A girl with a heart of ice!
Has anyone ever seen a film where Virginia Mayo is by far the lead star? There aren’t a whole lot of them so the answer may be in the negative on that one. Among those films which at least on the surface feature Mayo in the lead role is 1949’s Flaxy Martin.
Beyond the quirky name of the title character, Flaxy Martin has quite a bit to offer. As Flaxy Mayo is devilishly good, and as the film plays out we see her diabolical personality play men (and at least one woman) solely to get what she wants and needs.
Strangely Flaxy seems to be the love interest for both everyone and no one at the same time. As the film opens she’s part of crime boss Hap Ritchie’s (Douglas Kennedy) entourage and seeing Hap’s lawyer Walter Colby (Zachary Scott). Walter’s heavily engaged in getting Hap out of one legal case after another, with the usual method being either paying off a witness or creating one out of thin air.
All the while, Flaxy is working Walter like warm dough, pulling him towards marriage. After a bit more intrigue Hap decides to set up Walter with a little help from Flaxy. Seeing what’s going on but blinded by his love for Flaxy, Walter takes the rap and settles into prison life.
Almost immediately Flaxy sets her eyes on Hap himself, getting close to him and ingratiating herself with him. After seeing her on Hap’s arm, one of Walter’s friends visits him in prison and shares what Flaxy’s been up to.
Now knowing that Flaxy’s love is as fickle as the woman herself, Walter breaks out of jail and tries a life on the run. Along the way he meets and falls for Nora (Dorothy Malone). Unbelievably, Nora invites him into her home.
Against Nora’s advice, Walter leaves her and heads back to a dramatic final confrontation with Flaxy. Ultimately the finale is extremely satisfying as Flaxy once again tries to play Hap and Walter against each other, with the difference this time being that Walter gets the upper hand before a successful reunion with Nora.
The best features of Flaxy Martin is the acting of both Virginia Mayo and Zachary Scott. Though neither are household names today, they both do a bang up job here, even taking into account some of the more inconceivable parts of the script. It’s hard to imagine Walter (a lawyer) taking a fall for a clearly guilty Flaxy much less Nora welcoming a complete stranger into her home like a long lost brother.
Mayo is wonderful here in a great dastardly role and her complete absence from the middle two quarters of the film is definitely noticed. It is good to see her carry most of the load- for the portions of the film she appears in- and one wonders why she didn’t get more leading roles as a result. The material here lets her show more range than most of her other pictures.
As Mayo vanishes for the middle of the picture the camera moves to center on Zachary Scott and his path with Dorothy Malone. Malone, who blossomed later in her career, is almost completely wasted in a purely goody two shoes stock character.
Scott, on the other hand, carries the load well in spite of having Malone to play against for the most part. Sadly there are only a few scenes where we can see Mayo and Scott together, but the few there are reflect strong chemistry.
The finale works well as the Hap and Walter both work together in confronting Flaxy, surely knowing that one (or perhaps both) of them will not be walking away from the encounter. Mayo does a wonderful job in trying to play them against each other before finally realizing that finally she is the one who will be left holding the bag. This sequence is extremely well done and is the best of the film.
There’s also the usual cacophony of supporting players, all who contribute to the proceedings rather well. Best among these is Tom D’Andrea playing Sam, a mechanic. Not only is Sam the one who tips Walter off to what’s going on while he’s in prison, he also plays a key role in keeping Walter and Nora together. He and Nora are definitely the people in the film with pure consciences.
Even though Flaxy Martin is an underrated noir film, it could have been even better. In many scenes there’s no action or movement, resulting in actors just standing or sitting across from one another reciting their lines. In many cases this lasts for a few minutes until we cut to the next scene. The fault for this lies with director Richard Bare, who was primarily a featurette director.
The film shows that perhaps Bare was a bit out of his depth here. A more experienced director could have smoothed over some of these rather awkward scenes and perhaps distracted the audience a bit from some of the more questionable plot moves.
Without a doubt the strength of Flaxy Martin is the acting, as the plot bumbles just a bit too hide quite a bit of inherent flaws. That being said, the acting wins out. Virginia Mayo and Zachary Scott alone are worth the price of admission and it is great to see these two often overlooked actors (especially Scott who has faded from most everyone’s memory) in rare leading roles. Mayo is not to be missed in a rare turn as a purely diabolical witch.