Some Thoughts by Dan Stumpf

   I recently got me to watching some of Mae West’s old Paramount movies, and for a fat girl, she don’t sweat much. Even in a post-code vehicle like Klondike Annie (1936) she manages some saucy one-liners (a prim cabin-mate asks Mae if she snores, and she replies, “I never had any complaints.”) and when let go full-throttle in Belle of the Nineties (1934), the results are fine indeed.

   Directed by Leo McCarey in one of his Duck Soup moods, Belle features a sensuous musical montage at set at a revival meeting that I still don’t believe: one of those surprising moments of perverse genius that are why I watch movies.

   Mae’s film debut was in an odd little gangster flick called Night After Night (1932), based on a Louis Bromfield story, “A Single Night.” (There’s a quip there somewhere.)

   Directed with surprising competence by Archie Mayo, this offers Mae West in a picture-stealing supporting role as a former girlfriend of George Raft. Raft runs a classy speakeasy in the mansion formerly owned by neuveau-poor Constance Cummings, who is planning to marry Louis Calhern for his money, and obviously the accent here is more on romance than anything criminous, but there are some surprisingly edgy moments between Raft and a competitor who wants to “buy” him out, carried off neatly by`the actor’s casual flair for that sort of part.

   And there’s an odd, moving moment when Raft realizes just how little he means to Cummings that carries a dramatic punch almost amazing, coming from a shallow actor like this and a flat-footed director like Mayo. Add the effect of a brand-new Mae West sashaying around tossing off her own one-liners, and you get quite a nice little movie indeed.

   But alas. Alas I say. Since Mae West’s first film was in support of George Raft, I thought I’d follow it be watching her last film Sextette (1978) in which Raft has a cameo — along with Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Walter Pidgeon, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon and Rona Barrett. They’re the lucky ones: poor Dom Deluise and Timothy Dalton have to stick around for the whole picture.

   This is quite simply a bad movie. No, not simply Bad, but garishly, ennervatingly, appallingly awful and not even worth watching for its badness. The conceit here is that Mae West — eighty years old and looking every nano-second of it in makeup thick enough to embarrass Tammy Faye — is about to marry Timothy Dalton but is lusted after by hordes of handsome young men who keep rushing in and dancing around her.

   Meanwhile, Deluise tries to get her to make love to the Russian ambassador for World Peace and Dalton sings “Love Will Keep Us Together” while Mae looks off camera and reads her lines from a cue card. Her timing is shot, the wit is gone, and the whole sad effect is like watching the last appearances of once-snappy performers like Bob Hope or Muhammad Ali.

   This is a film you should cross the street just to keep from seeing, and one that will plague my mind in those long dark nights of the soul.