):

"A girl’s gotta live, ain’t she?" "The jury’s still out on that." The heroine (Loretta Young) is introduced in court eyes-first, a pair of vast, half-interested peepers rising from behind a Cosmopolitan issue while the district attorney barks for the death penalty. Waiting for the verdict, her gaze drifts across the clerk’s records and her mind travels back to her lean years, a lateral structure of smoggy dissolves and sliding wipes. Unwilling shoplifter and reformatory inmate, Depression wanderer and hoodlum’s lover, yet through all of it a Corot nymphe, slangy and demure. The switcheroo from oily racketeer (Ricardo Cortez) to law-firm scion (Franchot Tone) takes place in the middle of a casino stickup ("the nicest way of leaving a party"), the decisive kiss is posed with the words "Morning America" blazing in neon through the background window. Warner Bros. coarseness dressed in MGM veils, hence the image of Andy Devine in top hat and tails warbling "Blood on a Saddle," William Wellman in sturdy command through and through. A somewhat laundered pendant to Frisco Jenny, and very much a work about looking at Young: The camera is angled high to photograph the smudged ingénue in the trash heap, entangled in her limbs as she sprawls in the backseat of a speeding car, and then head-on in the tribunal to contemplate her complicated balance of moll and lady. "Excuse me, there’s a girl over there I should have married." Cortez’s carnal grip (cf. Richard Conte in The Big Combo), Una Merkel’s tippling philosophizing, Warren Hymer’s tuxedo gag (borrowed by Pinter for The Caretaker), pre-Code gems all. The final embrace comprises a swift dolly-in and a dissipating shadow grid, not a contrived happy ending but a foreglimpse of Bresson. With Frank Conroy, Ivan Simpson, Martha Sleeper, Charley Grapewin, Halliwell Hobbes, and Robert Emmett O'Connor. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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