Mary Martin (Loretta Young) just can’t get a break in life. She was orphaned as a child and spent time in reform school for a crime she didn’t commit. When she get out, she tries to get her life back on track, but there aren’t any jobs and she ends up getting mixed up with a bunch of gangsters led by Leo Darcy (Ricardo Cortez). She helps him out with their robberies and while they’re planning to rob a casino one night, she catches the eye of Tom Mannering (Franchot Tone). He helps her escape when the police arrive at the casino and they have a wonderful evening together. She tells him that she wants to be on the straight and narrow and he helps send her to secretarial school and gets her a job working at his law firm. Their romance comes to a screeching halt when her criminal past catches up with her and she ends up being sent to jail.
By the time Mary is released, Tom has married another woman, finding a job hasn’t gotten any easier, and it isn’t long before she’s mixed up with Leo’s gang again. When Mary happens to run into Tom one night, Leo becomes extremely jealous and plans to kill him to get rid of the competition. But Mary will stop at nothing to protect Tom and kills Leo before he can get to Tom.
Midnight Mary is a truly first-rate pre-code drama. Mary is such a wonderful character and Loretta Young has an absolute field day with the role. Loretta Young was one of the great actresses of the pre-code era and this is my favorite of her pre-codes. Fast paced and gritty enough to consistently make me forget that this was an MGM movie, not a Warner Brothers. Is it melodramatic? Absolutely, but it’s high quality melodrama.
The Definitive Pre-Code Moment
When Tom brings Mary back home and definitely has one thing on his mind.
Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code
The pre-code era loved movies about fallen women and Mary is one of the women who falls the hardest. Being able to take a good girl and drag her into a deeply sordid world, but still give her hope for a happy ending is pre-code gold. For another great fallen woman story, don’t miss Clara Bow in Call Her Savage.