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Tag Archives: Mae West

Flick Clique: April 8-14

I’m No Angel (1933). Having some extra time to myself this week, I decided to check out some older unwatched DVDs in my (modest) collection. I’m No Angel was part of the Mae West Glamour Collection, and it is truly a star vehicle for the curvy, bawdy actress. It really strikes me just how different and weird West was, and this is no exception. In a story written by West herself, Mae plays a hootchie-cootchie dancer turned famous circus lion tamer named Tira. As she works her way up the showbiz ladder (innocently enough) she befriends many men including a horny Texan (William B. Davidson), a New York dandy (Kent Taylor), and the latter’s handsome lawyer cousin (Cary Grant). A scandal involving Taylor and Grant embroils her in a court case, but Mae being Mae she ultimately prevails with all her jewels and gowns intact. This was actually quite a funny, jazzy film with a few odd, spicy songs sung by Mae. It’s interesting to watch how she interacts with her maid and servants in this picture. While the role of Tira’s maid Libby is stereotypical as usual, the role is played in a nice, empathic way by actress Libby Taylor. There seems to be an understanding between Tira and Libby (and the other servants she eventually employs) that women need to do whatever they can to get by, preferably with a lot of sass and humor. Fascinating stuff.
The Last Command (1929). Last week’s Flick Clique included Underworld from the recent Criterion/Josef Von Sternberg silent set; this week we turned our attention to The Last Command. Although this film also stars the enigmatic Evelyn Brent, it’s best known for being one of the performances that got burly Emil Jannings awarded the first Best Actor Academy Award. I’d say Jannings deserved it – he does a nuanced, outstanding job here as a Russian general whose twisted past leads him from his motherland to Hollywood and bit parts as a hollowed-out old man. The film is slickly made and beautifully photographed in that rich way that silents achieved just before sound came in and messed things up for a while. Co-starring a young William Powell as Jannings’ adversary, Last Command benefits from several memorable set pieces, including a train wreck effectively done with detailed model work.
Nothing Sacred (1937). The other vintage comedy I watched with some extra time on my hands. The pleasant yet unexceptional Nothing Sacred follows Carole Lombard’s Hazel Flagg, a simpering small town girl who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. A second visit with her doctor (Charles Winninger) reveals that it was a false alarm. Before she can reveal the truth, however, scooping reporter Fredric March sells her on a gala tour of New York which exploits her sob-sister appeal on the city’s masses to the approval of March’s editor (Walter Connolly). Cute film, somewhat too brisk and short. As in My Man Godfrey, Lombard’s character got on my nerves but she somehow pulls it off in the end. I was going to have an embedded video here of the picture’s sweet opening credits sequence, but you can actually watch the entire film (including the opening!) on YouTube in a nice-looking print.
Salomy Jane (1914). Confusing but moderately interesting early silent is the only still-extant film from the California Motion Picture Corporation, a unique company that operated out of the state’s northern region, making ample use of the redwood forests for its production. Salomy‘s unengaging story concerns a 19th century girl (Beatriz Michelena, the first Latina film star) who rebuffs the advances of an unsavory young man. Instead, she falls for another man (the interestingly monikered House Peters) who comes to her rescue and ends up being wrongly accused in the other sap’s killing. Quaintly filmed and filled with mannered performances, this film definitely feels 88 minutes long (epic-length in 1914 terms). The scenery held our attentions, a little. This was part of a great 3-DVD set, Treasures 5: The West 1898-1938, a collection of lost/ephemeral films that explore the American West with copious notes and documentation/background info. Although Salomy might make one believe it’s full of Westerns, it’s actually a treasure trove of mostly silent documentaries, home movies, newsreels and other fun stuff. This was my “I paid way to much on taxes, but fuck it I’m getting it anyway” gift to myself.
Where Love Has Gone (1965). Trashy, expensively produced soap opera with Susan Hayward as a San Francisco sculptress who is embroiled in scandal when her sulky daughter (Joey Heatherton, terrible) is accused of killing Hayward’s boyfriend. The girl’s architect father, Mike Connors, is brought in to intervene, leading to an extended flashback to when Hayward and Connors first met and their constant disagreements with Hayward’s imperious dowager mom, Bette Davis. This has all the ingredients for a campy, fun ride, but something intangible is missing here. Perhaps it’s the script, which is full of cringeworthy dialogue that never quite reaches the amusing levels of hysteria in something similar like Portrait in Black. Unlike Lana Turner and Sandra Dee in that flick, Hayward and Heatherton have a strange lack of chemistry which drags the film down. There was also not a lot of believability in the Hayward/Davis relationship, either. Hayward herself was enjoyable enough in this watchable yet curiously unmoving soap.

