Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mae West: Ken and Then

Ken Hughes once worked with MAE WEST.
• • Then 56 years old when he was at the helm of "Sextette" in 1978, based on Mae West's play ["Sextet"], the British director died in the month of April and is being remembered. Not unlike reading the work of a very clever Marxist, the script's logic is impeccable, even when the premise — — that an actress in her 80s can portray a 26-year-old sexpot — — is wrong.
• • "Sextette" was the middle-aged director's first American film — — as well as Mae West's final screen appearance.
• • Vincent Canby, then the film critic of The New York Times, pursed his lips and gave the project a sound spanking. Canby wrote: The story, based on a play written some years ago by Miss West, is about a world-famous movie star and her attempts to consummate her sixth marriage to Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton) despite repeated interruptions by former husbands, lovers, dress designers, secret agents, publicity people and delegates attending an international peace conference just upstairs. It's a plot that Miss West has often favored, and it freely reprises a lot of lines from earlier pictures. The movie was directed by Ken Hughes ("The Small World of Sammy Lee," "Cromwell," and so on), a fellow you might think had better things to do than to prop up the Tower of Pisa. In addition to Mr. Dalton, "Sextette" features a number of other people who, in happier circumstances, are decent actors. These include Tony Curtis, George Hamilton, Ringo Starr, and the incomparable Dom DeLuise. There are some original songs and some old ones, a couple of which sound as if they'd been lip-synched by Miss West to old recordings . . . [N.Y. Times 8 June 1979].
• • On 19 January 1922, Kenneth Graham Hughes was born in Liverpool, England.
• • The Hollywood director developed Alzheimer's disease and died on 28 April 2001 in Los Angeles. Several of his obituaries reminded the public that "Sextette" was a camp disaster and, furthermore, that the writer/ director had had a prolific but "remarkably inconsistent career" with only one hands-down triumph: "The Trials of Oscar Wilde." Hard to believe the same person directed the family musical and moneymaker "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," the James Bond loser "Casino Royale," and "Sextette."

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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1 comment:

Mark Desjardins said...

Many film critics have lambasted the Ken Hughes film Sextette, and former LA Times film reviewer Kevin Thomas has stated his displeasure that somehow the film was seen as an affront to man and beast. He wrote, "it's not very good material, but she was a trooper and it was fun to see her in the present doing her stuff and getting out her old gowns and putting them on and saying he lines and sashaying around. You know, if you look at it that way, it's rather sweet."
Vincent Canby who reviewed Sextette for the New York Times compared West to "a plump sheep that's been stood of its hind legs, dressed in a drag queen's idea of chic, bewigged and then smeared wit pink plaster." Prior to his death, Canby reassessed his earlier view of Sextette and wrote the film was Mae West's equivalent to the biblical epic bout Salome in which Norma Desmond intended to make her return to the screen in Sunset Boulevard. He admitted to being embarrassed about the puritanical view he held of the film and West, and expressed his admiration for her tenacity in completing the film.
Reg Lewis, one of West's musclemen from her 1950's nightclub act had a cameo role in Sextette and stated that in his opinion "the film hastened the advent of her strokes."