Marked Woman – directed by Michael Curtiz and Lloyd Bacon. Crime Drama. A B-girl heads up the ladies to bring down a crime lord, with the help of a stalwart D.A. 96 minutes Black and White 1937.
Was ever such assurance!
For there she stands, defying Eduardo Ciannelli the most terrifying gangster ever to appear in film. Bette Davis is just 27 when she does this and her standing her ground opposite Ciannelli is astounding.
Granted it’s just a movie.
But is it? What you see in Davis is coming from a center of absolute strength of power, and it aint fake.
What you are also seeing is that Bette Davis is a woman. We who saw her during those years, and saw the other big female stars at that time, never suspected there was any other type of female. We never thought that their disappearance in film by the ‘60’s would be absolute. There is not a single female in American films today who is a woman, with the exception of Meryl Streep. Jessica Lang? She’s a seductress. Sally Field? Great as she is, and she is, there is still a little girl in all she does. Julia Robert, Reese Witherspon, Gwyneth Paltrow? Don’t be silly. But Bette Davis – ah – a woman. Not a gal, not a chick, not a broad. A woman! As such, she stands tall with ‘30s female stars as unforgettable types of Women’s Liberation. We were grateful to them at the time, and we still are.
Davis won the Volpi Award of the Venice Film Festival for the Best Actress for this performance. Her Oscar-winning years were over, but, with it, her heyday had begun.
What had not quite begun was Davis’ creation of a peculiar film persona. Her odd enunciation emphasizing certain words. Her bitter consonants. Her deadening the ends of lines. Her nutso phrasing. How may packs a day? Her throwing herself about like a bag of potatoes. Her semaphoring arms. Her sexual seething. The raising of her vocal range to a constant pitch of peevishness. The mouth drawn down in a bow of contempt and distaste. Perhaps a certain loss of humor as she took on the position of Queen Of The Lot.
Warners, where she worked, had ridden the social conscience, gangster, and lower class film nags until Zanuck left the studio in ‘33. When Hal Wallis took over, he kept making those films, and this is one of them, but he also began to make historical biography and grand romances. And Davis was to star in the latter. Wallis did not understand Bette Davis, but he knew her box office value, and he purchased for her the big novels and plays of the day, such as In This Our Life, The Letter, The Little Foxes, All This And Heaven Too, and The Man Who Came To Dinner. This particular story was a Warner’s specialty, hot from the headlines: Lucky Luciano that year was brought down by Thomas Dewey (Humphrey Bogart) with the help of Luciano’s prostitutes. And what became of those girls? Take a look at the end of Marked Woman, and see for yourself.