Monday, September 21, 2009

Mae West: Embers of September 21

In September 1934, MAE WEST was involved in promoting her fourth feature for Paramount Pictures: "Belle of the Nineties." This motion picture was released on September 21st. And here is the review published in The New York Times on 22 September 1934. "Of course, Miss West is her own plot," wrote critic Andre Sennwald.
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• • Mae West and Her Gaudy Retinue in "Belle of the Nineties"

• • Although Mae West has graciously permitted the New York censors to make an honest woman of her in her new picture, she has not adopted the emblematic blue-nose. Back in the days when "Belle of the Nineties" — alias "Belle of New Orleans" and "It Ain't No Sin" — was locked in a death grip with the local censorship board, one of the major points of dissension was the shocking fade-out in which Miss West won her man without the assistance of a justice of the peace. In the new and approved version there is a wedding ceremony and Miss West is now safe for her large following to visit.
• • It is pretty futile to strive for an air of detachment toward Miss West and her new work. A continuously hilarious burlesque of the mustache cup, celluloid collar, and family entrance era of the naughty Nineties, it immediately takes its place among the best screen comedies of the year. Its incomparable star has been bolstered by a smart and funny script, an excellent physical production, and a generally buoyant comic spirit. There are gags for every taste and most of them are outrageously funny according to almost any standard of humor.
• • Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow have provided four crimson chansons — "My Old Flame," "Troubled Waters," "My American Beauty," and "When a St. Louis Woman Comes Down to New Orleans" — which are quite perfect, and Miss West delivers them in her inimitable adenoidal contralto.
• • 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.
• • Of course, Miss West is her own plot, but there are a fixed prize-fight, some stolen jools, an envious siren, a fire, and a pair of rival claimants for her affections to add the necessary business. While Ruby's personal philosophy is, in her own words, to keep cool and collect, she has a healthy admiration for a good man, and the Tiger Kid fills the bill. Sinister interests conspire to separate them, and Ruby Carter is forced to fight for what she politely refers to as her honor against the evil and wax-mustached Ace Lamont, proprietor of the Sensation House. This last is of a vintage so objectionable as to cause the amiable Ruby to remark, "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
• • Roger Pryor as the Tiger Kid, John Miljan as the contemptible Ace, and Katherine DeMille as the jealous mistress of Ace Lamont all contribute excellently to the comedy, while Duke Ellington's boys provide the sulphurous musical background for Miss West's songs. If the great lady's public expects a cool and reasoned appraisal of "Belle of the Nineties" this morning, it will have to be disappointed. Not being immune to the common human failing of magnifying the virtues of the past, this reporter will always consider "She Done Him Wrong" her greatest show. At any rate, her present masterpiece is superior on every count to "I'm No Angel." As for its morality, you have Miss West's own testimony, when she tells an overwrought admirer, "Remember, I'm a lady, you worm."
• • You will have to take her word for it.
• • 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.
• • Source: The New York Times
• • Critic: Andre Sennwald
• • Originally published on: 22 September 1934
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