Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 1936. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Mae West, based on her play Frisco Kate and a story by Marion Morgan, George B. Dowell. Cinematography by George T. Clemens. Produced by William LeBaron. Music by John Leipold, Tom Satterfield, Victor Young. Production Design by Hans Dreier, Bernard Herzbrun. Costume Design by Eugene Joseff. Film Editing by Stuart Heisler.
Mae West likely never made censors more nervous than when she set one of her bawdy comedies among the religious set, and the lack of witty barbs in the dialogue suggests that a good deal of her final script was cut to ribbons before being filmed. She plays, what else, a saloon gal who is held more or less prisoner by an unfortunate Asian stereotype in the club he owns on the Barbary Coast, forcing her to perform in gorgeous gowns for thrilled patrons but then forbidding her from having a social life after the show. She finally manages to escape but her captor is killed in the process, stowing away on a ship and learning that she is wanted by the law. Thankfully, the captain of the cargo vessel (Victor McLaglen) is sweet on her and happy to keep her company on their slow ride to Alaska. When the ship picks up another passenger, a religious but not preachy woman on her way to join her fellow worshippers in Nome, West is moved by the woman’s genuine goodness and is even inspired to read the Good Book and try to improve her wicked ways. The ship lands and the woman, who had been ill before boarding, has passed away, and with the cops on her tail West takes over her persona, going to meet the Quaker-like brethren in a plain black dress that just happens to be cinched in all the right places to show off her dangerous curves. Her plan is to hide out until she and hunky sheriff Phillip Reed can run away, but she remembers her desire to become a better person and helps the little congregation when they get into trouble. West, who adapted this script from her play Frisco Kate, has no obvious intention of scandalizing any organized religion, her target was always moral hypocrisy and here she makes a distinct separation between those that are all about rules and those who truly care about being good to others. The film suffered from a targeted attack by William Randolph Hearst, who was offended by a comment that West had made about his mistress Marion Davies, and his attempt at a press blackout likely compelled the nervous studio to shave the movie down of any offensive elements; the result is something amusing if not particularly memorable, worthwhile for the pleasures of the star’s wardrobe and the sight of her preach her worldly wisdom at a pulpit to her congregants.