Mae West

Sextette (1978)

Sextette 1978Marlo Manners (Mae West), world-renowned screen siren, has just married Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton), her sixth husband. The world adores Marlo and her marriage is making headlines all over the world. But when they check into the hotel for their honeymoon, they’re faced with endless intrusions from the media, Marlo’s manager Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise), dress fittings with her costume designer (played by Keith Moon), an entire team of athletes, and her former husbands Laslo (Ringo Starr) and Alexei (Tony Curtis). Meanwhile, Marlo has been working on her memoirs by recording scandalous tales of her many, many lovers on an audio cassette. She then tells her manager to destroy the tape, but it falls into the wrong hands and its contents could have major implications for a meeting of international delegates going on at the hotel.

Oh, Sextette. Where does one even begin with a movie that opens with the line, “Hello to you, this is Regis Philbin,” and (almost) ends with Alice Cooper singing a song at a piano while hotel maids and bellhops dance behind him? And in between, there’s a baffling list of guest stars, Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano (yes, there is Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano in this movie), and a whole lot of 80-something year old Mae West doing her typical Mae West schtick. Oh, and there’s also Timothy Dalton singing “Love Will Keep Us Together” along with Mae West.

It’s not a conventionally good movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when I bought this DVD, the clerk looked at me and said, “You do realize this is not a good movie, right?” If you can appreciate really bad movies, then Sextette is the kind of movie you could definitely have some fun with. While it is definitely a “so bad it’s good” type of movie, I’m kind of obsessed with it just because of the sheer fact that this movie even exists. Because when it comes down to it, trying to describe Sextette is kind of like describing some bizarre, star-studded fever dream.  “…And Mae West was there…and Ringo…and George Raft…and then Keith Moon showed up playing a fashion designer…oh, and Tony Curtis talked with a bad Russian accent and threw a cake out the window!”

Absolutely everything about Sextette makes it sound like such an incredibly unlikely film that the fact that somehow all of these things came together to make this movie a reality absolutely delights me.  I mean, who would have thought that Mae West, Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, Regis Philbin, Alice Cooper, George Raft, Keith Moon, and Timothy Dalton all appeared in the same movie together? That fact alone was enough to sell me on the movie. Then there’s other gloriously insane moments like Tony Curtis hamming it up so much you’ll be looking for a “Honeybaked” label on him and the fashion montage that consists of Mae West trying on dresses and saying her famous quips while Keith Moon, who plays her fashion designer, looks on. I mean, this movie just made it possible for me to write a sentence that mentions both a fashion montage and Keith Moon in the same sentence! It’s all just so incredibly unlikely that I can’t help but love it in a very odd way.

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Pre-Code Essentials: She Done Him Wrong (1933)

She Done Him Wrong Mae West Cary Grant

Plot

Saloon performer Lady Lou (Mae West) is one of the most admired women in town. Men are in love with her, women want to be friends with her. Lou loves two things — men and diamonds — and her boss Gus Jordan (Noah Beery) is happy to supply her with all the jewels she wants. But the profits from running the saloon just isn’t enough to keep up with Lou’s expensive taste, so he resorts to criminal activities to pay for Lou’s jewelry.

Gus is also running for sheriff, but his opponent Dan Flynn (David Landau) is well aware of his illegal activities and would love nothing more than to be able to expose Gus and have Lou all to himself. Gus wouldn’t be the first man to take such drastic measures to make Lou happy. Her former boyfriend Chick Clark (Owen Moore) is in prison serving time for trying to steal jewelry for Lou. She’s promised to be faithful to him while he’s in jail, but not only has she been seeing Gus, she’s also had her eyes set on Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), a local missionary.

Lou finds herself in a tough situation when all the main men in her life end up making appearances at the saloon on one fateful night.


