Six films starring the iconic screen goddess Mae West. In 'My Little Chickadee' (1940), West stars alongside W.C. Fields as goodtime-girl Flower Belle Lee, who is run out of a small town in the Old West. On the train she meets conman Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields) and marries him to make herself respectable. When they arrive in Greasewood City, Twillie is made sherrif by a corrupt town boss, and the couple introduce their own rowdy style to the straightlaced town. In 'She Done Him Wrong' (1933), West plays Lady Lou, a nightclub owner worried about the return of her criminal boyfriend, who knows that she hasn't exactly been faithful in his absence. Fortunately help is on hand in the form of temperance leader Captain Cummings (Cary Grant). In 'I'm No Angel' (1933), millionaire Kirk Lawrence (Kent Taylor) falls for bewitching circus performer Tira (West), but she falls in love with Kirk's business partner Jack (Grant). When Jack breaks off the affair, Tira sues him for breach of contract and subjects him to an excoriating cross-examination. In 'Klondike Annie' (1936), Rose (West) is the mistress of possessive Chinese businessman Chan Lo (Harold Huber). When she escapes San Francisco's Chinatown for the Alaskan goldrush, Rose falls in with straightlaced nun Sister Annie (Helen Jerome Eddy), and the two form an unlikely friendship. When Annie dies of illness, ship's captain Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen) learns that Rose is wanted for murder, and helps her swap identities with her dead friend so she can start over again. 'Belle of the Nineties' (1934) is a musical comedy starring West as burlesque singer Ruby Carter, as she tries to avoid the attentions of prize fighter Tiger Kid (Roger Pryor). When Tiger and one of his buddies come up with a plan to steal some of Ruby's jewellery, they soon realise that they've underestimated the singer completely. Finally, in 'The Heat's On' (1943), West plays faded actress Fay Lawrence, who tries to reinvent her career by appearing in the musical Tropicana.
In her first starring film vehicle, She Done Him Wrong
, Mae West
is Lady Lou, a saloon singer and "slick article" who drives every man who sees her mad with desire. She positively oozes sex, but always with sly, self-mocking humor. Lady Lou remarking on the nude painting of her hanging over the bar: "I gotta admit that is a flash, but I do wish Gus hadn't hung it over the free lunch." West warbles several numbers in her Brooklyn-accented, sweetly nasal voice, accompanied by her famous suggestive roll of the eye and flip of the hip: "Frankie and Johnny," "Easy Rider," and "A Guy What Takes His Time."
Based on West's Broadway play Diamond Lil, the film is set in the Gay '90s, "a lusty, brawling, florid decade, when there were handlebars on lip and wheel and legs were confidential." The corny plot involves the eternal male rivalry for Mae's favors, as well as a white slavery ring that is shipping unsuspecting girls to the Barbary Coast. But the movie's real treat is the cat-and-mouse game between West's Lady Lou and the Hawk, a detective disguised as a missionary, played by a devastatingly handsome young Cary Grant. West: "Why don't you come up some time, see me? I'm here every night." Grant: "Yeah, but I'm busy every night." West: "What're you tryin' to do, insult me?... You can be had."
In She Done Him Wrong, Mae West is absolutely in her prime. Her one-of-a-kind intermarriage of eroticism and humor, worldly wisdom and scalding wit are presented with perfect panache. --Laura Mirsky
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