Monday, July 12, 2021

Mae West Blu-rays from Kino Lorber

Source: Kino Lorber

Mae West was a force of nature. Born into a showbiz family, West seemed destined to take the industry by storm at an early age. After a successful career in vaudeville and theater, West made her film debut at the age of 40 with Night After Night (1932). West wasn't conventionally beautiful, she was older than most actresses playing romantic leads and she broke the mold of how a movie star should look and act. The fact that she became such a huge movie star seems to defy logic. But West just had this presence that drew people to her. She was confident, in tune with her sexuality and could deliver a sexual innuendo like nobody else. West was a self-made woman and when she told you she was hot stuff, you believed her. 

West wrote much of her own material and many of her movies are based on her plays, original stories and featured her special brand playful dialogue. West was such a huge star, especially in the 1930s, that she helped her home studio Paramount avoid bankruptcy. Over the years, she battled with censors and many of her films faced heavy editing. The Pre-Code era was her time to shine but she was able to carry on her special brand of sexuality into an era of increased censorship. 

Mae West starred in 12 films and 9 of them are available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Below are my reviews of 7 of them (I forgot to ask for two of them hence there only being 7). Each Blu-ray features brand new audio commentary as well as English subtitles. She Done Him Wrong has undergone a 4k restoration for the Blu-ray release.

Night After Night (1932)

directed by Archie Mayo
Starring: Mae West, George Raft, Constance Cummings, Wynne Gibson, Louis Calhern

When Night After Night (1932) came out, star George Raft joked that Mae West stole everything but the camera. West had a small role as a party gal who crashes Raft's club and while she only has a few scenes boy does she make them count. Raft plays a boxer turned club owner during Prohibition. He turns a mansion, formerly owned by Jerry (Constance Cummings) and her family, into said club. Joe is determined to obtain the one thing he doesn't have: class. West was unhappy with the scenes she was given and insisted on writing her own dialogue. This gave her the opportunity to deliver one of the best opening lines for any character ever made: "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.... Goodness had nothing to do with it, Dearie." This is a subdued little Pre-Code until West arrives and livens up the joint. She's fourth billed but she might as well have been the star. I recommend this curio for its fun little story and West's epic debut.

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

directed by Lowell Sherman
Starring: Mae West, Cary Grant, Gilbert Roland, Noah Beery

She Done Him Wrong sees Mae West in her first starring role and boy does it suit her. West is perfect for a tale set in the Gay Nineties (1890s). Hollywood loved this time period because it was a great way to show revelry in the time frame that's both recent and distant. West plays Lady Lou, a lounge club singer who has caught the eye of many men including an ex-con and a Salvation Army missionary. The latter is really Captain Cummings, an undercover Federal agent, played by Cary Grant. The two films West starred in with Grant are Pre-Code gems. Grant is at the very beginning of his career and just achingly beautiful. 

I'm No Angel (1933)

directed by Wesley Ruggles
Starring: Mae West, Cary Grant, Gregory Ratoff, Edward Arnold

In their second film together, Mae West has an even better opportunity to be seen the handsome and debonair Cary Grant. West stars as Tira, a circus performer who, of course, has caught the eye of many a suitor. Perhaps too many. When she becomes smitten with an otherwise engaged man about town, Kirk (Kent Taylor), she gets in over her head. Kirk's cousin Jack (Cary Grant) comes to the rescue only to discover he's falling in love with the glamorous Tira. It's with this film that you start seeing POC (people of color) characters pop up. They become more and more prominent in subsequent films and unfortunately that means more stereotyping. Libby Taylor plays Tira's personal maid and Hattie McDaniel has a very small role as a maid/manicurist. I'm No Angel and She Done Him Wrong pair well together and if you had to watch any Mae West films, I recommend trying these two.