My Thoughts

I just love Mae West and She Done Him Wrong is a an example of Mae West doing what Mae West did best. Only she could pull off writing a play where she stars as the most admired woman around and other characters spend a lot of time discussing how fabulous she is, then turn it into a movie that went on to become a Best Picture nominee. She created the perfect vehicle for herself and I’ve got to give her credit for that. Not only was she a bit of an unlikely movie star (she was 40 when She Done Him Wrong was released, quite a bit older than the average movie starlet just starting to make a splash at the box office), she truly built her career in a way that nobody else did at the time. She was in complete charge of every aspect of her career, which is something I completely respect.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

Mae West’s endless double entendres.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

No list of essential pre-codes would be complete without an appearance from the queen of the double entendre, Mae West. She Done Him Wrong is frequently cited as being one of the movies that infuriated censors to the extent that it provoked the strict enforcement of the production codes. The movie may only be 66 minutes long, but it took two years to turn Mae West’s stage hit Diamond Lil into a movie because it was such a challenge to get the bawdy content past the censors. Upon its release, it caused a huge commotion and was banned in Atlanta, Australia, Austria, and Finland. Mae West certainly wasn’t fazed by the outcry. She was later quoted as saying, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”

What’s on TCM: July 2014

Maureen O'HaraHappy July, everyone!  With summer now in full swing, TCM has plenty of great movies to watch on hot summer nights.  Maureen O’Hara is July’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Tuesday night this month.  TCM will also be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of World War I every Friday by showing some of the best WWI movies, including The Big ParadeSergeant YorkGrand Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front, just to name a few.

The night I am most looking forward to this month is July 10th.  TCM will be featuring six classic documentaries such as Salesman, Harlan County USA, and Sans Soleil. I really like documentaries and that night’s movies is a nice mix of things I’m looking forward to re-watching and ones I’ve been wanting to see.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule…

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Paramount in the 1930’s

Times were tough for just about everyone during the 1930’s, including Paramount Studios.  In the early 1930’s, Paramount was on the brink of financial disaster and with the Great Depression, audiences needed darn good reasons to spend what money they had on movie tickets.  Paramount was facing some pretty tough competition, too.  MGM had Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford;  Warner Brothers had their gangster flicks and Busby Berkley musicals.  But Paramount rose to the challenge and created some of the most definitive movies of the decade with some of the best talent in town.

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I’m No Angel (1933)

Tira (Mae West) is a circus sideshow burlesque performer, but Tira loves the finer things in life and you can’t buy diamonds and furs on a sideshow performer’s salary.  But if she can’t buy them herself, she has no issues with doing the next best thing: hopping from one rich man to another and letting them buy things for her.  In fact, she can spot a rich man from the stage while she’s performing.  Tira knows she isn’t exclusive, but Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde) seems to be under the impression that he’s Tira’s one and only boyfriend.  One night, Tira has a date with yet another rich man and all is going well until Slick shows up.  Slick hits Tira’s date over the head with a bottle, knocking him unconscious.

Slick and Tira both think he’s dead and try to get rid of the body.  He lives, but the police catch up to Slick and he is arrested.  Even though Tira did nothing wrong, she needs to get a lawyer to see that she also doesn’t wind up behind bars, too.  She doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer and the only way the boss will give her the money is to become the lion tamer in a new act and stick her head inside a lion’s mouth.  Naturally, Tira is a bit hesitant about this, but she does it anyway and the new act is a huge success.  She becomes a big star and wins over a whole new audience of wealthy men.

Among her new admirers is Kirk Lawrence.  He’s already engaged to Alicia Hatton, but just can’t resist lavishing expensive gifts upon Tira.  Eventually, Alicia comes to Tira personally to ask her to stop seeing Kirk and Tira refuses.  So then Alicia steps it up and gets Kirk’s friend Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) to talk to her and see what he can do.  Tira may not have been willing to listen to Alicia, but she’s always more receptive to a handsome man.  She gladly pushes Kirk aside in favor of Jack and even begins to do the unthinkable — think about marriage.  Just when she’s ready to walk down the aisle, her old pal Slick gets out of jail and tries to come back into her life.  He even tells Jack that he’s been seeing Tira and of course, Jack believes the worst and breaks off the engagement.  But Tira isn’t about to take this sitting down, sues him for breach of contract, and defends herself in court.  But when Slick is called to the witness stand, Tira not only manages to win her case but also wins Jack back.

