As a film, it is mildly amusing in a weird, campy 1970s way. It's got a made-for-television look about it, and appears to have been filmed on a pretty low budget. The plot has to do with a legendary American movie star (West) in London for her marriage and subsequent honeymoon with her current husband (Timothy Dalton). Oh, and this is her sixth marriage, by the way---hence the title of the film.
The story is basically that they are unable to consummate their marriage, because various other men--- including nearly all of her ex-husbands--- keep showing up unexpectedly. The sexual aspect of the story is handled very delicately; you know what the husband wants to do with his wife, but it is never put forth directly, but rather by sort of Victorian-era implication.
If it seems like rather a flimsy story, that's because it is. There isn't much to it; there is some low-key comedy in the guest appearances of the ex-husbands (plus assorted other men, including an entire "American athletic team" whose presence in London is never explained. Perhaps they're training for off-season Olympics). The whole thing is handled as a complete farce--- there isn't one shred of reality in this film, which makes it seem unique in the era in which it was made. It's like a cartoon for grownups, with live actors playing the parts.
The real intent of "Sextette" was to be a cinematic showcase for the legendary Mae West. A lot of people outdid themselves in other reviews to say outrageously nasty things about her (or, in a couple of instances, equally outrageous heaps of praise for her). Maybe the best way to write about her in this movie, is to be a little more realistic and objective.
First of all, it's true that Mae West *was* 85 years old at the time of filming this. I'm not saying that because she looks it (she doesn't). I'm saying it because the whole movie makes such extreme efforts to ignore her age. No, she ISN'T supposed to be 20-something--- come on, people, do the math! Her character was married six times, so she's got to be in her forties at least! But she's definitely not playing "elderly", and this seems to freak a lot of people out. She's playing a healthy, attractive "mature" woman whose sex drive is unabashedly strong. There is no hint in the dialogue, or in the reactions of other men TO the character, that this woman might be very, very old (as is the actress playing her).
Therein lies the problem. 85-year-old Mae West was simply not up to the demands of playing this part. She was aging too rapidly; no, she didn't quite look 85, but in some scenes she did look old for probably the first time in her public life. (Photographs taken throughout the 1970s show her looking remarkably young). Put it this way: just eight years earlier, in 1970, West had played a similar "sexy" part in the movie "Myra Breckinredge". She'd been 77 years old then, and she was in good enough health and spirits to carry it off big-time. West was THE highlight of that earlier film. She was stylish, hip, quick-moving, quick-thinking, and she truly did look around fifty or so.... she looked young enough to make the part believable.
But by the time of "Sextette", she just didn't have it any more. She tried very hard, but her physical and mental limitations strained believability too much. A few basic problems: First of all, her wardrobe and hairstyle (obviously a wig) were decades out-of-date. In "Myra Breckinredge", she had looked hip and stylin'. In "Sextette", she looked like a relic.
Then there was her speech difficulty: no longer able to remember dialogue, West wore an earpiece under her wig (this is true, it's not some tabloid made-up story) to have her lines read to her by the director offstage. She would then repeat the line to the camera. This made her acting seem stilted, unnatural-- and unfunny. When somebody asks her if she's seen Big Ben, and she replies "I don't know.... I never met the gentleman", this line could have gotten a big laugh in better times. But here she "reads" the line as if from a piece of paper (or like she's straining to hear it in her earpiece): I-ne-ver-met-the-gen-tle-man". It sounds robotic, lip-synched, dubbed.
Then there are various technical flaws: her songs, for instance, which WERE lip-synched, weren't lip-synched very well. In "Baby Face", you can clearly see her get off the soundtrack. And "After You've Gone" sounds like it was slightly sped up. The soundtrack is tinny, the photography is blurry (particularly West's scenes; she looks fuzzy and too bright in many instances).
The movie wasn't an entire diaster for her. She does have a few good scenes. When she tells Timothy Dalton "The night is still young", she looks genuinely young herself--- filtered camera lens though it may be--- and she makes the line believable. In the Alice Cooper sequence, she also looks surprisingly young; and when she stands behind Cooper with her hands on his shoulders (as he's playing piano), she seems to be clearly enjoying herself. And a few seconds later, when she stands in the doorway--- her back to the camera--- she gives one last hip-twitch (the final "Mae West" screen moment of her career), and you have to chuckle a bit in good-natured admiration. 85 she may have been, but she was still out there working, still entertaining people in the best way she knew how. There's even a bit of poignance in that moment.
But the problem is, this film was played so strongly as a British farce, it works completely against the premise and the style of the whole movie to be feeling any poignance, or anything but a sense of robust comedy for the actress playing the lead. If you are aware of her BEING a frail elderly woman at any time, then the movie isn't meeting its own agenda. And that's what happens too many times. Except for a few fleeting moments, Mae simply wasn't at her best here. For a much better, funnier look at Mae West in the "later years", see "Myra Breckinredge". She was a hilarious scream in that one.
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