Released in 1937 by Warner Bros., Marked Woman stars Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. This truly is an interesting movie. Marked Woman is not quite a woman’s film. It is not quite a gangster movie. It is not quite a court room drama. Marked Woman is a well made movie that combines elements from the three aforementioned genres. It was the fourth film to feature Davis and Bogart together.
Marked Woman focuses on a group of women, led by Bette Davis, who are employed at a nightclub. They work as hostesses. Their main job function is to entertain the club’s high rolling male guests. As hostesses they offer companionship to the men that frequent the club. This entails flirtatious conversation, dancing, gambling and lots of drinking. Although it is never stated, it is heavily implied that the girls may at times offer a lot more. It is the unstated and unseen that give this movie much of its appeal.
The women work for a known gangster named Johnny Vanning, portrayed by Eduardo Cianelli. Vanning has just taken over the club as the movie opens. It is apparent that the club’s employees are aware of who he is and are in fear of him. The only one that appears to not fear him is Mary Dwight Strauber, played by Bette Davis. Just after Vanning has established his new rules for the club he quickly makes a personnel decision. He causally fires one of the women, Estelle Porter, portrayed by Mayo Methot. He states that she is too old. Mary steps in and stands up for Estelle. She convinces Vanning that Estelle still has value to the club. Vanning concedes and Estelle is able to remain employed at the club. Mary may have stood up to the new boss, but her actions have put her on Vanning’s radar.
Under new management the women are prompted to encourage the male patrons to spend a lot of money. They willingly comply and the money begins rolling in. All seems to be going well until a series of unexpected events occur. One of the club’s patrons is not who he claimed to be and as a result turns up dead. Mary’s young and innocent sister, Betty Strauber, portrayed by Jane Bryan, arrives in town for an unexpected visit. Mary has been using some of the money that she earns to pay for Betty’s college tuition. Betty is unaware of the line of work that her older sister is in due to Mary lying about her profession. Mary would like to keep her profession a secret from her sister. Mary desires a better life for Betty and wants to protect her by keeping her unaware of her lifestyle. However, Mary is unsuccessful in protecting her sister from her life choices. The dead patron was last seen leaving the the club with Mary. When the police get involved things begin to unravel for Mary. A series of unfortunate events unfold which lead to an extremely violent, but mostly unseen act. The fact that this act of violence is unseen enhances the tension and drama of the film. I do not want to give away anymore of the story line. I can assure you that it is worthwhile viewing.
Bette Davis’ performance is full of high energy and melodrama. Although the movie features a small ensemble cast, Davis is clearly the film’s star. Marked Woman is a rare film for Bogart. Davis may have been the star, but the movie features Humphrey Bogart in a sizable role. Anyone reading the film’s plot and seeing Bogart’s name would assume that he portrays a gangster. That assumption would be wrong. Marked Women features Bogart on the right side of the law. Bogart portrays prosecutor David Graham who is seeking to prosecute the elusive Johnny Vanning. This role was such a departure from the parts that Bogart was typically cast in at the time. Bogart was generally cast as a gangster, a con man or a working class man. Marked Woman was an unexpected change of pace giving Bogart an opportunity to show audiences a different side of the actor. He portrays Graham as a determined but calm, cool headed character.
Overall Marked Woman is a successful movie. As far as Davis/Bogart collaborations it may be the best of the six movies that they made together. I say that in the sense that they are co-stars in the film. In most of their collaborations Bogart was clearly the lesser of the two, the exception being The Petrified Forest. Dark Victory clearly overshadows Marked Woman, and rightfully so in the sense that it is a superior movie. However Dark Victory is a Bette Davis movie that features Humphrey Bogart. Marked Woman is clearly the most collaborative of their films together. If you consider yourself a fan of both actors it is a film not to be missed.