Mae West movies are all about one thing and one thing only — Mae West.  So if you like Mae, then you’re bound to love I’m No Angel.  She purrs and quips and shimmies her way through the whole movie in her signature style.  Luckily for me, I do like Mae so I really got a kick out of this one.  If you’ve never seen a Mae West movie before, this is a good one to start with because this is truly her in all her glory.  But if Mae’s style isn’t your cup of tea, then you might as well sit this one out because there’s not really anything else to watch it for.  Even fans of Cary Grant might be a little disappointed since he doesn’t really have a big part, he doesn’t even come in until late in the film.  But when he does show up?  Their chemistry is awesome.

What’s on TCM: November 2011

If you’re a fan of blonde bombshells, this is the month for you!  Rather than having just one star of the month, TCM will be spotlighting two classic blondes every Monday and Wednesday this month.  All the classic blondes like Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, and Jayne Mansfield (just to name a few) will be getting their time to shine.  And in preparation for the TCM Classic Film Cruise, they’ll be playing a night of movies set on ships every Thursday.  Lots of fun stuff to look forward to, so let’s get to my picks for the month:

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She Done Him Wrong (1933)

She Done Him Wrong 1933 Mae West

Lady Lou (Mae West) is a lady more than willing to go after any man who can keep her in diamonds.  Her current man is Gus (Noah Beery), a saloon owner and candidate for Sheriff.  Lou thinks he buys her diamonds from the money he makes at the saloon, but in reality, he’s involved in counterfeiting, prostitution, and pickpocketing.  Meanwhile, Dan Flynn is also running for Sheriff and wants to expose Gus for the crook he is, be elected Sheriff, and while he’s at it, get Lou all to himself.  But Gus isn’t the only man to turn to crime to get diamonds for Lou.  Her ex-boyfriend Chick Clark is doing time in prison for stealing diamonds for Lou, and when she goes to see him, he demands that she be faithful to him while he’s serving his time.  Of course, she has no intention of this.

Not only does she have Gus and Dan after her, there’s also Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), who runs the Mission next door to the saloon.  Even if she wouldn’t be getting many diamonds from him, Lou is still very attracted to him.  When she hears the Mission will have to leave because they can’t pay the mortgage, she arranges for it to be paid just to keep him around.  Dan Flynn tips Lou off to a detective called The Hawk who’s planning to raid the club and send Gus to prison, and her along with him if she doesn’t wise up.

Meanwhile, Chick has decided that he can’t bear to be away from Lou any longer and manages to escape.  He shows up at the saloon and wants her to run away with him, but she convinces him that she’s just going to finish performing at the saloon and then she’ll join him.  Of course she has no intention of joining him, but she sends her bodyguard to bring Chick back up to her room.  While she’s performing, she signals Dan to go up to her room as well.  Chick shoots Dan and the next thing Lou knows, the police are raiding the joint.  She also finds out the infamous Hawk is none other than Captain Cummings, who had been doing undercover work in the saloon.  Cummings takes Lou away with the rest of the cast of characters, but she doesn’t go to jail.  He intends to keep her for himself.

There’s no way I could do a month of pre-code movies and not feature a Mae West movie.  Like Jean Harlow, Mae West’s persona and image were tailor-made for the pre-code era.  She was a gold digger, a mantrap, and was the queen of the double entendre.  She Done Him Wrong is Mae West at her finest: bawdy, charismatic, and covered in diamonds.

This is another of Cary Grant’s early movies.  Even though Mae West loved to take credit for discovering Cary Grant, he’d made movies like Blonde Venus and Hot Saturday before She Done Him Wrong.  It’s kind of hard to judge She Done Him Wrong as anything other than a vehicle for Mae West because that’s exactly what it was meant to be.  Everything that happens was meant just to set up a witty line or a saucy comeback from Mae.  Even though it’s great fun and it’s fantastic to see Mae West doing what she does best, I don’t think this really deserved to be a Best Picture nominee.  There were better movies to come out in 1933, but it’s still very enjoyable.