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I'm a big fan of Mae West, and I waited for years to see this
insignificant, forgettable little movie. Although I knew it had gotten
bad reviews at the time of its release--- and West herself didn't like
it any more than the critics did--- I thought there still might be
something in it worth seeing, since it holds such an important place in
her career: this was the final movie of her 1930s/1940s "movie star"
period. After it was done, West returned to live stage work, recording
sessions, and of course her famous nightclub act of the 1950s. She was
not to make another film for 27 years (at which time she did the rather
infamous "Myra Breckinredge" in 1970).
Seeing "The Heat's On" is an exercise in tedium. I had to literally struggle to stay awake during it. It's not that it's all that horrendously "bad"--- heck, even bad movies can be entertaining for the wrong reasons. This one is just....empty. Completely vapid and forgettable. It's easy to understand why Mae West practically disowned this movie.
The main thing wrong with it is that she isn't in it nearly enough. For the entire first hour, I swear that West had about 6 minutes of total screen time, scattered throughout in a series of VERY short "blink and you'll miss it" scenes. She's got more charisma and screen presence, by far, than anybody else in this thing--- when she's on, you can't take your eyes off her. But you hardly get to see her! Giving West more screen time would have improved this movie immensely, and it's a mystery to me why director Gregory Ratoff didn't understand that.
What makes her absence from the screen even more frustrating, if not downright puzzling, is that so much of this movie is a revue/type *musical* (in neon lights), the type of film that could have shown her at her absolute best. But instead you get one lame song after the other filling the screen; there are singers, dancers, production numbers, showgirls, Latin-flavored guitarists, even a boogie-woogie pianist/singer (blues and jazz great Hazel Scott, playing herself). They all come in, do their thing, leave, and it's on to the next song. With the singular exception of Scott, who is wonderful--- all of this is absolutely and completely forgettable. Most of the singers, the dancers, the songs, the movie itself: it's "B"-grade material at best. We aren't talking MGM-quality here, folks.
Watching this parade of musical mediocrities go by, all you can think of the entire time is "Where IS Mae West??! Why don't they bring her on?" But it never happens until the very end, at which time you'll be practically asleep if you've managed to sit through it all up to that point. It's hard to imagine who might be a fan of this picture.
For what it's worth, West does look pretty good. Always proud of her youthful appearance, she was 50 years old here, but she looks maybe 40-ish, and she's dressed in stylish, contemporary clothes for one of the very few times in her screen career. (Well, except for her very first musical number, in which--- amusingly--- she's in her trademark "gay 90s" garb, looking much like she did in her earlier films).
The story--- what flimsy plot there is of it--- has something to do with Broadway musical star Fay Lawrence (West) getting funding for her next show, and having producers fight over her. But the main point of this movie, and the most amount of screen time, is devoted to the endlessly boring musical numbers. Gentle, befuddled Victor Moore is the primary male lead; and a YOUNG Lloyd Bridges--- yes, he was young once!--- has a featured part as a soldier engaged to Moore's niece.
Not a bad movie, just a boring one, and it missed the boat all around. Mae West deserved better.
THE HEAT'S ON (Columbia, 1943), directed by Gregory Ratoff, gives some
indication as to how the use of a major star heading the cast might
promote theatrical attendance, but the final result turns out to be a
demotion of its reputation. The star in question is Mae West returning
to the big screen after a three year hiatus following her western
comedy classic of MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (Universal, 1940) opposite W.C.
Fields. Appropriately titled, especially for a Mae West movie, THE
HEAT'S ON should be categorized as a Mae West movie not to be a Mae
West movie. A throwback to her motion picture debut of NIGHT AFTER
NIGHT (Paramount, 1932), where West's character arrives late into the
story, allowing the leading actors, as headed by George Raft, to be
showcased to best advantage in his first starring role, but at least
with West's limitations reciting her own one-liners made the movie
watchable. For this production, she surprisingly has very little to do,
practically taking the back seat to other performers, and in spite of
some of her traditional witty one-liners, usually the best part of her
movies, there isn't enough of her or her sayings to produce any
highlights. In one scene, West says "If I stay with this show, I'll
ruin my reputation." A pity she didn't take her own advice. Eight
movies and 11 years later, Mae West continued to receive star billing
above the title, but this time has her name shared along with Victor
Moore and William Gaxton. Now at age 50, and appearing physically
younger than in her previous films, especially now sporting a Betty
Grable-type headdress, but never exposing her legs wearing those long
styled dresses, there's very little of her to recommend. Had this
Columbia musical starred studio contract players as Ann Miller or
Evelyn Keyes, then THE HEAT'S ON would have been just another one of
those hundreds of slightly entertaining hodgepodge musicals churned out
during the World War II era, but with Mae West's name on the marquee,
the final result is quite disappointing.
