Like all Marian films it begins happily, with Jenny (Marian Marsh) arguing with her boyfriend Richard Hamilton (Donald Dillaway) over whether or not they should marry. Although she is pretty, the history of her family is unknown and she is employed as a lowly secretary at his place of work. Dick listens to her protestations, but they agree to marry.
No one is happy about this decision, especially Dick’s boss John Martin (John St. Polis) who actively tries and to break them up.
“The boy has to be saved, of course.”
He starts small, but hiring nightclub hostess and Jenny’s neighbour, Millie Sprague (silent star Betty Compson) to spy on her and tries to lure Jenny into the arms of other men to prevent her marrying Richard.
“Don’t fall for the first guy that makes a play for you, be like me… you know, look around.”
Betty and Marian
That doesn’t seem to work and the couple begin house-hunting, adamant that their futures should be together. John – or Mr Martin to Jenny – whose actions were an enigma up to this put are suddenly visible, when we are introduced to his spoilt daughter Constance (Rochelle Hudson) who also has an interest in Richard. Perhaps due to Constance or the report of Jenny’s that her past is fabricated, he fires her and vows that he will ruin her. First, he removes Dick by sending him on business to Montana.Starving, homeless and without Dick’s help, Jenny becomes ill and relies on Millie – whose is guilty about her past treatment of Jenny – to nurse her back to health. Months later, Jenny meets handsome sweet-taking gangster Joe Charney (J. Carrol Naish) at a boozy party and, with Dick’s apparent abandonment, she impulsively marries him.
“It ain’t so green as it was.” Man to his bottle of liquor
“No, she isn’t.” Millie looking at Jenny.
Millie confronts Dick
When Jenny and Joe go to talk in his office, Joe is shot and Jenny, found holding the gun, is instantly implicated. Millie goes to see Richard and tells him that he is responsible for the shooting. He pays for her defence team. Meanwhile Jenny refuses to plead guilty and is up for the death sentence. Only the truth about her past and the identity of her real father will save Jenny from the electric chair.
Marian behind bars
Having watched a couple, Marian Marsh films it’s obvious that she always plays the same character – virtuous, smart and innocent but with temptation always at her feet. In saying that, she pulls those roles off amazingly and her appearances perfectly match her traits. However, in ‘Notorious but Nice’ (1933) compared to ‘Under 18’ (1931) or ‘Beauty and the Boss’ (1932 which I will be reviewing in the next couple of days) she is not so radiant or memorable. Perhaps this is due to the strong performance of silent star Betty Compson the slightly older nightclub hostess that spy on Jenny for Mr Martin. She often takes the attention away from Marian, moves the plot forward, gets characters to meet and controls the flow of conversation. Although, she isn’t as naturally beautiful as her silent era days – the bleached hair and thick, pale makeup may be to blame – her wise-cracking, woman of the world attitude is perfect against Marian Marsh’s quiet, angel-like appearance.
The show-stopping Betty
It is a usual Precode drama filled with a plot that could have been taken from depression era newspapers. The Precode moments include poverty, gangsters, murder, alcohol, parties as well as the virtuous character and the women of the world.
I loved Marian, I loved Betty and I found the plot entertaining but there was something missing. It seemed to mirror Marian’s other movies that I loved in design and characters; however, the strong male characters were missing. In both ‘Under 18’ (1931) and ‘Beauty and the Boss’ (1932), Marian was juxtaposed by the remarkable Warren William and in ‘Svengali’ (1931), no one would call John Barrymore weak. But that’s what Joe, Dick, Millie’s ‘partner’ Tuffy Kraft (Dewey Robinson) and even Mr Martin was. I did like the film, it was modern, adult and had a great twist ending, but a strong male lead would make the movie even better.
Tuffy: “I’m kinda tired of looking at the back of your neck.”
Millie: “Tell me something I want to know and I’ll show you my face.”
Millie: “Say, you lay a hand on me and I’ll sock you so hard you shirt will run up your spin like a window shade.”
Millie: “Come on you big lug, do your thinking afterwards.”
Blink and you will miss it...