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Lady at Midnight (1948): Too Close Enough to Touch

Lady at Midnight (Sam Newfield, 1948)


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The movie poster promises melodrama. You kind of get it.

Lady at Midnight began the career of child star Lora Lee Michael, who was active in Hollywood until 1950 and played in films like The Snake Pit, Mighty Joe Young, and Tokyo Joe. It was a helluva movie with which to start a career, given that Richard Sale’s script cut uncomfortably close to Michael’s actual story. Here, Michael plays Bettina Wiggins, adopted seven years previous by Peter and Ellen Wiggins (An Affair to Remember‘s Richard Denning and Mrs. Parkington‘s Frances Rafferty). After a murder in their neighborhood, an anonymous agitator starts challenging the adoption, trying to get Bettina put back into the foster care system. Two years later, Lora Lee Michael, who was also adopted, would run away from home, charging her adoptive parents with abuse, and her birth mother attempted to regain custody. (The suit was thrown out with the stipulation that the adoptive parents would take her out of the movie business and movie back to Texas with her; this explains the abrupt end of her career, save one short she appeared in in 1954.) While the cessation of her acting career was entirely understandable given the rather disturbing conditions under which she was appearing in films (allegedly, the adoptive parents starved her in order to ensure she could continue to take small child roles), in a different world, Lora Lee Michael would have kept making movies, because she’s absolutely precious here. The relationship she develops with PI Al Garrity (The Pajama Games Ralph Dunn) is smart and funny, some of Sale’s strongest work. The rest of the movie is a pretty conventional mystery, and doesn’t quite hold up to those scenes, but those bits are so much fun they make the entire movie worth watching. Michael and Dunn have a fantastic “we’re great pals” kind of chemistry that fuels the entire piece. This has faded into obscurity over the years, but as I write this it’s available on Netflix Instant, and is well worth your time. ***

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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