Story: Believing that her forthcoming musical, "Indiscretions" is destined to flop, its leading actress, Fay Lawrence (Mae West), decides to leave producer Tony Ferris (William Gaxton), to star in a revue, "Tropicana," for rival producer Forrest Stanton (Alan Dinehart). Following the opening minutes which sets the pattern to the story, the duration revolves mostly around Tony trying to get Fay back while Fay sits inside the theater with Stantion to watch numerous talented celebrities auditioning in musical acts planned for the show. In between acts, the story shifts over to Hubert Bainbridge (Victor Moore), a middle-aged man attempting to get his niece, Janie (Mary Roche) to be headlined in Tony's show. In spite of his moral-minded sister (Almira Sessions) wanting to close the show, Janie really prefers her soldier boyfriend, Andy Walker (Lloyd Bridges), than a show business career anyway, thus leaving Tony with no headliner.
On the musical program, songs include: "I'm a Stranger in Town" (sung by Mae West); Specialty number conducted by Xavier Cugat with Lina Romay vocalizing in Spanish; "There Goes That Guitar, There Goes My Heart," "Antonio" (both sung by Romay); "The White Keys and the Black Keys" (sung and performed by Hazel Scott on piano); "Thinking About the Wabash" (sung by Mary Roche and male singer); "The Cailssons Go Rolling Along" (a military number sung by Hazel Scott/ performed by black soldiers); "They Looked So Pretty on the Envelope" (sung by Victor Moore); "Hello, Mi Amigo" (finale with Mae West and chorus). So many songs, none for the hit parade.
Out of circulation on the television markets in nearly 40 years, and distributed on video cassette for a limited time during the early 1990s, THE HEAT'S ON was resurrected again, thanks to Turner Classic Movies cable channel, where it premiered the evening of April 25, 2005. In spite of many negative reviews, then and now, it's good having it resurrected again mainly because Mae West had taken part in it. After viewing THE HEAT'S ON, it's quite understandable why West preferred to ignore it as part of her filmography. But the failure should not be blamed entirely on West. According to Bob Osborne's opening and closing statements, West had no say in the matter, having committed herself into doing this without reading the script, simply as a favor to director Gregory Ratoff (who played her Russian attorney in one of her best comedies, I'M NO ANGEL back in 1933). The only thing going for THE HEAT'S ON is the humorous scene involving West as she entertains Victor Moore in her boudoir by dancing the rumba, and at the same time, he trying to keep his toupee from clipping off. There are some instances near the start of the story where West is expected to make a nifty comeback in between conversations with Gaxton, but with some of the wittier lines going to Gaxton, there appears to be either abrupt fade-outs or cuts to the next scene to prevent West from saying anything worth hearing. Some West quips have made it to the finished product, others haven't. A pity.
With this almost marking the end to Mae West's movie career, this would not be her finish, not by a long shot. She continued to perform on stage and night clubs throughout the years, returning to the big screen with MYRA BRECKENRIDGE (1970) and SEXTETTE (1978), none recapturing the magic she fulfilled during the Depression era 1930s, the sort of movies West fans prefer to remember her best. (**1/2)
This mild little film is like untold dozens of minor musicals from the
1940's that were ground out by Columbia and Universal and pretty much
forgotten and unseen since original release. What keeps this one in
circulation is the fact that it top lines no less than Mae West, one of
the cinema's greatest women stars. West was now on the eve of 50 when
the movie was made, a good 20 years and then some older than most of
the pinup girls that were packing in the moviegoers of the era.
Presumably her limited options in Hollywood at the time persuaded to
take a chance on this Gregory Ratkoff production. She took the project
seriously enough to slim down, looking sensational in some gorgeous
Walter Plunkett gowns and clearly spiced up some of her scenes with
some uncredited but unmistakable original wisecracks. Alas, far too
much time is given to musical numbers by other performers although
glamorous black jazz artist Hazel Scott is fantastic in her
productions. There is also perhaps a bit too much time given to the
male leads, William Gaxton and Victor Moore, highly regarded Broadway
stars of the era (co-stars in fact in four stage hits) but not actors
who can carry a film. Even though the cast is talented and some of the
musical numbers are quite good (I actually enjoyed Moore's comic number
"They Never Look as Pretty as the Package"), you keep waiting for Mae
West to appear on the scene again. I suspect this was true even in 1943
when her popularity was at a low point.
Mae West nevertheless manages to score some wonderful moments, notably the comic scene when Victor Moore comes up to see her sometime. Almost as good is West's confrontational scene with Moore's blue nose sister, character actress Almira Sessions. (It's interesting to note the film is one of the few times West is surrounded by performers older than herself, Gaxton, Sessions, and Moore have several years on her which may be part of the reason West looks fairly youthful in the movie in addition to being well-preserved). Starlet Mary Roche is featured as Moore's niece who longs for a show business career, her one musical number "Walbash" is actually quite pleasant but this is apparently her only film appearance, she later became a hairdresser in the film industry if that is indeed the same Mary Roche.
