Ricardo Cortez

Pre-Code Essentials: Midnight Mary (1933)

Midnight Mary 1933


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.

My Thoughts

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.

Ten Cents a Dance (1931)

Ten Cents a Dance 1931Barbara O’Neill (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the best dancers in the dime dance joint she works in.  But lately, her personal life has been distracting her at work.  She’s fallen in love with her friend Eddie Miller (Monroe Owsley), but she’s also being pursued by the wealthy Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez).  Barbara does her best to keep from getting too close to Bradley, but she convinces him to give Eddie a job working at his company.  She keeps Eddie in the dark about what her real job is, but eventually he finds out and when he does, he declares that he wants to marry her and wants her to quit her job.

Eddie and Barbara are married and money is tight for them.  Things get even worse when Eddie runs into some old friends and goes to play cards with them.  He winds up losing $240 and tries to keep it a secret from Barbara.  Barbara secretly goes back to working at the dime dance joint and although Eddie often claims to be working, he’s actually off cavorting with his old friends and getting even deeper into debt.  When their lights are turned off because they can’t pay the bill, Eddie resorts to stealing $5,000 from Bradley.

Eddie admits what he’s done to Barbara and plans to leave town, but she gets him to stay by going to Bradley and borrowing the $5,000 from him, even though he was the one who was robbed in the first place.  But when Eddie finds out where she got the money, he gets extremely jealous and Barbara walks out on him and heads right into the arms of Bradley.

Ten Cents a Dance is far from being one of Barbara Stanwyck’s better pre-codes.  Even though 1931 was still very early in Stanwyck’s film career, she was already capable of giving some great performances.  After all, 1931 was the same year she made Illicit, Night Nurse, and The Miracle Woman.  But what movies like The Miracle Woman and Illicit have that Ten Cents a Dance lacks is interesting material.  Those were roles that Stanwyck could really sink her teeth into and there just isn’t a whole lot of meat to Ten Cents a Dance.  It’s not a terrible movie, just underwhelming compared to some of Stanwyck’s other work from the same year.

Midnight Mary (1933)

Midnight Mary 1933 posterLife 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.

Mandalay (1934)

Mandalay 1934 PosterWhen gunrunner Tony Evans (Ricardo Corez) leaves his girlfriend Tanya (Kay Francis) behind for a job, he leaves her in the care of his boss Nick (Warner Oland).  Nick wants her to work at his nightclub and, feeling betrayed, Tanya initially refuses to do have anything to do with Nick and his club.  But then she realizes that using her looks and working at the club might actually help her get out of there.  While working at the club, she becomes known as Spot White, notorious woman of affairs.  In fact, she’s so notorious that the police commissioner wants her to leave the country.  And she does, but not without blackmailing him for some money first.

Tanya gets on a boat headed for Mandalay and changes her name to Marjorie Lang.  Not long after getting on board, she cuts herself, which leads her to meet Dr. Gregory Burton (Lyle Talbot).  Like Marjorie, Gregory is looking to start a new life.  Gregory once killed a patient when he performed surgery while drunk, so now he wants to go to an area facing a deadly fever outbreak to make amends.  Marjorie and Gregory fall in love during the voyage, but Marjorie’s happiness is interrupted when she finds out Tony is also on board.

Tony wants to get back together with Marjorie, but she wants nothing to do with him.  But when Tony gets word that the police are after him, he fakes his own death and Marjorie is blamed for it.  But after her name is cleared, she discovers Tony is still alive and this time, she really does kill him.

Mandalay may not be anything substantial, but it is a very entertaining way to spend a little over an hour.  It’s over the top and trashy, but in the most wonderful way.  If you like Kay Francis, you’re going to love her in Mandalay.  She’s really at her pre-code best here.  And if you’re a fan of pre-codes in general, Mandalay is a must-see.  It’s got just about everything — prostitution, alcoholism, murder

Thirteen Women (1932)

When a group of sorority sisters all write to the renowned Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon) for their horoscopes, nothing good comes of it. First June Raskob (Mary Duncan) gets a letter from him saying that her sister May (Harriet Hagman) will die because of something she does.  June and May are trapeze performers and the Swami’s prediction makes June so nervous that she fails to catch May while performing a dangerous stunt. Then there’s Hazel Cousins (Peg Entwistle), who is told she will wind up in prison.  Sure enough, soon after, she murders her husband and finds herself in prison.

