Marked Woman (1937): Lloyd Bacon’s Crime Film, Starring Bette Davis (Top Billing) and Humphrey Bogart

Lloyd Bacon directed Marked Woman, a crime film starring Bette Davis, won the Venice Film Fest Best Actress kudo, and Humphrey Bogart.

The film was of Davis’ most important early pictures. Davis had recently filed a lawsuit against Warners, and though she lost the lawsuit, she got press coverage. Marked Woman was the first film upon returning to Hollywood.

Set in the underworld of Manhattan, the film tells the story of a woman who stands up to the city’s most powerful gangsters.

Despite the disclaimer that the story is fictionalized, Marked Woman is loosely based on the real-life crimefighting exploits of Thomas E. Dewey, a Manhattan District Attorney who became national celeb in the 1930s, and two-time Republican Party presidential nominee in the 1940s, due to his fight against organized crime.

Dewey indicted and convicted prominent gangsters, including Lucky Luciano, the organized crime boss. Dewey used the testimony of call girls and madames to convict Luciano of being a pimp who ran one a large prostitution rings. Humphrey Bogart’s character, David Graham, is based on Dewey.

Warner was forced to make alterations in the story, such as changing the women’s profession from prostitutes to “nightclub hostesses,” due to censorship.

Davis plays Mary Dwight Strauber, a nightclub hostess who works for notorious gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli). She meets and befriends a young man (Damian O’Flynn) who confides in her that he does not have the money to repay the gambling debt he has accrued. He feels that it’s a game, but Mary warns him that he is in real danger. Indeed, soon after, he was murdered, by Vanning’s henchman Charlie Delaney (Ben Welden).

Questioned by prosecutor David Graham (Bogart), Mary and the other women refuse to implicate Vanning. They fear his retribution, and while detesting him, they are powerless to free themselves from his influence.

Mary’s younger sister Betty (Jane Bryan), unaware of the dangerous situation, behaves recklessly against Mary’s advice. When Betty is killed, Mary agrees to testify against the gangster. Beaten by his thugs and disfigured, she becomes a “marked woman.”

Aware that they can only free themselves if they stand against the gangster, the other women also agree to testify.

Cast:
Bette Davis as Mary Dwight Strauber
Humphrey Bogart as David Graham
Lola Lane as Dorothy “Gabby” Marvin
Isabel Jewell as Emmy Lou Eagan
Mayo Methot as Estelle Porter
Eduardo Ciannelli as Johnny Vanning
Rosalind Marquis as Florrie Liggett
Jane Bryan as Betty Strauber

Trivia:

Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot met on the set of Marked Woman and were married in 1938, but the marriage didn’t last long.

Director Michael Curtiz stood in for Lloyd Bacon while he was on honeymoon.