If ever there was a study conducted on the effects the Hays Code had on a flourishing Hollywood career they would need to go no further than Mae West to see a classic example of it's influence in action. At the time the censors began coming down the heavy on Hollywood for it's supposedly "loose" approach to morals and sexuality, Mae West was one of Hollywood's most glowing stars who made a speciality of sexually suggestive comedy that actually said little but implied lots in the eager movie goers minds. She had huge successes with pre code efforts such as "She Done Him Wrong", and "I'm No Angel", but by the time she got to film "Goin' to Town" (1935) and in particular this effort "Klondike Annie" (1936), she was sadly loosing the battle with the censors to get all her "risque" material on screen. "Klondike Annie", while a good story with high production values clearly shows the effects of stronger censorship that succeeded in blunting alot of Mae's unique comedy delivery.
Mae West wrote most of the script for "Klondike Annie", herself and she plays Rose Carlton-The Frisco Doll who as the story begins is a night club performer in San Francisco in the gay nineties. Being kept both financially and emotionally by her Chinese Lover Chan Lo (Harold Huber) Rose is feeling literally imprisoned in the gilded life she is forced to lead where she is watched and threatened by her lover if she looks at another man. Hatching her escape on a boat bound for the Klondike Rose in self defense kills Chan Lo and then finds herself on the lam from the authorities even though it was self defence. Boarding the boat she makes the acquaintance of the rough but good natured Captain Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen in a great performance). The two begin a shipboard liasion and along the way pick up another passenger in Seattle, Sister Annie Alden who is going to the Klondike to work as a missionary . Rose and Annie strike up an unlikely friendship and when Annie falls ill on board Rose nurses her until she dies. Just as this occurs the ship is searched by Mounties who have been alerted about the possibility of the notorius Rose Carlton being on board. Rose quickly assumes Annie's identity and when she lands in the Klondike does not find it easy to disentangle herself from the missionary group that believe she is the real Annie Alden. Seeing the good work the missionaries do Rose/Annie decides to really liven things up in the town and before long with the help of the still besotted Brackett, Annie is packing them in at the groups meetings with a bit of her own unique philosophy and some of her modified night club act. Seeing she cannot continue the deception any longer however and despite the advances of equally besotted mountie Inspector Jack Forrest (Philip Reed) who is willing to ruin his whole career to go away with Rose once he discovers her real identity, Rose decides to go off with Bull Brackett who is of her world but only after the missionary centre is named in honour of the great influence on her own life, Annie Alden.
While alot of the strong sentiment in this story with Mae/Rose wanting to do the right and honourable thing is not typical Mae West material she does the best under the circumstances. Quite abit of the original story was cut to please the censors with the effect that Mae's character comes across as a bit too quick to change her ways and become an "honourable" person. It is a great testament to her talent that Mae still makes it a memorable performance with a couple of terrific scenes in the funny breakfast scene on the boat with Victor McLaglen and her dealings with the missionaries on arriving in the Klondike being two comic standouts in the story. While Victor McLaglen at first glance might not appear your typical Mae West costar with his craggy looks and rough speech, the two combine well together here and are responsible for some of the best laughs that the edited script has to offer. Although starting to get shaky about Mae's clashes with the censors by 1936 Paramount spent lavishly on this production and gave Mae two elaborate musical numbers and a first class production in every department. The klondike scenes are first rate in their detail and her terrific opening number set in her Chinese lover's gambling den "I'm an Occidental Woman in an Oriental Mood for love", is a real eye opener with its lavish oriental theme and costumes. That is one of Mae's finest hours out of all her Paramount movies.
"Klondike Annie", is enjoyable viewing and essential for any fan of Mae West's unique sexual comedy style. I always wonder how much better this potentially great story could have been had it been made without the censor's interference. That we will never know but it is still an entertaining on it's own level as long as it isn't compared with Mae's earlier efforts. The censorship did spell the death blow to Mae West's great career with Paramount Studios and within two years of this effort this great star had left the studio to return to the stage where she was able to see her material produced in it's entirety. Mae West is always enjoyable and "Klondike Annie", still shows us what made this unique woman such a popular star.