When Helen Frye’s (Kay Johnson) horoscope predicts that she will kill herself, she calls up her friend Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) for some reassurance.  Laura sees all of these untimely deaths as nothing more than coincidence and invites Helen to come visit.  While on the train, Helen meets Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), another one of her former classmates. But what Helen doesn’t know is that all those fatal horoscopes are actually from Ursula, not the Swami. Ursula had wanted to be part of their circle of friends, but was rejected because of her mixed-race heritage. Now that she’s working with the Swami, she’s using the horoscopes and her hypnotic powers to exact her revenge.

After Helen kills herself on the train, Laura starts taking the horoscopes more seriously.  Her horoscope predicted that her son would die of a terrible accident on his upcoming birthday. When her son is mysteriously sent a box of poisoned candy, Helen turns to Sergeant Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who quickly makes the connection between Ursula and the deaths and comes up with a plan to catch her on a train by using Laura as bait.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Thirteen Women. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it, but I was impressed by how genuinely tense and scary it was. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Myrna Loy play a villain like that before, but she was quite wonderfully sinister and I loved it. The story is a bit rushed at times.  Seriously, this movie features the fastest police investigation I have ever seen.  But for a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, it could have been a lot more rushed than it was and it’s strong enough in other ways that I have no problem forgiving the unrealistically fast investigation.  This is one movie that deserves to be seen more often.

My biggest complaint about Thirteen Women is that we barely get a chance to see Peg Entwistle. Peg Entwistle is infamous for having committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932, but she was first and foremost a very promising stage actress. Bette Davis always cited Peg’s performance as Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” as being her biggest inspiration to become an actress. Thirteen Women was the one and only film Entwistle made and if you blink, you’ll miss her. It’s too bad that now no one will ever be able to see just how talented she really was. I know I’d love to get a good look at the woman who inspired Bette Davis!

Book Vs. Movie: The Maltese Falcon

When you have more than one screen adaptation of a novel, usually one is more faithful to the novel than the other.  However, in the case of The Maltese Falcon, it has two pretty accurate adaptations.  The first version, released in 1931 and stars Ricardo Cortez, Thelma Todd, and Bebe Daniels, does a pretty good job of sticking to the source material.  However, the 1941 Humphrey Bogart version is an even more accurate representation of the book.  It doesn’t stick to the novel exactly, but most of the dialogue is taken verbatim and the key story elements are kept in tact.

Most of the differences are pretty subtle and probably were changed for the sake of pacing.  For example, in the movie Sam finds out about La Paloma after he wakes up in Gutman’s hotel room and starts looking around the room.  It’s a much more drawn out process in the book.  In the book, Sam finds out Miss O’Shaugnessy didn’t go to Effie’s apartment like she was supposed to.  Instead, she had the cab stop to get a newspaper, then she asked to be brought to the ferry building.  So Sam gets a copy of the paper in question to look for clues, but doesn’t figure it out until he starts snooping around Cairo’s room and notices that the newspaper section with ship arrivals was of particular interest to him.  Although there’s nothing wrong with the way that part plays out in the book, if it were filmed that way, it would have slowed the movie down.  Another difference is that the character of Gutman’s daughter is completely absent from the Bogart movie (as well as from the Ricardo Cortez version, for that matter), but she wasn’t exactly a vital character in the book.

A lot of the other changes were definitely made because of the production codes.  What’s interesting about that content is that neither the 1931 or the 1941 version gets it exactly right.  The 1931 version tends to be a bit more scandalous than the book was, but it does include things that were in the book that couldn’t be included in the 1941 version.  There’s no way the 1941 version could have gotten away with the scene where Spade strip searches O’Shaugnessy after noticing that $1,000 of the $10,000 Gutman promised him was missing, but it was in the 1931 version.  The 1941 version also really had to downplay the fact that Cairo and Wilmer were both supposed to be gay, the 1931 version made that much clearer.  In the book, when O’Shaugnessy finds out that Sam has been talking to Cairo and that he’s prepared to offer more money than she can, she offers to sleep with him and proceeds to spend the night at Sam’s apartment.  When it comes to that part in the 1941 version, O’Shaugessy can’t offer herself to Spade or spend the night, so Sam just kisses her instead.  As for Spade’s affair with Iva Archer, the 1941 version actually depicts what went on more accurately than the 1931 version.  The 1931 version made that affair more salacious than the book described.  First of all, the book made Iva Archer out to be a little past her prime, which Thelma Todd most certainly was not.  There also weren’t any scenes involving Iva showing up at Sam’s apartment and finding O’Shaugnessy wearing her kimono nor were there any of Miles listening on the extension while Sam and Iva set up a tryst.

