“This pearl of pearls is getting unstrung.”
In Klondike Annie, Mae West plays Rose Carlton–the notorious mistress of Chan Lo (Harold Huber), the Chinese owner of a casino. He claims that Rose–also known as the San Francisco Doll is his greatest treasure–his “pearl of pearls.” She says she’s “tired of being showed off” like one of his other “curios.” Chan Lo’s suffocating jealousy is just an excuse for locking Rose up and forbidding her to have any male friends. Fed up with Chan Lo controlling her life, Rose escapes and runs off–taking the next ship to the gold fields of Alaska.
Aboard the ship, Rose becomes the love interest of Captain Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen). Evangelist Sister Annie Alden (Helen Jerome Eddy) joins the voyage, but soon dies in spite of Rose’s attempts to nurse her. With the police in hot pursuit, Rose assumes Annie’s identity, and takes her place in the religious community in the raw, rough town of Nome.
If you are interested in seeing exactly what the enforcement of the Hays Code of censorship did to the career of Mae West, then watch I’m No Angel followed by Klondike Annie. Klondike Annie was released after the code enforcement was in place, and this effectively muzzled the platinum blonde sex goddess. Her trademark swagger and suggestive wisecracks all but disappear. In several scenes, other characters address Rose, and instead of her usual double entendre replies, she smiles or offers limp platitudes. Just compare I’m No Angel with Klondike Annie–the difference is amazing.
The first half hour of the film is the best part. Mae West (one of my all-time favourites) as the San Francisco Doll singing I’m an Occidental Woman in an Oriental Mood For Love is priceless. In Chan Lo’s den of iniquity, she’s in her element–lavish, outrageous costumes, living in sin, and nonplussed by the silliness of men, but once in Alaska, she turns all mushy and even sinks into the helpless little woman role in a few scenes. It’s a sad thing indeed to witness the weight of censorship clip the saucy strength, savage wit, and sultry persona of this incomparable sex goddess. From director Raoul Walsh.