Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 1937. Emanuel Cohen Productions. Screenplay by Mae West. Cinematography by Karl Struss. Produced by Emanuel Cohen. Music by Leo Shuken. Production Design by Wiard Ihnen. Costume Design by Schiaparelli. Film Editing by Ray Curtiss. Academy Awards 1937.
Mae West‘s last film before finishing her contract with Paramount is one of her tamest. She plays Peaches O’Day, a skilled con artist whose many crimes, which include trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a willing buyer, have amassed her twenty-five arrest warrants currently outstanding. She makes friends with a kindly millionaire (Charles Winninger) who shows her a fine night out on New Year’s Eve, then she escapes arrest by getting on a boat for Boston thanks to the help of a sympathetic cop (Edmund Lowe). When she returns she’s in deep disguise as “Mademoiselle Fifi”, a dark-haired siren performing in a hit Broadway show which is attended by ambitious police inspector Lloyd Nolan who falls madly in love with her. Her disguise starts to slip and it requires her conning her way into police headquarters to get herself out of trouble, after which she becomes aware of Nolan’s corruption and decides to defeat it by supporting Lowe’s plans to challenge Nolan’s mayoral campaign. As always, the great Miss West is at the centre of a firestorm of male sexual competition and, as always, she does it all in the height of great fashion, in this case getting her beautiful gowns all the way from Europe and created by the hand of the great Schiaparelli. Other than its ornate visuals and the pleasure of seeing the star looking and feeling her best, it’s not otherwise particularly memorable, the plotting is flimsy and moves through its scenes with sketchy narrative logic. Censorship has fully taken all the bite out of West’s scripts and by this point she’s not even fighting it, delivering her lines with droll pleasure as if knowing that she’s on her way to the next phase of her career (she would only make two more films before becoming a Vegas act many years later, not returning to feature films until 1970). Her fans won’t want to miss it, but if you’re looking to figure out what her legacy is all about, it’s best to not start here.