Life hasn’t been easy for Mary Martin (Loretta Young). Her mother died when she was very young and as a teenager, she was sent to reform school for a crime she didn’t commit. After getting out of reform school, she tries her hardest to find a job, but there aren’t any jobs to be had. When Mary’s friend Bunny (Una Merkel) introduces Mary to Leo Darcy (Ricardo Cortez) and his gang, Mary can’t resist the prospect of having food and shelter, so she gets involved with them too.
While Leo and his gang are planning a robbery at a casino one night, Mary catches the eye of lawyer Tom Mannering, Jr. (Franchot Tone) and it’s love at first sight. He knows that she’s tied up with Leo, but when the police arrive at the casino, he helps Mary escape. He brings her to his place for dinner and the have a lovely evening together. Before she leaves, she asks him to help her find a real job so she can go straight. After she goes to secretarial school, he finds her a job as a secretary in his law firm. But when they go out to eat one night, a cop recognizes Mary from the night at the casino and arrests her. She refuses to implicate Leo, so she is sent to jail.
A year later, Mary is a free woman again. Tom has since married another woman and Mary’s job prospects haven’t gotten any better. It isn’t long before she’s involved with Leo and his gang again. When Mary and Leo run into Tom and his wife at a nightclub one night, Leo becomes very jealous of Tom. Even though Mary does everything in her power to convince him that she doesn’t care about Tom anymore, Leo still wants Tom dead. He has some of his men try to do the job, but they only succeed in taking out Tom’s friend instead. Leo decides to do it himself and Mary does the only thing she can do to save Tom — kill Leo first.
I just love Midnight Mary; it’s easily one of my favorite pre-codes. And how could I not love it? Midnight Mary is one bright, shining gem of a movie. It has so many of the qualities that I love about movies from this era. Fast paced story? Check. Strong lead character? Check. Scandalous material? Check, check, and check! But above all else, Loretta Young is fabulous in it. In fact, the entire cast is wonderful with Franchot Tone, Ricardo Cortez, and Una Merkel, who are all quite perfectly cast in their respective roles. And I can’t neglect to mention the first-rate direction from William Wellman! It’s a winner in every respect.