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Set in New York City, Mae West is Peaches O'Day, a con artist who befriends Captain Jim McCarey (Edmund Lowe), a cop who must turn her in unless she leaves town. The clever Peaches returns transformed as sultry brunette and Parisian sensation Mademoiselle Fifi. After catching her show, crooked mayoral candidate John Quade (Lloyd Nolan) tries to close it down when Peaches demurely declines his romantic overtures. Captain McCarey jumps in the race for mayor against Quade, and the loyal Peaches fervently campaigns for him. As usual, Mae causes a commotion as she deftly maneuvers her way through a battle between the good and the corrupt.
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. Mae West's pre-code reputation apparently influenced sponsors against it, even though it's strictly post-code, and airings were few and far between. One of its earliest documented telecasts took place in Pittsburgh Monday 18 April 1960 on KDKA (Channel 2). It was released on DVD 16 October 2012 as part of the Universal Vault Series. See more »
This is not the worst film of Mae West's career (MYRA BRECKENRIDGE and SEXTETTE share that position), but it is not one of her best films. She is saddled with the wrong performer as her leading man. Edmund Lowe was a decent actor, but not one to set the world on fire. It is significant that his pairing with Victor MacLaglan in a series of films starting with the silent film version of WHAT PRICE GLORY was what he was best recalled for - so that Mike Todd gave the two a joint cameo in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. If his role had been played by the villain of the film, Lloyd Nolan (one of the best character actors in Hollywood history) the film would have been better. Still Nolan is able to give it some mileage. It needs it. West is good (selling the Brooklyn Bridge to Herman Bing and cutting a hole into the window of a jewelry shop by doing a silhouette using a typically dense Charles Butterworth). Butterworth was still capable of his punctuating style of hesitant "accidental" humor. As one of the three backers of the honest Lowe against the crooked Nolan in a Mayoral campaign, he is ably assisted by Walter Catlett and Charles Winninger. Their best moment is when, to protect Lowe, they try to drug him and only succeed in drugging themselves.
There are not many films dealing with 19th Century New York City politics (most of which was quite corrupt - usually due to Tammany Hall). The most recent one is Martin Scorsese's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, which gives a nearly correct view of the depth of corruption, but makes the mistake of making Boss Tweed an ally of a gangster (Daniel Day Lewis) based on Bill "the Butcher" Poole. Bill Poole (like Lewis) was a "know-nothing" - he hated immigrants, especially those from Ireland who were Catholics. Tweed actually was so pragmatic a political genius that he built his political machine on the Irish and other immigrant groups. He would never have worked with Poole and his friends.
Besides THE GANGS OF NEW YORK there is UP IN CENTRAL PARK (wherein Tweed is played by an elegant Vincent Price, not by a heavy set actor). And that would seem to be it. EVERY DAY'S A HOLIDAY is the only other notable film dealing with mayoralty politics, and West does try to show how questionable it was. Nolan seems to be backed by the party machine, and Lowe is the honest outsider. There were a few honest mayors who tried to reform the city. Most are forgotten today (William Havemeyer, Edward Cooper, Abram Hewitt, William R. Grace, Seth Low). But then most New York City mayors are forgotten except by historians. Aside from Fiorello LaGuardia and Rudy Giuliani (both of whom left a deep imprint on their times - Giuliani due to 9/11 actually more than his policies) most of the 20th Century mayors are forgotten. Only one (the corrupt but likable Jimmy Walker) merited a movie - BEAU JAMES. LaGuardia did become the subject of a good musical (FIORELLO) but it was never filmed. So one has to do with just the three movies mentioned earlier.
Nolan's McQuade is the corrupt (if smart) Chief of Police. Actually no Police Chief ran for Mayor in 19th Century New York City. But West, and whoever else helped with the script, may have been thinking of a series of police scandals in the 1890s, leading to the Lexow Committee hearings. The most notorious casualty from this was the great Chief of Detectives, Captain Thomas Byrnes. Byrnes (the inventor of "the Rogues' Gallery") was a tough, no nonsense police officer of the old school - civil liberties meant little to him in cracking cases. But he was forced into retirement because he took bribes (mostly stock gifts and tips) from Wall Street figures. Byrnes made sure the work atmosphere of Wall Street was not interrupted by thieves (he set up a "warning line" south of which was unhealthy for any pickpockets or thieves to be traveling without any legal reason). The stock gifts and tips were in gratitude for what he had done.
The film helps capture of the period, but it is meant as a harmless comic entertainment. So it can't be too deep or perceptive of the actuality. Still it is a glimpse at it.
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