Midnight Lady, The (1932)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Batcheller, Chesterfield Dir: Richard Thorpe Scr: Edward T. Lowe Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Sarah Padden, John Darrow, Claudia Dell, Theodor von Eltz, Lina Basquette, Montagu Love, Lucy Beaumont, Donald Keith.

Not really a protonoir, but decidedly part of film noir’s ancestry. Young lawyer Bert (Darrow) is befriended by speakeasy-owner-with-a-heart-of-gold Nita St. George (Padden). He’s unofficially engaged to ditzy Jean Austin (Dell), who’s playing around behind his back—and in front of his face—with artist, bootlegger and complete cad Byron Crosby (von Eltz). Crosby is murdered in his apartment by vengeful mistress Mona Sebastian (Basquette); Nita arrives shortly afterwards, finds Jean there, and assumes she’s the killer. When a trio of Crosby’s friends turns up they discover Nita standing over the corpse. Despite Bert’s best efforts in court, Nita gets a long jail sentence for manslaughter.

Since the early minutes of the movie we’ve known that Nita is the mother of both Jean and Jean’s wimpish brother Don (Keith); for reasons largely unspecified she had to desert them in their infancy, leaving them to be brought up by stuffy martinet Harvey Austin (Love) and his truly toxic mother (Beaumont).

Of course, Bert’s instrumental in pinning the real killer and gaining Nita’s release. Where he’s less successful is in recognizing that Jean, who let someone she knew was innocent be convicted and sent to jail, is pretty much a toad: Nita’s worth at least ten of her. When airhead Jean comes out with the line “Et pluribus unum . . . that means ‘one of many'”, it more or less sums up her character.

Padden delivers as always, as does Darrow; a few years after this movie the latter gave up acting and became a talent scout. According to Hollywood legend (and it may very well be true), ex-showgirl Dell—more starlet than star—was the inspiration for the “Liberty” figure in the Columbia logo.

On Amazon.com: Midnight Lady

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