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Three Mae West Movies from Universal

I'm No Angel (December 2/15)

I'm No Angel casts Mae West as Tira, a circus performer who finds herself juggling the affections of several men - including Ralf Harolde's Slick Wiley, Kent Taylor's Kirk Lawrence, and Cary Grant's Jack Clayton. Screenwriter West is clearly not looking to stray far from her comfort zone here, as I'm No Angel boasts (or suffers from) a structure that is, to put it mildly, typical for West's early career. There's a consequent lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, with this vibe perpetuated by West's dogged refusal to infuse the narrative with elements designed to push things forward. West, along with director Wesley Ruggles, chooses instead to pad out the proceedings with musical numbers and hopelessly disposable sequences, with the most obvious example of the latter a long, pointless, and somewhat unpleasant interlude set at the aforementioned circus' animal show. It goes without saying, of course, that I'm No Angel benefits substantially from West's expectedly engaging (and entertaining) turn as the seriously sassy central character, and the film contains just as many memorable one-liners as one might've hoped (and anticipated) - including the justifiably legendary "when I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better" crack. The oddball climactic court case that closes the film is kind of interesting (if completely absurd), with the end result a predictably erratic Mae West vehicle that wouldn't even be worth mentioning were it not for her.

out of

Night after Night (November 18/15)

Mae West's screen debut, Night after Night follows speakeasy owner Joe Anton (George Raft) as he falls for a rich society girl (Constance Cummings' Jerry Healy) and immediately attempts to lure her away from Louis Calhern's Dick Bolton - with problems ensuing as a pair of ex-girlfriends (Wynne Gibson's Iris and West's Maudie) arrive on the scene. There's not much within Night after Night's first half that's worth getting terribly excited about, as the narrative, for the most part, details the less-than-enthralling and rather mundane exploits of the central character (eg Joe meets with vicious rivals, Joe engages in a lesson with his English tutor, etc). It's clear, then, that the movie improves considerably once West's character bursts onto the scene at around the halfway mark, with the actress' captivating and downright electrifying performance effectively infusing Night after Night with a jolt of much-needed energy. West's brassy turn, which stands in sharp contrast to her comparatively bland costars, ensures that the film suffers whenever she's offscreen, and there's little doubt that Night after Night would barely even be worth mentioning were it not for her scene-stealing presence.

out of

She Done Him Wrong (November 23/15)

As expected, She Done Him Wrong boasts few positive attributes or elements worth getting excited about aside from Mae West's typically magnetic turn as the brash protagonist - with the film suffering from a tedious storyline that progresses at a disastrously deliberate pace (which is actually rather surprising given that the movie runs about an hour). The thin narrative follows nightclub singer Lady Lou (West) as she attempts to juggle the many men in her life, including Cary Grant's Captain Cummings, Gilbert Roland's Serge, and Owen Moore's Chick Clark. She Done Him Wrong opens with a fair bit of promise, admittedly, as director Lowell Sherman does an effective job of initially establishing both the central locale and the various characters - with, in terms of the latter, Sherman effectively creating an atmosphere of anticipation surrounding Lady Lou's first appearance (ie West doesn't show up until around 10 minutes into the picture). Beyond that point, however, She Done Him Wrong devolves into a series of tedious, padded-out sequences that exist for no other reason than to provoke West's anticipated one-liners (some of which are quite sharp, to be fair) - which ultimately ensures that the film is rarely able to approach the heights achieved by its star's dynamic performance.

out of

© David Nusair