Tag Archives: Mae West

The Heat’s On (1943)

 “Doesn’t your conscience ever bother you?”

heatThe Heat’s On (AKA Tropicana) is a sly knock at censorship and how it affects the entertainment industry. Broadway legend Fay Lawrence (Mae West) is in Indiscretions–a show that’s destined to flop–until producer Tony Ferris (William Gaxton) gets the bright idea to get some free publicity on an indecency issue. Ferris develops this idea after bumbling Hubert Bainbridge (Victor Moore) approaches Ferris and asks him to give his niece, Janey (Mary Roche) a spot in one of his shows. Ferris dismisses the idea until he discovers that Hubert Bainbridge is one of the members of the Bainbridge Foundation–an organisation devoted to ‘cleaning up’ Broadway. Ferris promises to get Janey a part if Bainbridge has the police raid the show and close it for one night.

The plan goes only too well, and the show is closed permanently. Consequently, Fay, who wasn’t thrilled with either the show or Ferris, moves on to another theatre. Ferris schemes to get her back and recoup his fortunes in another show.

Mae West was 50 years old when she made the film, and she looks wonderful. In 1943, she’d already become an icon, and this is reflected in the role. She’s mostly a problem solver, and the only sensible person on the set. The very best scene occurs when she invites Hubert Bainbridge up to her apartment and proceeds to seduce him. It’s in this scene that Mae West dances the rumba and delivers some classic comebacks.

The Heat’s On tries to be a musical–the plot is broken up with various musical numbers from segments of various shows. Mae West performs I’m a Stranger in Town. One of the acts (featuring Hubert Bainbridge) is particularly painful. Other numbers include Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, and these musical pieces are very professional. The Heat’s On is disappointing because too little of Mae West decorates the plot. More West and less of everyone else would have been a much better idea. From director Gregory Ratoff.

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She Done Him Wrong (1933)

 “There was a time I didn’t know where my next husband was coming from.”

she-done-him-wrongLady Lou (Mae West) is the diamond covered singer kept by shady saloon owner Gus Jordan (Noah Beery). Lou’s boudoir–her lair full of imported French furniture–is where she hosts an ever-rotating line of men. There’s Flynn (David Landau)–who’s so crazy about Lou, he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get her away from Gus, Serge Stanieff (Gilbert Roland)–a man who’s prepared to steal diamonds to impress Lou, and convict Chick Clark (Owen Moore)–who’s naive enough to imagine that Lou will wait for him while he’s in jail. But apart from all these competing rivals, there’s also Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) the crusading do-gooder director of the mission next door to the saloon.

Lou only cares for her diamonds, but this all changes when she becomes involved in the fate of a suicidal young woman (Rochelle Hudson). All those glittering diamonds come with a price tag, and Lou finds herself mixed up in a counterfeiting operation and a white slavery ring.

She Done Him Wrong is based on Mae West’s Broadway play, Diamond Lil, and naturally the role of Lady Lou–written by Mae West–was made for the actress. The few weaknesses in the plot are compensated by the glittering presence of Mae West, but the film lags a bit when she’s not on the stage. Mae West is in top form as Lady Lou–her suggestive wisecracks, body language, and long retinue of male admirers make no secret of the fact that this woman has a lot of men in her past. At one point, Lou visits the jail and recognizes every man she sees. She quips, “What is this–old home week?” Even though she’s physically threatened by a disappointed lover at one point, Lou (the unflappable Mae West) takes it all in stride.

Mae West performs several musical numbers:

She Done Him Wrong

A Guy What Takes His Time

Frankie and Johnny

Easy Rider

Favourite lines include:

“Mens all alike whether they’re married or single. It’s their game. I happen to be smart enough to play it their way.”

“When women go wrong, men go right after them.”

“I ain’t the sentimental kind.”

“Once I get ’em, they’re branded.”

 “Diamonds is my career.”

“Wouldn’t hurt me to add a different kind of man for the record.”

“I always did like a man in uniform, and that one fits you grand. Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.”

 “Who wants him to fall. He’s the kind you have to marry just to get rid of him.”

Classic Mae West–don’t miss it. From director Lowell Sherman.

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I’m No Angel (1933)

 “It’s not the men in your life that count. It’s the life in your men.”

no-angelIn I’m No Angel  Tira (Mae West) is a circus performer who catapults to fame with a lion tamer act on Broadway. The boldness of sticking her head in a lion’s mouth attracts the attentions of some ‘swells’, and soon Tira is racking up expensive gifts from wealthy Kirk Lawrence (Kent Taylor)–jewels, gowns from Paris, and a penthouse apartment. Lawrence’s obsession with Tira alarms both his snooty fiancee, Alicia Hatton (Gertrude Michael) and his stuffy cousin, Jack Clayton (Cary Grant). Tira makes short work of Hatton (“A better dame than you once called me a liar, and they had to sew her up in 12 places”). Clayton doesn’t quite know what to make of Tira, and soon there’s another smouldering romance.

