Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mae West: Hot Time 1934

The censors made the summer of 1934 unforgettably hot and uncomfortable for MAE WEST. Famously funny in her blockbuster Pre-Code motion picture comedies, Mae found her one-liners burnt to a crisp in a Will Hayes moment. The frisky screenplay that was conceived as "It Ain't No Sin" was considerably more scrubbed when it was delivered by August 1934 as a more demure "Belle of the Nineties" [released on 21 September 1934]. Thanks to the Code, Broadway's darling had been denatured.
• • BELLE OF THE NINETIES, adapted from a story by Mae West; music and lyrics by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow; directed by Leo McCarey; a Paramount production. At the Paramount.
• • Nevertheless, The New York Times movie critic Andre Sennwald seemed to like it. Sennwald wrote: Amid the lithographic Police Gazette settings of the Sensation House in New Orleans, Ruby Carter (in Miss West's classic person) rules the sporting world with queenly insolence. As she herself sagely observes, "It is better to be looked over than to be overlooked," and her serpentine gowns, hayloft coiffure and hour-glass figure insure her against neglect. Ruby's expressed preference is for two kinds of men — — domestic and foreign — — and the gentlemen moths, in their tight pants, bowler hats and Ascot cravats, flock to the flame. Even the bartenders with their walrus mustaches and spit-curls silently yearn for her. ... [N.Y. Times, Andre Sennwald, 22 September 1934].
• • Variety preferred to pooh-pooh at the Brooklyn blonde no matter what she did onstage or onscreen. Abel wrote a mixed review and these are his more warm-hearted statements: "Belle of the Nineties" is a little of everything. Even "St. Louis Blues" and "Memphis Blues" are in it — — she did "Frankie and Johnny" in "Diamond Lil." The original songs by Coslow and Johnston are "My Old Flame," "American Beauty," and "Troubled Waters." Duke Ellington's nifty jazzique is a natural for the Westian song delivery.
• • Abel added: "Troubled Waters" introduces a little of the Elder Michaux revival meeting. That's in the offing, but within seeming earshot, and thus she does a semi-spiritual against the heated colored revival meeting background which productionally is rather well worked in. ... [Variety, Abel, 25 September 1934].
• • Mae's strong constitution was evidenced in the fact that, despite censors and years of disappointments, she never turned to alcohol, pills, or illegal elixirs for comfort and she escaped having an ulcer. Coming up soon are bi-coastal annual celebrations of her mid-August birthday. Prepare the party hats!

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1934 • •
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Mae West.

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