I really enjoyed reading The Maltese Falcon and I think anyone who likes either movie version would, too.  Like I said, what you see in either movie version is pretty much what you get in the book.  And since it’s not a terribly long book, either, I definitely recommend reading it.  As for which movie version I prefer, I think it goes without saying that the Humphrey Bogart version wins hands down.  The Ricardo Cortez version is good, but it doesn’t have the flawless cast and direction that the Humphrey Bogart version did.  I always loved the cast of the Bogart version, but while I was reading the book and got to read exactly how each character was described, I feel like that version had some of the most perfect casting of all time.  Nobody will ever make a better Sam Spade than Humphrey Bogart.

For more Bogie, be sure to visit Forever Classics for more Humphrey Bogart Blogathon contributions.

Illicit (1931)

While many young ladies are chomping at the bit to get married, especially to a rich man, Anne Vincent (Barbara Stanwyck) isn’t one of them.  She loves Dick Ives, II (James Rennie) dearly, but really does not want to get married.  He’s repeatedly asked her to marry him, but she’s afraid getting married would ruin their relationship.  She’s seen how some of her friends’ marriages have ended up and she doesn’t want to wind up like them.  Living together out of wedlock is just fine and dandy by her.  But Dick’s family is much more conventional than she is and when word gets out about their illicit relationship, she gives into the pressure to get married.

All is going well before the wedding until Anne gets a telegram from her ex-boyfriend Price Baines (Ricardo Cortez) announcing that he’s coming to see her.  Dick doesn’t like the idea of her seeing him before the wedding, but she insists on it.  Naturally, Price is shocked to hear that she of all people is getting married and tries to talk her out of it and be with him instead.  She sticks to her guns and marries Dick.  At first, their marriage is great, but after about a year, things start to go downhill.  They never get to spend any time alone, Dick spends a lot of time traveling for work, and finally, Anne finds out Dick is having an affair with his ex-girlfriend Margie (Natalie Moorhead).

When Anne finally confronts Dick about his affair, she realizes that marriage has made her into the person she was afraid of becoming.  She decides to move back to her old apartment so they can have their freedoms again and maybe recapture the thrill of their early relationship.  They continue to see each other and it seems the plan has worked.  But one day, Price drops in on Anne unexpectedly and tries once again to win her over.  Even though she turns him down, Dick also comes over unannounced and catches them together.  He is furious and declares that he’s going to see other people, too.  He gets back together with Margie and even plans to take a to take a trip with her.  Anne is heartbroken, but just when she thinks he has left her for good, Dick surprises her.

Illicit is one of the most completely pre-code movie titles you can possibly have, and it certainly lives up to its name.  Living together out of wedlock, questioning marriage, adultery, plenty of innuendo, it doesn’t get much more pre-code than that.  Even though the idea of living together out of wedlock is not shocking at all anymore, this movie still packs a punch.  I loved Barbara Stanwyck in it, but I wish they had featured Joan Blondell more.  Joan had a small part as one of Anne’s friends, but I like seeing her with Stanwyck.  I liked them together in Night Nurse and since they’re both actresses who thrived in the pre-code era, it would have been fun if they had been teamed up more often.

The House on 56th Street (1933)

So many showgirls dream of meeting a wealthy man and giving up the stage to marry them.  But Peggy Stone (Kay Francis) is one of the few who actually sees that dream come true.  When we first meet her, she’s working as a showgirl and even though she is seeing Lyndon Fiske (John Halliday), she is also seeing Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond).  Although she’s enjoyed her time with Lyndon, Monte is the one she loves and when he proposes, she gladly accepts.  When she breaks the news to Lyndon, he appears to take it in stride.  Monte and Peggy get married, head off to Europe for their honeymoon, and when they return, they move into a home on 56th Street that Monte had built for them.  Married life is wonderful for the Van Tyles.  They couldn’t be happier and they soon welcome a daughter, Eleanor.