Belle of the Nineties (1934)

directed by Leo McCarey
Starring: Mae West, Johnny Mack Brown, Duke Ellington, Katherine DeMille, Roger Pryor

It's back to the Gay Nineties for Mae West! She stars as Ruby Carter, a nightclub performer who flees to New Orleans to escape her prizefighter boyfriend Tiger Kid (Roger Pryor). Supporting players include Johnny Mack Brown as one of Ruby's handsome admirers and Katherine DeMille a jealous society girl. This film has a little bit of everything, musical numbers, a jewelry heist, murder, and a lot of Mae West. Belle of the Nineties was based on West's original story It Ain't No Sin, which due to censorship had to change to something more "respectable." West looks her best adorned in period clothing and dripping in jewels. The film lacks in viable leading men and from what I read George Raft turned down the role of Tiger Kid. Duke Ellington performs in one of the musical numbers.

Goin' to Town (1935)

directed by Alexander Hall
Starring: Mae West, Paul Cavanagh, Gilbert Emery, Marjorie Gateson, Tito Coral

Saloon performer Cleo Borden (Mae West) is preparing to marry a wealthy rancher when he's tragically killed in a robbery. Even though they hadn't married yet, she still inherits his estate. It doesn't matter how much money she has, Cleo can't buy status among the snobby elite. This is another example of a West film exploring the intersection between monetary wealth and social status. The story features West traveling down to Buenos Aires and agreeing to marry a degenerate gambler in order to inherit his status. She gets involved in horse racing which is where Taho, an indigenous character played by Venezuelan actor Tito Coral, comes in. I found this one to be quite enjoyable even when the storyline got a bit convoluted.

Go West Young Man (1936)

directed by Henry Hathaway 
Starring: Mae West, Randolph Scott, Warren William, Alice Brady, Lyle Talbot

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Go West Young Man has the best line-up of supporting male players of all the Mae West films I've seen thus far. West plays Mavis Arden, a much beloved movie star, is bound by her employer, A.K of Superfine Pictures, to not marry. At least until her 5 year movie contract expires. This proves to be too much for Mavis when she falls for both mayoral candidate Francis X. Harrigan (Lyle Talbot) and small town engineer Bud Norton (Randolph Scott). Warren William plays her press agent and caretaker who is constantly trying to prevent her from marrying one of her beaus. There is a fun fish-out-of-water element to this story where we see the glamorous movie star residing at a quaint boarding house in rural Pennsylvania. This is by far my favorite from the batch specifically because of the leading men. Unfortunately, it does feature Stepin Fetchit type character performed by Nick Stewart.

Klondike Annie (1936)

directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring: Mae West, Victor McLaglen, Phillip Reed, Helen Jerome Eddy, Harold Huber

Groan! Klondike Annie is one of the most cringe-inducing films I've seen from this era. It's a hot mess with how it depicts Asian stereotypes, miscegenation, religion and female purity standards. West plays Rose Carlton, a nightclub singer in San Francisco's Chinatown who is being held captive by her beau Chan Lo (depicted in yellow face by Harold Huber). In scenes cut due to censorship, Chan Lo is murdered and Rose flees to Alaska via shipping vessel to avoid criminal prosecution. Along the way she falls for the ship's captain (Victor McLaglen) and tends to dying religious missionary Sister Annie (Helen Jerome Eddy) whose identity she takes over. West essentially plays a woman of the world pretending to be a religious figure and it just doesn't work. There's a lot of "othering" here which makes it painful to watch through a contemporary vantage point. 

Also available from Kino Lorber

Every Day's a Holiday (1937)

directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Starring: Mae West, Edmund Lowe, Charles Butterworth, Charles Winninger, Lloyd Nolan, Louis Armstrong

My Little Chickadee (1940)

directed by Edward F. Cline
Starring: Mae West, W. C. Fields, Joseph Calleia, Dick Foran, Margaret Hamilton, Ruth Donnelly

Thank you to Kino Lorber Studio Classics for sending me these titles for review. 
Using the buy links helps support this site. 

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