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William A. Wellman
Edward G. Robinson,
While I enjoyed “The Mae West Glamour Collection” more than I expected to, I decided to leave her debut film for last, knowing that it wouldn’t be a typical vehicle of hers since she wasn’t the lead; I also figured it would be, as Leonard Maltin bluntly puts it, “a crashing bore”. However, I was quite surprised by how engaging and entertaining it all was – if, by no means, a classic. The film, in fact, is an agreeable blend of two styles that were en vogue during the early Talkie era: the sophisticated comedy-drama and the gangster picture, apart from also being adapted from a stage play (as were a good many movies back then).
The lead proper of the film is George Raft, who had just shot to stardom following his memorable supporting role in Howard Hawks’ SCARFACE (1932); of the stars associated with the heyday of the Gangster movie, Raft always seemed to me the most limited in range – but he does well enough here, flanked by his butler-cum-henchman Roscoe Karns (a mainstay of 1930s comedies). Watching this flick 75 years after it was made, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the gay subtexts today’s audiences would erroneously interpret in their “relationship” here!
Raft is the owner of a speakeasy who wants to improve himself for the sake of ‘mysterious’ socialite Constance Cummings (who, as it turns out, used to own the building) – despite being involved with at least two other women of lower standards (Wynne Gibson and Mae West); to do so, he engages the services of elderly teacher Alison Skipworth. Cummings (who’s adorable throughout – as had also been that same year in Harold Lloyd’s MOVIE CRAZY) incurs the wrath of jealous Gibson, who confronts her and Raft with a gun – a situation which Cummings finds exciting, drawing her nearer to Raft than she intended and deluding him into thinking that she has affections for him; of course, when he finds out that she had counted on marrying wealthy Louis Calhern all along, he gives up his cultured airs and withdraws his promise of selling the club to a rival! But during the ensuing mob fracas at Raft’s joint, Cummings realizes that she loves him after all...
As I said, I found the film to be fairly interesting for several reasons: Mae West’s own role isn’t central to the main plot (in fact, she not only appears exactly at the midway point of the film but shares more scenes – and even a bed! – with Skipworth than she does with Raft himself), but her presence certainly boosts proceedings; already, she’s got her way with dialogue (and not just the famous “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie” line) but it also feels like she’s playing a real character in this case rather than just being her in-your-face ‘naughty’ self…and West’s figure is perhaps at its sexiest here with as racy a costume as Pre-Code Hollywood liberalism ever got!
It’s amusing to watch the accompanying trailer today – hyping Raft’s rising star power (even mentioning a couple of earlier films apart from SCARFACE, both of which are now completely forgotten), and how this was achieved largely through the clamor of the movie-going public, when NIGHT AFTER NIGHT’s greatest (single?) claim to fame nowadays is for having introduced Mae West to the silver screen!
Finally, I wonder whether Universal is planning to release a second set of her films (they own four of her remaining titles); THE HEAT’S ON (1943) is a Columbia picture but it has already been released by Universal on R2 as part of a 6-Disc Mae West Set which also includes the bulk of the as-yet-unavailable titles on R1 (plus a couple of overlaps)!
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