But that all changes one day when Peggy runs into Lyndon again by accident.  He tells Peggy that he is dying and wants to spend the rest of his time with her.  Peggy wants nothing to do with him, but eventually goes to see him one last time to say goodbye.  Not willing to take “no” for an answer, Lyndon pulls a gun out and threatens to kill himself.  Peggy tries to wrestle the gun away from him, but in the struggle, he accidentally shoots himself and dies.  Even though Peggy is innocent, she is sentenced to twenty years in prison.  In the time that she’s gone, Monte is killed in World War I and Eleanor is told that her mother died in prison.

When Peggy gets out of prison, she finds out that she’s been left $5,000, so she gets herself made over and goes on a cruise.  On the ship, she meets card sharp Bill Blaine (Ricardo Cortez) and plays poker with him one night.  Luckily for her, her father had also been a big gambler so she saw through all his tricks and managed to win.  The two of them fall in love and with their gambling skills combined, they become an unstoppable duo.  When they return to New York, Bill gets them both jobs in a new gambling house, which happens to be in the house Peggy used to live in with Monte.  Peggy earns quite a reputation for being an unbeatable blackjack dealer, but she momentarily loses her touch one night when her now grown up and married daughter Eleanor (Margaret Lindsay) comes to her table.  When the night is over, Eleanor has gambled herself $15,000 into debt.  Peggy wants the casino to let the debt go, but the owner insists and when Eleanor comes to see him the next day, she shoots him.  Not willing to put her motherly instincts aside, she tries to cover for Eleanor and offers to take the fall for it.

The House on 56th Street was an okay movie.  It’s enjoyable enough, but the story wasn’t really anything special.  The basic premise has been done before in movies like Frisco Jenny and Madame X.  But even if the story wasn’t particularly original, at least Kay Francis was pretty good in it.  But ultimately, even Kay’s performance doesn’t really save the movie.  It’s not a bad movie, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it.

Torch Singer (1933)

Torch Singer 1933 Claudette Colbert

Usually, a baby being born is a joyous occasion.  But not for Sally Trent.  Sally’s boyfriend Mike (David Manners) has left for China, unaware he had a baby on the way, leaving Sally alone, broke, and with no other choice but to give birth in a charity hospital.  She has a baby girl, also named Sally, and makes friends with Dora (Lyda Roberti), who is in the same boat as her.  Sally and Dora get an apartment together, help take care of each other’s babies, but when Dora moves out to get married, Sally is right back where she started.  She does anything she can to get money to take care of her daughter.  She even resorts to visiting Mike’s family, but they won’t help her.  Sally is left with no other choice but to put her daughter up for adoption.  She only asks the nun to make sure her baby’s name will always be Sally.

With her daughter gone, Sally becomes a popular nightclub singer under the name Mimi Benton.  Now she’s got a swanky apartment, a maid, fabulous gowns, and a boyfriend, Tony (Ricardo Cortez), who runs a radio station.  On the night a children’s’ program was set to debut at Tony’s station, Mimi happens to see the show’s star get a vicious case of stage fright.  Mimi steps in and handles the whole show like a true professional.  The sponsors love her and she’s given a contract on the spot.  The radio show becomes a huge success, even if Mimi performs it from her apartment, drink in hand.  But when she receives some fan mail from a little girl named Sally, she realizes that her daughter might be listening to her show.  So Mimi comes up with an idea for a contest where she picks a name (of course the name is Sally) and asks everyone with that name to write in with their birth dates and she would send them a doll on their birthday.  But when Mimi gets a surprise visit from Michael and she tells him she had a baby, he also wants to seek his daughter out.  Without telling Mimi, he finds their daughter and adopts her.  Mimi finds out when she gets a letter from a Sally with the right birthdate and goes to deliver the doll in person.

I loved, loved, loved Claudette Colbert in Torch Singer!  She did some of her best work ever early in the movie when Sally is completely alone and vulnerable.  There’s nothing overly dramatic about the scenes where she is putting her daughter up for adoption, the emotion is played just right.  She came off as very maternal, which is something we see again later in Since You Went Away.  But when she becomes Mimi, boy, do you believe that she’s the life of the party.  With those gowns and that presence and attitude, I wanted to go to a party with Mimi!  Lydia Roberti, Ricardo Cortez, and Mildred Washington also made for a fantastic supporting cast.

This movie really had me going up until the incredibly unbelievable ending.  It was such an incredible stretch of the imagination, especially for a movie that had so many honest and realistic scenes in it.  But I haven’t let that ending deter this movie from becoming a repeat viewer for me.  I think if it had a weaker lead actress, this would have been a rather forgettable movie, but Claudette really made it work.