If you are a Mae West fan, and you haven’t seen this one, grab a copy and prepare yourself for a great display of exactly what makes Mae West a unique performer. How does someone slither across the stage while barely moving? Here, she’s a maneater who leaves a line of men in her wake. Whooping it up with her maids, she brags about “thinking about putting in a filing system” to organize all the men in her life. The film includes some great touches, including Tira’s use of a particular song to impress her men (No One Loves Me Like that Dallas Man). She changes the city in the title depending on who’s she’s currently involved with.

Tira is a powerful, sexually liberated character who isn’t embarrassed to admit having a “colourful past.” She saunters and wisecracks her way across the stage in outrageous costumes (she has a sparkly spider web train the first time she meets Cary Grant). In one scene she wears a partially see-through clingy gown and gives the circus attendees a preview with a few wiggles of her hips. In the best scene in the film, she cross-examines witnesses in a breach of promise case. After a few direct questions, the witnesses–mainly previous lovers trouped into court to damage Tira’s reputation–are mincemeat.

Mae West monopolizes this comedy film–whether she’s performing “Sister Honky Tonk”, swinging her beads as she swaggers in front of the jury, or delivering her suggestive one-liners, she’s magnificent. I’m No Angel is one of Mae West’s best films, and the script (pre-code) allows her talent free reign. The film contains some memorable lines: “Never let one man worry your mind.” “Find ’em, fool ’em, and forget ’em.” “Take all you can get and give as little as possible.” “Marriage is a new kind of racket for me.” “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” This is quintessential Mae West–don’t miss it. From director Wesley Ruggles.

“With the right kind of encouragement, she’ll throw discretion to the winds, and her hips to the North, South, East and West.

“Somewhere, there’s a guy with a million waiting for a dame like me.”

“Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna hurt him. I only want to feel his muscles.”

“A better dame than you once called me a liar, and they had to sew her up in 12 different places. You’re lucky that I’m a little more refined than I used to be. And if you was as much of a lady as I am, you’d get out of here before I get real sore.”

“I don’t show my good points to strangers.”

“Oh, Beulah, peel me a grape.”

Songs:

They Call Me Sister Honky Tonk

I Found a New Way to Go to Town

I Want You, I Need You

I’m No Angel

No One Loves Me Like That Dallas Man

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My Little Chickadee (1940)

 “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

Teaming sexpot Mae West with comedian W.C. Fields results in an incongruous–but winning combination in the 1940 western film My Little Chickadee. Mae West plays Flower Belle–a woman whose behaviour is so scandalous, the residents of Little Bend put her on a train and run her out of town. W.C. Fields is the man who comes to her rescue and saves her reputation.

my-little-chickadeeFlower Belle is seen kissing the mysterious masked bandit in her bedroom late one night. This is enough for town gossip Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton) to conclude that Flower Belle is in cahoots with the robber Romeo. Mrs. Gideon and her group of outraged citizens throw Flower Belle out of town. She may return only when she is respectably married. The train leaving Little Bend takes Flower Belle to the next town–Greasewood.

On the train, Flower Belle meets trickster Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C.Fields). Twillie is smitten by the tough blonde bombshell (“who is that vision of loveliness?”), and she is rather taken with his bag full of money. Flower Belle stages a marriage using a cardsharp as a minister, and descends upon Greasewood as a married woman.

Naturally Flower Belle gathers numerous new suitors in Greasewood. Shady Saloon owner Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia) immediately makes Twillie the new sheriff (there have been 5 in the last 6 months), and Badger says that Flower Belle will make a gorgeous widow. Also pursing Flower Belle is newspaperman Wayne Carter (Dick Foran).

The greatest laughs in My Little Chickadee take place between Twillie and Flower Belle. Once the newly married pair arrives in town, Flower Belle demands the bridal suite (and gets it) while Twillie persistently tries to gain entrance to his bride’s boudoir. Mae West and W.C. Fields prove to be a splendid match for one another as she holds him at arm’s length with her saucy one-liners, and he showers her with wordy compliments. “My Little Chickadee” includes Mae West singing “Willie of the Valley” and a hilarious scene in which she takes over a classroom of rowdy schoolboys. Co-written by Mae West and W.C Fields, My Little Chickadee is a delight for fans of both these stars. From director Edward F. Cline.

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Goin’ To Town (1935)

  “Don’t think I worked in Tijuana for nothing.”

goin-to-townGoin’ to Town is one of Mae West’s funnier films. She plays Cleo Borden–a former saloon girl who strikes it rich after the death of her fiance, Buck Gonzales (Fred Kohler). Cleo takes over Buck’s cattle and oil empire with gusto, but is attracted to British oil engineer, Edward Carrington (Paul Cavanagh). She tries one trick after another to get his attention, but he says he’s not interested–confiding in a workmate that she’s “rather crude oil.” But when he leaves for business in Buenos Aires, Cleo follows in hot pursuit.

Once in Buenos Aires, Cleo sets out to impress Carrington that she’s a ‘lady’, and this results in several high society scenes at the casino and the racetrack. Cleo later moves back to the East Coast, and tries to impress the upper class snob set there.

