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Mae West was a singer/actress/writer who was imprisoned for 10 days in 1926 for corrupting the morals of youth in her Broadway show Sex, transfered to Hollywood in the 1930's but was done in by the Hays Office Censors, and had a triumphant return to Broadway in the 1940's.
Jillian is far more attractive than the real Mae, with a shot of her lying on her bed in her negligee after she is fired from Paramount more recalling Jean Harlow, and though she uses Mae's famous intonation, Jillian loses it when she yells. Jillian's singing is jazzy/blues which only sounds impressive in her Broadway comeback with `Frankie and Johnny', but her costumes by Jean-Pierre Dorleac are a mix of the Gay nineties period clothes with low cut bosom - a black shimmery dress with jewelled collar and straps to her bust is particularly striking. Jillian is certainly likeable but in a way the Mae voice limits her performance to an impersonation, which is ironic since Mae herself was thought of as a female impersonator. Jillian's femininity is never in doubt so we also lose the suggestion of androgyny. What perhaps would have been more interesting would have been to cast an actress who approximates Mae's height at 5 feet - perhaps Patty Duke? - which makes her sex goddess persona all the more intriguing.
Jillian also doesn't make Mae's lines funny eg the famous diamonds bit from Night after Night, and even her being introduced to Reverend Cox from the Production Code gets a laugh from someone's look at Mae rather than her eye response. However Jillian has moments - a closeup reaction to her manager/lover Jim Timiny (James Brolin) telling her she lied to him about her marriage, and her sobbing as she kisses him when he returns to her.
The teleplay by E. Arthur Kean first presents Mae as a brunette child star, pushed by her stage-mother Matilda (Piper Laurie), and when Jillian appears, her Mae seems more the dancer than singer. However she gets tips on style from drag queen Rene Valentine (Roddy McDowell) who encourages her to suggest rather than flaunt her sex appeal, use double entendre and innuendo, and become a blonde as it makes her face look thinner. Mae's secret marriage is arranged to legitimise her promiscuity, with what could be seen as feminism ahead of her time, perhaps a reaction to her father's brutishness. We also see Mae admiring body builders on the beach as a sign of what is to come after the end of the treatment.
Apart from the use of lines associated with Mae used out of context, Kean supplies funny ones of his own - `When a knife thrower gives you something, you don't turn it down', and `I went over (the script) with a microscope to find my part'. Director Lee Philips uses Mae looking into a mirror for flashback up till her trial, returning when she pushes a powder puff into the mirror, quick editing for narrative jumps, Mae seen in spiro-view, a Cary Grant sound-alike for She Done Him Wrong, and a WC Fields double for My Little Chickadee.
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