Some like it hot and this movie ain't so hot but we have so few Mae West movies to enjoy it is to be cherished in a way for another glimpse at one of America's great pop culture phenomenons.
Although Mae West receives first billing, she is not on screen long enough to make this misfire worth seeing. Even when she is on display and looking svelte and glamorous at 50, her lines lack the double-entendres and sly delivery of her best work. The silly goings on in this back-stage "comedy" revolve around financing a theatrical production with money from a blue-nose group whose goal is to suppress such shows. The plot is muddled at best, ridiculous at worst, and the cast lacks either a romantic lead such as Cary Grant or a comic like W.C. Fields for Miss West to play off. The production numbers for the most part are forgettable, even when Mae West delivers the songs. The one exception is the dazzling piano playing by Hazel Scott. Her number with two pianos is nothing short of astonishing and almost makes the dreck one has to endure before her appearance almost bearable. Unfortunately, Scott has only two numbers, but mercifully the film ends rather abruptly not long after she exits the screen. "The Heat's On" is certainly an ironically mis-titled film considering the heat that West generated in her early work, and the movie is only for die-hard West fans who are interested in seeing everything that she appeared in. Entertainment seekers and non-West fans beware.
Turner Classic Movies just unearthed this turkey from their vaults and,
being a fan of Mae West (though not an avid one), I thought I'd give it
a whirl. Big mistake! (i.e., Big disaster!) After it had unspooled,
TCM's host, Robert Osborne, revealed that producer-director Gregory
Ratoff had somehow obtained Mae's signature on a contract to appear in
this film without her seeing a completed script. When she did get an
astonished look at what she was supposed to headline, she was "furious"
according to Osborne, and promptly went to work rewriting most of her
scenes, adding a few (but not enough) of her trademark witticisms.
The story is more than silly and takes little advantage of Miss West's star power, and, except for Hazel Scott's interpolated production numbers, there's almost no one else in the cast to match Mae's wattage. But she looks great, slinking around in Walter Plunkett's fancifully fantastic creations and Franz Planer's glossy black-and-white cinematography makes the most of the second-tier production values typical of a Columbia Pictures programmer.
Poor Victor Moore is required to portray a pathetic boob, intimidated by a battleaxe of a sister, quite effectively embodied by one Almira Sessions. The ingénue, played by Mary Roche, probably didn't elicit many wolf whistles when this dud was shown to the troops during WW II; Lloyd Bridges has a really small role as her swain (in uniform, of course); and there's an actor named Lester Allen, playing a character appropriately called Mouse Beller, who could only be cast in a role with that moniker.
Mae West quit performing before the cameras (going back to the stage and touring with her fabled nightclub act) and didn't make another picture until "Myra Breckenridge" in 1970 (and she was arguably the best thing in that crazy curiosity). This one is only for those fans who want to get a look at what Hollywood thought it could get away with during the wartime years.
What a mess! Hazel Scott was a revelation, but everything else just a clunker. Like others hoping to finally catch this sixty year old curio, I was dismayed to see how truly dull and silly it was/is. As a major fan of Mae West, I wondered, come on, how bad could it be? And hey, how come our leading lady only gets equal billing with ... such second level comics? How did she get mixed-up in this? What was disheartening was Mae herself. Sad, unfunny, tired --- could that be Mae West, trapped in round after round of awful lines? No wonder her flight from films after this mishap. Even her work, at age 75ish in the bizarre but unique "MyraB", was better. OK, we still have all those pre 1940 films to relish, all is forgiven Mae!
It took three credited screenwriters to come up with this flaccid comedy-musical from Columbia--and not one of them apparently had a sense of humor. Perhaps taking a page from Mae West's real-life tangles with the censors, the bawdy, naughty comedienne is toned way down here in a plot about a musical stage performer who finds herself stuck in a bomb and blames her manager; he gets a bright idea and has the show raided for indecency to drum up business, but the gag goes too far and the show is closed for good. At this point, the foolish scenarists practically lose track of Mae, which is the most indecent thing about the picture! She pops up intermittently, talking on the phone or sitting idly in the theater, but all her charm and smarm has been extinguished (she retired from films for twenty-seven years after this). The manager weasels show money out of a good-natured schnook and puts on a new revue (a nice wholesome one)--and even gets West back in the spotlight--but it's too late. The movie has collapsed around everyone like an exhausted house of cards. *1/2 from ****
Watching this is painful. Mae West has little to do. What she has, she
does decently. Mae was never a true beauty, at least not in movies.
Here she looks her age and the Gay Nineties costume seems more out of
place than it does in other, earlier, better movies.
She isn't even billed over the title.
It's a hapless review, with Xavier Cugat and some corn-pone comedy.
Hazel Scott's appearances are good but nothing I'd have sought out and irrelevant to Mae.
Sextette seemed like a vanity production, a mistake of her own making. This is a hodgepodge that gives her little to do and is as prim as the bluenose character in its plot (amusingly played by Almira Sessions
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