The role of Cleo Borden permits Mae West to poke a little fun at herself. Men surround her, as usual, but while Cleo claims she wants to be a lady, she doesn’t really make a big effort, and flaunts her rough edges. She also takes her usual swagger and bad grammar to the snobby women in upper class circles. She’s asked by the snob set: “have your ancestors ever been traced?” She replies: “Yes, but they were too smart. They couldn’t catch ’em.” Pursued by a slimy Russian fortune hunter, Cleo shows that being a lady isn’t about snobby airs and listing one’s ancestors. It’s all about how you treat other people.

Mae West sings, Now I’m a Lady, and in another scene, she shoves around her opera coach right before playing Delilah and singing Mon Coeur S’Ouvre a Ta Voix for her snobby society guests. The main man, Carrington, seems a bit of a limp rag for Cleo (she’d get bored and throw him aside within the month), but the pursuit is the thing here, and she’s even ready, willing and able to lasso her man if that’s what it takes. The film includes some great snappy, saucy lines, and Mae West is at her funny, brassy best: “You’re alright to play around with, but as a husband you’d get in my hair.” From director Alexander Hall.

“I’m a good woman for a bad man.”

“Marriage…that’d be a whole new kind of racket for me.”

“Well, I’m a woman of very few words, but lots of action.”

“Judge, wherever there’s a man concerned, I always do my best.”

“I”m gonna take a shot at this lady business.”

“Dont lose your temper, or I’ll help you find it.”

“Take it easy honey, you’ll last longer.”

Songs:

He’s a Bad Man

Now I’m a Lady

Love is Love

Mon Coeur S’Oeuvre a Ta Voix

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Belle of the Nineties (1934)

 “Some of the wildest men make the best pets.”

In Belle of the Nineties, Mae West plays Ruby Carter–a singer whose romance with boxer, the Tiger Kid (Roger Pryor) ends abruptly and badly. Ruby leaves for New Orleans and begins singing in the nightclub the Sensation House owned by shady Ace Lamont (John Miljan). Lamont has his beady eyes on Ruby, but she has bigger fish to fry–a new wealthy suitor who lavishes Ruby with expensive gifts–including a stunning diamond necklace.

belle-of-the-ninetiesLamont’s in-house girlfriend, Molly Brant (Katherine DeMille) jealously watches as Ruby Carter moves into the Sensation House and Lamont begins falling all over himself trying to win Ruby’s attention. When Lamont finally gets the hint that Ruby isn’t interested in him, he plots his revenge.

Belle of the Nineties isn’t typical Mae West fare–the film contains a bittersweet edge thanks to Ruby’s painful experience with the Tiger Kid. Mae West’s character, Ruby Carter, shows a sentimental side that is absent from the typical Mae West vehicle. In Belle of the Nineties, she’s still funny–but not quite as hard-edged, and she definitely possesses a heart. Duke Ellington and his band were handpicked by West to appear as the Sensation House band, and the film offers a rich selection of Mae West songs–St Louis Woman, Scandalizing My Name, and My Old Flame. From director Leo McCarey.

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Sextette (1978)

 “How many honeymoons have you had?”

sextetteMae West was in her mid 80s when she made Sextette–a musical based on one of her many plays. Mae West–one of the greatest sex symbols in the history of cinema–plays famous actress Marlo Manners. When the film begins Marlo is in London to marry Lord Barrington (Timothy Dalton) who will be her sixth husband. After the ceremony, the lovebirds are ushered to their posh hotel for the honeymoon, and Marlo’s sneaky manager Dan Turner (Dom de Luise) makes all the final arrangements in the honeymoon suite. He fusses over the flowers and the huge ostentatious bed flown in from Hollywood for the famous coupling.

Marlo and Lord Barrington are continually pestered by her career demands. There are interviews, photo sessions, and Marlo’s ex-husbands keep trooping through the bedroom. Meanwhile elsewhere in the hotel, an international conference is taking place, and it seems that Marlo–“America’s secret weapon”–is required to work ‘undercover’ to ensure world peace.

Several roles are quite funny–Keith Moon for example plays Marlo’s dress designer. It’s an over-the top role, but fits the film’s style perfectly. Tony Curtis stars as Sexy Alexei–yet another of Marlo’s ex-husbands who recalls those “long Russian nights” with fond regret. George Hamilton and Ringo Starr star as other ex-husbands, and Alice Cooper appears as a waiter.

Whether or not you enjoy this film depends a great deal on whether or not you like Mae West. If you are a fan and have some familiarity with her film career, chances are that you will enjoy the story. If you don’t like Mae West or have no idea who she is, then you probably won’t enjoy the film. The plot is thin and quite preposterous. Here’s this 85-year-old woman entertaining a constant stream of men as they parade through her boudoir. Fans of Mae West, however, will recognise some of those immortal lines, and those infamous wiggles. There’s a sense of justice, somehow, that Mae West outlived the Hays Code of censorship, and lived long enough to deliver lines loaded with double entendre–lines that would not have survived the censor’s scrutiny in the 30, 40s, and 50s. And while it’s sad to see Mae West portray a parody of herself, ultimately THIS fan is grateful that she left yet another film for us to enjoy. From director Ken Hughes.

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