Flick Clique: July 3-9

Go West, Young Man (1936) and My Little Chickadee (1940). A double dose of Mae West at Chez Scrubbles this week, courtesy of the DVD set of West flicks that I picked up at Big Lots for a fiver. It’s interesting (and kind of deflating) to see her in these two later efforts that mold the iconic, sashaying West image into a safer, Production Code-friendly image. Go West, Young Man is a agreeable trifle with West as a movie star who takes a secret trip to meet her politician beau, Lyle Talbot. Her scheming press agent Warren William sabotages the ride, however, when a stalled limo prompts the lady to stay in a small town boarding house with an oddball assortment of locals. Those locals include Alice Brady as the landlady, Elizabeth Patterson (I Love Lucy‘s Mrs. Trumbull) as a busybody, Margaret Perry as a flighty fan, and Randolph Scott as the hunky farmer who catches Mae’s eye. Cute, but rather pointless and possessing a story that, like Mae’s limo, stays firmly in one spot. Western romp My Little Chickadee hold more promise due to the teaming of Mae with her equally cartoonish co-star W. C. Fields. West plays a dishonorable lady in the old West who, fleeing her disapproving home town, agrees to a shotgun wedding to shyster Fields. The two arrive in a town terrorized by a masked bandit (who also happens to be Mae’s secret lover), wherein Fields is promptly made a stooge sheriff. This film was made at Universal after Mae’s long run at Paramount. It’s smoothly directed, colorfully cast and nicely photographed, but strangely inert and not very funny. The script was a collaboration between the two stars, although something tells me that Mae wrote the bulk and Fields improvised his own stuff as the filming went along. I was also struck by how old and haggard Mae appears here. She also looked kinda old in Go West; not surprising since she was pushing forty by the time she first appeared onscreen, in Night After Night (1932). Even in these halfhearted flicks, though, I can sense the lusty joie de vivre that made her a star.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010). Enjoyable CGI adventure, not quite up to Pixar standards. I’d say this is a cute, Bug’s Life-level film. I was impressed by the textures and the scale of the island it takes place on, along with the designs of the dragons themselves (which range from cute and puppy sized to imposing, dinosaur-like behemoths). Not so thrilling are the rote characters and the been there, done that theme of a wimpy boy trying to appease his widowed, he-man father (yawn). I will also note with rueful cynicism that this is a 3-D movie which involves lots of objects flying at the viewer, something that doesn’t translate too well to the living room.
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). I have fond memories of catching this on pay cable TV long, long ago, when the sight of bare boobies onscreen gave me a little thrill. The patchwork parody Kentucky Fried Movie is notable for being the first screen effort of David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and David Abrahams — the trio who went on to wacky heights with the Airplane! movies, Police Squad, Top Secret and so on. This is a scattershot array of TV/movie parodies, some of which (the “Appeal for the Dead” commercial with a stone-faced Henry Gibson, for example) still have a surprising bite. The chop socky Enter the Dragon ripoff “A Fistful of Yen” is a highlight, brimming with absurd sight gags and weird, clumsy performers. Another favorite segment was the parody of 1950s courtroom dramas, which includes a campy What’s My Line? gag (something I missed when I was 11). Rather crass and awfully dated, but fun all the same. This was another Big Lots cheap-o DVD find, by the way — hooray for Big Lots!
Queens (2005). Gay-themed Spanish comedy promises to be a colorful romp, winds up being merely colorful. This film stars many of the middle aged, sexy ladies from Pedro Almodovar’s films playing the middle aged, sexy mothers of six gay men who are preparing for Spain’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremony. Complications ensue when one mom (Mercedes Sampietro) is drafted to be the ceremony’s judge despite her ambivalent feelings towards her son and gayness in general. Another mom (Carmen Maura) is a high end hotel manager dealing with the labor grumblings of her staff, all the while having personality conflicts with the earthy ma (Betiana Blum) of her son’s lover. A fourth mom (Verónica Forqué, who resembles Mary McDonnell) is a nymphomaniac, while the fifth mother (Marisa Paredes of How I Met My Mother) is a famous actress with a lust for her gardener, who is also the dad of her son’s lover. It’s appealingly cast and directed with a light touch, but the sitcom-like script is too pat, and reliant on the unbelievable coincidence gambit way too often to be credible. This is to Almodovar’s stuff what Velveeta is to fine brie — skip!
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) and Legendary Sin Cities (2005). A couple of documentaries, coincidentally viewable on Netflix Instant. Valentino: The Last Emperor tracks legendary Italian fashion designer Valentino (Garavani) as he readies his 2006 couture collection amidst rumors that he will step down at the company that bears his name. We see him fussing over gowns, chatting up seamstresses, attending meetings, shepherding his pug dogs onto private planes, and discussing matters both huge and trivial with his business/life partner Giancarlo Giammetti. The film ends on a bittersweet note with Valentino stepping down as a lavish retrospective celebrating his 45-year career is mounted. Good doc, filled with eye-popping fashions. The September Issue is a more thorough peek into the fashion industry, however. Valentino is something of a petulant diva throughout; ironically, his partner Giammetti strikes me as the more interesting and articulate half of this influential pair. Legendary Sin Cities is an absorbing made-for-Canadian-TV doc that tells the story of three daring, sexually sophisticated cities of the 1920s — Paris, Berlin and Shanghai — giving an hour to each metropolis. Eye-opening stuff, and not just for the scratchy footage of topless women strutting their stuff. All the progress these places made (acceptance of homosexuality, kink, free love, etc.) came at the expense of rampant criminal activity, corruption, and horrible living conditions. I didn’t know that life in Weimar-era Germany was so economically dire that entire families took to prostitution, did you?