Monday, August 27, 2007

Mae West: Belle Booked

MAE WEST's co-star in "Belle of the Nineties" was a handsome native New Yorker Roger Pryor who came into the world (like Mae) in August; he was born on 27 August 1901. In Tinseltown, Roger Pryor was considered the "poor man's Clark Gable." Certainly he seems to sweep Ruby Carter [Mae's character] off her feet in his role as the prizefighter Tiger Kid.
• • Hollywood's censors, however, were a more formidable opponent than any palooka Tiger Kid faced in the ring. The Hays Office sparred with the studio over Mae's one-liners and many plot points. Perhaps the least harmful suggestion the censors made was that Mae's character entertainer Ruby Carter had to wed her boxer-lover, showing a touch of conventional respectability by the finale. Mae-mavens know that Mae always gets her man even if church bells don't chime.
• • On September 21, 1934, this is what the Los Angeles Evening Herald Express had to say about Mae West's new picture.
• • By Harrison Carroll
• • After seeing Mae West’s new picture Belle of the Nineties, one can only borrow a current slogan and advise the censors: ”Next time, get Ethyl.”
• • The blonde star has played the game according to their rules and emerged with a much funnier film than her last effort, I’m No Angel, which paid a profit that would make your eyes bulge. Belle of the Nineties, now playing at the Paramount, is a typical Mae West film about a St. Louis burlesque queen who went south to New Orleans and did everything but make the Mississippi run backwards. [Note: Frankie Baker, of "Frankie and Johnny" fame, also was a St. Louis woman who went down to New Orleans, where she met a young mack named Johnny. Coincidence. . . ?]
• • Mae has cleaned up some of her gags, that’s a fact. But even her warmest admirers will admit they could stand a little cleaning.
• • The important thing is that the star’s personality is unimpaired.
• • The spirit of the new picture is the same as She Done Him Wrong, which took the cinema world by storm.
• • Another smart move on Mae’s part is to give other players a chance in Belle of Nineties. Roger Pryor, who plays the prize-fighter sweetheart in the new film, is a splendid actor and his part is more than a listening post.
• • Johnny Mack Brown (a New Orleans blue-blood), John Miljan (owner of the gambling palace), Katherine DeMille (Mae’s enemy), James Donlon (the boxer’s manager), and Warren Hymer (the palooka) also have definite identities in the tale.
• • It is a story of swaggering gallants, two-fisted fighters, and warm-blooded beauties that unfolds in Belle of the Nineties. Ruby Carter, the heroine, is a smart dame with a weakness for prize-fighters, particularly the Tiger Kid.
• • But she gives up her love rather than hinder his career, and moves south for more worlds to conquer. It isn’t her fault that Ace La Mont, her new employer, falls for her and wants to get rid of his old favorite, the tempestuous Molly.
• • Between Molly’s plan for revenge, Ace’s double-crossing and the arrival of the Tiger Kid, there is plenty of excitement before Ruby and her fist-slinger tell it to a minister. This tag is undoubtedly for the benefit of the censors [true enough!], but it doesn’t hurt the story a bit.
• • Belle of the Nineties has a number of songs, some of them very amusing. “My Old Flame,” “When a St. Louis Woman Comes to Town” and “Memphis Blues” are in the list.
• • Leo McCarey’s direction of the film has a nice pace. What few slow spots there are seem to have developed in the cutting [or, more likely, due to the censors' objections].
• • You can write Belle of the Nineties down as a hit.
• • The Paramount Theatre shows it along with a Betty Boop color cartoon, a newsreel and the Fanchon and Marco revue, "Dance Follies."
• • Source: Los Angeles Evening Herald Express
• • Published: 21 September 1934
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1934 • •
Mae West.

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