Marked Woman (1937) - full review!
Directed by Lloyd Bacon, and written by Abem Finkel and Robert Rossen, this above average crime drama is based on the real life story of mobster Lucky Luciano, who was eventually convicted for pandering by several prostitutes formerly within his employ. Bette Davis plays the title character (though "the mark" isn't revealed until the film is almost over), Mary Dwight Strauber, opposite Humphrey Bogart as the young ambitious District Attorney David Graham and Eduardo Ciannelli (who else?) as the mob boss and club owner Johnny Vanning. Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Rosalind Marquis, and Mayo Methot play Mary's roommates and fellow nightclub hostesses; Jane Bryan plays her younger sister Betty, a college student that Mary supports while keeping her profession a secret. Allen Jenkins appears in one scene as a "hot" (e.g. stolen) dress seller named Louie, John Litel plays Vanning’s lawyer Gordon, Henry O'Neill is the seasoned District Attorney Arthur Sheldon, and Ben Welden is Charlie Delaney, first lieutenant in Vanning’s gang; all provide their usual strong support (among others).
Singer Dorothy 'Gabby' Marvin (Lane), ambitious yet ditzy blonde Emmy Lou Eagan (Jewell), singer Florrie Liggett (Marquis), aging Estelle Porter (Methot), and "smart girl" Mary Dwight (Davis) are working in the nightclub most recently purchased by mobster Johnny Vanning (Ciannelli), who renames it "Club Intimate". He tells them that he owns all the other clubs in town too so, if they want a job, they'll have to do what he wants. Vanning is turning the club into a "clip joint", a place in which the hostesses are supposed to schmooze its male clientele in order for them to spend lots of money buying drinks etc.. The girls, who are also roommates, aren't especially happy with this new arrangement, especially Mary, but they decide to make the best of it and Emmy Lou even begins to make a play for Johnny herself. Harlan Briggs appears uncredited as one of the club's patrons. Meanwhile, a frustrated young district attorney named David Graham (Bogart) is determined to find a way to rid the city of Vanning and his brand of crime; his boss Arthur Sheldon (O'Neill) has long since given up trying.
One night, Mary is entertaining Ralph Krawford (Damian O’Flynn), who is permitted by Charlie (Welden) to sign a check for an $1,800 gambling debt and his party's large food & drink bill. On the cab ride home, however, Mary learns that Krawford was just pretending to have money for a good time. She warns him about the people who own the club and advises him to get out of town. He doesn't even have the money for the taxi, so she gives it to him and then, when he insists, she also writes her name and number on a book of matches so he can pay her back later. Later, a couple of Vanning’s gang catches up with Krawford. The next morning, Mary's younger sister Betty (Bryan) arrives at the girls’ apartment to visit. Mary is paying Betty's way through college but has told her than she and her roommates are models. Louie (Jenkins) is there at the same time showing Gabby, Emmy Lou, Florrie, and Estelle (who had just gotten in from their evening out) some stolen clothing and the girls play along with Mary. Just then, the Sheriff arrives to inform Mary that Krawford was found dead and that she, per the matchbook found, must have been the last to see him alive. All the girls are rounded up and taken down to police headquarters where Mary is identified by others in Krawford’s party as the one who was with him. She's then arrested and put in jail.
Graham tries to get Mary to help him put Vanning away, but she decides to look out for herself and refuses to cooperate until she receives a visit from a lawyer, employed by Vanning, on his adviser Gordon's (Litel) council. He tells her to pretend to play ball with Graham in order to get Vanning cleared, or else. At the trial, Mary does what she's told and Vanning "gets off" but her character is impugned, and her true "profession" (the oldest) revealed, in front of Betty, who later tells her sister that she'd be too embarrassed to go back to school now. It's not to difficult to tell what will happen next: innocent Betty gets mixed up in the club, through Emmy Lou who takes her to the club. There, she is assumed to be just another one of the "hostesses" by one of the customers, Bob Crandall (William Davidson). When she returns to the apartment, Mary is so enraged at her sister that Betty decides to return to the club, where she runs into a delighted Crandall. But when his unwanted advances upset her, she rushes up the stairs where Vanning, who's with Emmy Lou, hits her causing her to fall down the stairs to her death. Charlie covers things up.
Now, of course, Mary must return to Graham to ask for his assistance to get Vanning, but the DA is skeptical. When Vanning learns that Mary had gone to the police, he has his heavies beat her up while the other girls listen helplessly in the next room. Graham and his men raid the club. Meanwhile, Emmy Lou, who was being held by Vanning’s men because she saw Betty's fall, escapes and then visits Mary in the hospital where all the girls decide to help Graham with his case against Vanning. Before the trial, the girls notice that little Joe Dinero (Herman Marks, uncredited), from Vanning’s gang, is keeping watch over them. During the trial, Dinero is ever present. The judge is played by Pierre Watkin, uncredited. Each of the girls testify; when Mary (who's recovered remarkably from her near death beating) does, an x-shaped scar on her cheek, given earlier (off-screen) by Charlie after the beating, is revealed. Graham gives an impassioned speech about the city's crime problem, and the courage by the "hostesses" to stand up to it, to earn his conviction of Vanning. After the trial, Mary and Graham talk briefly before realizing their irreconcilable differences and going their separate ways.