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It was around the time that Mae was making this picture that her husband, Frank Wallace, came forward and sold his story to the press. She was forced to admit he was her husband, and they divorced in 1942. Complicating matters was the fact that Frank had married another woman illegally in 1915 and had just recently divorced her. See more »
The period of strict enforcement of the production code, beginning in 1934, was to Mae West what the end of prohibition was to bootleggers. West was a star whose self-penned stories made an art of promiscuity, and whose overt sex appeal made even the subtlest of innuendoes as see-through as a chiffon stocking. She is sometimes pinpointed as the main reason the code-enforcing Hayes Office was established, although it wasn't so much that her pictures were the most risqué out there (something like Baby Face is a far more flagrant flaunting of the code than I'm No Angel and She Done Him Wrong). It was the fact that she was also a box office sensation and thus a much more potent influence that made the Legion of Decency moralists take notice.
In this light, Klondike Annie seems to be not so much a watering down of pre-code Mae, but an apology and atonement for her past misdemeanours. While it begins with some of West's familiar man-hopping sass (albeit without so much of her sly wit), half-an-hour or so in the plot is suddenly hijacked by a Christian missionary, from whereon Mae is a reformed woman, as if in direct response to the proclamation of I'm No Angel. This was in a way self-censorship on her part, because as with her earlier pictures West wrote the screenplay, and despite her antics both on and off screen was truly a devout Christian. Luckily this means Ms West still appears in control and enough of her personality has survived intact, even when she's dressed in black and preaching a sermon. It's a testament to her credible acting skills that she manages to pull this off, making Rose Carlton's redemption and unconventional adoption of the moral crusader role a believable one, tweaking her ability to command attention and work a crowd into a slightly new direction.
West also has a very flattering and focused director in Raoul Walsh. Walsh makes his camera placement a slave to Mae, keeping her almost constantly foregrounded, staring hypnotically out at the audience. Take for example the scene where Victor McLaglen prepares breakfast for her, in which we see the table in a fairly standard sideways-on set-up. When Mae comes in Walsh switches to a sharply different angle, purely so that she can enter bearing down upon the camera. Walsh is also blunt in bringing out plot points, making for example Sister Annie's first address to Mae a close-up straight into the camera (a Walsh speciality), to let us know that this is a key moment in the story.
Another odd side-effect here is that without all the usual sexual politics and bed-hopping Klondike Annie actually has a far clearer and more substantial plot than the earliest Mae West pictures, even transitional ones like Belle of the Nineties, which took out the sex but left in the battle-of-the-sexes. But to what purpose this clarity? Klondike Annie may be technically one of the better Mae West pictures, but without her free-spiritedness and playful man-conquering exploits the very heart of the Mae West formula has gone. While the picture served to keep her in work for a few years, it has little of value for those of us in the audience. The production code had not only put a cramp West's style, it had wiped out her box-office appeal in the process.
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