Directed by Monta Bell, who deserves to be remembered alongside Von Stroheim and other directorial giants of the era, the picture stars Bell’s favorite actress, Norma Shearer, in a dual role. She plays a
rich girl, Florence, and a poor girl named Molly, a gangster’s moll.
Having the same actress play both roles is the brilliant touch. The women, of course, look alike, yet no one in the film notices. In the eyes of the world they’re totally different people. The audience, however, sees them as through the eyes of an omniscient observer — recognizing plainly that these women are, essentially, the same.
Humanity, social concern and a deep sensitivity — spiked with wit and a total command of visual storytelling — are the characteristics of Bell’s style. Early in the film Molly gets out of reform school and, in a cold, beautifully stark close-up, checks her reflection in the window of a horse-drawn carriage. When the carriage pulls away, we see that it’s a hearse.
Bell creates an elliptical, dream-like landscape, in which almost everyone pursues a vision that can’t be realized — and everyone wishes he or she were something more. In “Lady of the Night” people look in the mirror and search their reflection hoping to find someone else there.
San Francisco Chronicle