Plot: Mary (Loretta Young) has lived a rough life, turning to prostitution as a teen and falling in with mobbed up crook Leo (Ricardo Cortez) soon after, serving as a lookout for his crimes. Despite her involvement in criminal activities, she pines for a better life and even gives some of her dishonest income to charitable causes. When she meets young lawyer Tom (Franchot Tone), things seem to look up for her, as his family is affluent and Mary is enrolled in school to learn to type. This leads to her working in the law office and at least, she has the on the level, normal life she has dreamed of. At least until Leo learns about her new leaf…

Entertainment Value: This pre-code melodrama tells the often dark tale of a young woman who struggles to survive in hard times, turning to options she would never even consider under normal circumstances. The era of pre-code cinema often uses the “good girl gone bad” routine, so the narrative isn’t all fresh here, but the story is a solid one and never fails to hold interest. The narrative unfolds in a flashback style, which I know some dislike it, as it does tend to defuse tension, but here it isn’t a concern, as it is more about the journey than the destination. The dread that builds once Mary has sorted out her life intensifies in fact, as we know from the start that things simply rarely work out for her. The pace is on point and the movie clocks in at just over 70 minutes, so it is a lean and well focused picture. While Loretta Young is perhaps a little miscast, she is still fun to watch and the movie is solid entertainment.

The cast here is impressive, led by Loretta Young and again, she seems like an odd choice for the role, but she carries enough presence to pull it off. She lacks the grit of some of her fellow stars of this era, but the script considers that and makes her a kind of fish out of water in the criminal elements. So perhaps a harder edged lead could have enhanced the material a little, but Young brings charm, charisma, and presence in spades, so I think she delivers here. Her interactions with Una Merkel illustrate the different in personas, while most of Young’s scenes with the crooked types feel a little off, but still more than passable. Franchot Tone has a prominent role here, while Merkel, Frank Conroy, Andy Devine, and Ricardo Cortez help round out the cast. William Wellman’s direction is rock solid, though the writing is sometimes a little forced, especially when it comes to the criminal element. I found Midnight Mary to be a familiar, but still more than worthwhile slice of pre-code cinema.

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