Sunday, November 25, 2012


Full disclosure: I love Virginia Mayo. Terribly underrated in my opinion, Mayo was the complete package. She could sing, dance, play the sweet girl next door one minute and the evil femme fatale the next. I first came to know the stunning long legged Mayo through the musical comedies she did with Danny Kaye such as The Kid From Brooklyn and Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But it was her femme fatale roles that I enjoyed the most. Undoubtedly, Mayo’s most famous femme fatale role was Verna, the double dealing and deadly moll to James Cagney’s psychopathic Cody Jarrett in the gangster classic White Heat. Mayo more than held her own with Cagney in that film. Also released the same year as White Heat was another film that featured Mayo as a femme fatale. Flaxy Martin.

The always lovely Virginia Mayo
Zachary Scott plays Walt Colby, a mob lawyer working in the more legitimate end of the organization. But he's getting called on more and more to get mob boss Hap Richie’s (Douglas Kennedy) goons out of jams. Having to get one of the goons off of a murder charge is the last straw for Colby. Especially when he finds out that boss Richie paid for perjured testimony from a woman who decides her testimony is worth more than she‘s already been paid. Enter Flaxy Martin (Mayo). Flaxy is Colby’s girl, a nightclub singer who looks out for her own interests above all others. She's cheating on Colby with Richie and is smooth talking Colby to continue working for Richie who gives her lots of money. And if there's one thing Flaxy loves, it's money.

Elisha Cook Jr. gets the drop on Scott and Malone in Flaxy Martin
Extra Mayo, please!
Flaxy goes to warn the woman who was paid for false testimony to keep her mouth shut and smacks her around, but Richie sends his goon to silence the witness for good. The police think Flaxy is the murderer and she needs Colby to defend her. Colby, in a dizzying display of logic and overconfidence in his own legal skills, decides that he can admit to the murder and get himself off because there's not enough evidence against him, getting both he and Flaxy off the hook. Afterwards, Colby and Flaxy will leave Richie’s employ and live happily ever after. But Flaxy has other ideas. It isn’t’ long before Colby realizes he’s been railroaded by his employer, his lover and his own arrogance. But clearing his name and getting payback against a femme fatale the likes of Flaxy Martin is a dangerous proposition. Especially when she has the mob to back her up. Armed with only his wits and a helpful Librarian (Dorothy Malone) who cooks a mean steak, Colby is determined to take down Flaxy.

Cagney's "Cody" vs. Mayo's "Verna" in 1949's White Heat

This movie is a whole lot of fun. It has some crackling good dialogue and fun banter. The often wooden Scott is great here as the fearless lawyer. Elisha Cook Jr. has lots of fun here in a variation of his role as “Wilmer“ from Maltese Falcon. Malone is also very good and adds a bit of mystery to the traditional "good girl who helps the hero for no comprehensible reason" role that she usually plays. Last but definitely not least is Mayo as the title character. 1949 was a great year for Mayo. It seems she did the bulk of her film noir roles that year with Flaxy Martin, Red Light, White Heat. She also did another favorite of mine, Colorado Territory which was Raoul Walsh’s remake of his 1941 film High Sierra with Mayo in the Ida Lupino role. I know this will sound heretical, but I prefer Colorado Territory to High Sierra.

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory
 With the possible exception of White Heat, I don't think Mayo has ever nailed the role of the "Moll" quite as perfectly as she does in Flaxy Martin. She is a wildly entertaining and sassy femme fatale. She has a very funny scene where she relays her "feelings" about Cook by playing a specific tune on the piano. The movie is chock full of funny quotables. The photography by Carl Guthrie is fantastic. Lots of dark, dank streets and alleys and a rather spectacularly shot rooftop confrontation between Scott and Cook. Its just so entertaining that Scott admitting to murder and then trying to get himself off actually seems daring rather than unbelievably idiotic. Flaxy Martin will be just one of 7 films in a "Virginia Mayo Marathon" showing on Turner Classic Movies this Friday, November 30. Don’t miss it!

1 comment:

  1. Hey I saw this movie about a year ago, it was fun.
    Got here through comic book links and found this