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Warner Home Video presents
Marked Woman (1937)

"I got things wrong with me that all the doctors in the world can't fix."
- Mary Dwight (Bette Davis)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: June 20, 2006

Stars: Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart
Other Stars: Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Eduardo Ciannelli, Rosalind Marquis, Mayo Methot, Jane Bryan, Allen Jenkins
Director: Lloyd Bacon

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:36m:28s
Release Date: May 30, 2006
UPC: 012569753372
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-A- B

DVD Review

Marked Woman marked the dawn of the Bette Davis renaissance, and though this typical Warner gangster yarn with a feminine twist is a far cry from such classic Davis fare as Jezebel, Dark Victory, and Now, Voyager, it nevertheless began Bette's reign as queen of the lot, and gave her the type of meaty role for which she'd been clamoring for years. After breaching her contract in pursuit of worthier parts and losing a well-publicized court battle to make movies overseas, Davis returned to Warner Bros. in 1936 to eat humble pie and resume what was left of her career. The studio, however, didn't punish her as she expected; on the contrary, Warner executives admired her pluck (okay, balls), and began to realize her creative and commercial value. Marked Woman was their peace offering, and Davis appreciated the gesture, hoping similar fine roles would follow. They did.

Another in Warner's endless series of gritty, headline-grabbing features, Marked Woman tells the tale of a quintet of prostitutes (euphemistically called "hostesses" in the film) and the ruthless gangster/pimp who keeps them on a tight leash. Mary Dwight (Davis) and her tough-cookie friends work at the Club Intimate, a "clip joint" run by the notorious Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli), and it's their job to "entertain" the male "guests" and egg them on at the roulette table. When one of Mary's clients winds up murdered, Assistant District Attorney David Graham (Humphrey Bogart) hopes to convict Vanning for the crime, but Mary double-crosses him at the trial and foils his case. She changes her tune, however, when her squeaky clean kid sister, Betty (Jane Bryan), who's been safely tucked away at college, blows into town and discovers the dirty profession that's been financing her tuition. Before long, Betty gets caught in Vanning's web, which inspires Mary to sing like a canary...at great personal cost.

Based on the fall of mobster Lucky Luciano, who went up the river the previous year, Marked Woman shows how an army of seemingly insignificant cogs can bring down a big wheel. The film smartly depicts the mob mentality, especially the ruthless disregard for human life, and how fear is used to dominate and control. Mary and her friends are all too willing to play by Vanning's rules to maintain their lifestyle and remain alive, but they eventually reach their breaking point, and realize the path they've foolishly chosen leads only to a "dead" end. In the 1930s, women in gangster films were usually either molls or victims—rarely, if ever, were they heroines who stood up in a big way against the system that abused them. Marked Woman shows it ain't easy, and the reward may not be great, but it can be done, and from that standpoint, it's an important film.

Director Lloyd Bacon (42nd Street) keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but still injects plenty of artistry into the film. A few interesting camera angles and the liberal use of subjective close-ups raise Marked Woman above its quickie genre counterparts. Bacon also subtly showcases the excellent ensemble cast (led by the lovely, sullen Lola Lane and tough-monkey Mayo Methot, who would soon become Bogie's third wife), allowing us to glimpse just enough of their respective psyches to we feel like we know them. As Betty, Jane Bryan proves she can hold her own with Davis, but the promising actress would soon choose domesticity over the Hollywood hurly-burly, and retire from the screen without a peep.

In a rare good-guy role at this stage of his career, Bogart dons such a huge halo he could wear it as a belt. He certainly puts across Graham's earnestness, and creates good chemistry with Davis, but doesn't yet possess the cynical world-weariness that would later set him apart from his peers. Davis, too, is still a work in progress, having not yet learned that less is more. Obviously gunning for another Oscar, Bette ceaselessly flashes her saucer eyes and jumps off the histrionic high-dive on more than one occasion, but is always a riveting presence. She exercises admirable restraint, however, in a pivotal hospital scene, lying near death after a brutal beating. Here, she really proves her mettle as an actress, sacrificing glamour for truth, and wins both our sympathy and respect.

In her autobiography, Davis succinctly writes, "Marked Woman was a good picture." And that about says it all. Solid, socially conscious, tightly plotted, and well acted, this tough Warner yarn does its job and holds up well. End of story.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Marked Woman will soon celebrate its 70th birthday, but you'd never know it from Warner's first-rate transfer. Sure, a few sections look a little gloomy and grainy, but that's to be expected in a vintage 1930s film. For the most part, though, the image is clear and crisp, with nice contrast, rich black levels, and very good gray level variance. A few specks and scratches crop up now and then, but unless you're really looking for them, they'll pass under your radar.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono audio has been well scrubbed by Warner technicians, who have erased any annoying pops and crackles, and left us with a smooth, workmanlike track. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, the music sounds robust, and only very sensitive ears will be able to detect the slight bit of hiss that remains.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Two vintage cartoons, Porky's Hero Agency and She Was an Acrobat's Daughter
Extras Review: In addition to the film's original theatrical trailer, a few noteworthy extras round out the disc. The 12-minute featurette, Marked Woman: Ripped from the Headlines, examines the film's topical nature and how the characters mirror such real-life figures as gangster Lucky Luciano and prosecutor Thomas Dewey (who would later become New York's governor and lose a tight presidential race to incumbent Harry S. Truman in 1948). A host of film scholars also discuss the trials (literally) and tribulations of both Davis and Bogart during the mid-1930s, and how their "maverick" mentality would both aid and abet their respective film careers.

Two vintage cartoons add some welcome comedy to the disc, beginning with the black-and-white Porky's Hero Agency, an early Looney Tunes effort that sends Porky Pig back to ancient Greece to fight a gorgon, and lampoons The Three Stooges and Popeye along the way. She Was an Acrobat's Daughter was also produced in 1937, but gets the Technicolor treatment, and spoofs a typical night at the movies, care of the "Warmer Bros." studio. After a wacky newsreel and stage show, we're treated to a brief but very funny take-off of The Petrified Forest, featuring caricatures of Davis and Leslie Howard.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

It may not be as iconic as Little Caesar or The Public Enemy, but Marked Woman delivers the goods. Davis and Bogart make a tough-and-tender team in this superior Warner gangster yarn that still packs a punch seven decades after its initial release. Warner supplies an excellent transfer and customary spate of top-notch extras, both of which help this offbeat entry in The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 earn a spirited recommendation.

 


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