|BELLE OF THE NINETIES (director: Leo McCarey; screenwriter: adapted from a story by Mae West; cinematographer: Karl Struss; editor: LeRoy Stone; music: Arthur Johnston/Sam Coslow; cast: Mae West (Ruby Carter), Roger Pryor (Tiger Kid ), Katherine de Mille (Molly Brant), Johnny Mack Brown (Brooks Claybourne), John Miljan (Ace Lamont), James Donlan (Manager, Kirby), Edward Gargan(Stogie), Libby Taylor (Jasmine , Mae's maid), Sam McDaniel (Brother Eben); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Le Baron; Paramount; 1934)|
Mae West vehicle that lacks wit and
a good story."
by Dennis Schwartz
Disappointing Mae West vehicle that lacks wit and a
good story. The pic follows the 41-year-old actress'
back-to-back hits She
Done Him Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel
(1933). Mae is not particularly funny in
her fourth film, as most of her double entendre
one-liners lay an egg. The 19th-century comedy is
based on a story written by the star and
entitled It Ain't No Sin, until
the humorless censors made her change the title
and the Hays Office went through the screenplay
with a red pencil and took out all the bawdy
things they could. The result is still a Mae West
production promoting her onscreen sexual
appetites, how sexy she looks in a gown and giving
her audience a fair quota of cheap sexual thrills,
but is tied up in a story that is too sanitized to
have much of a bite or create much excitement.
It's one of Mae's weaker efforts. Director Leo
McCarey ("Duck Soup"/"Ruggles of Red
Gap"/"Going My Way") offers no help in his passionless
West plays Ruby Carter, a St. Louis vaudeville torch
singer in 1894 romancing up-and-coming prizefighter
Tiger Kid (Roger Pryor), who is crazy
about her and possessive. When Tiger's sleazy manager
Kirby (James Donlan) can't keep
his man away from the seductive singer and in his eyes
threatens his boxing career, he schemes to make his
jealous boxer think that she's two-timing him with a
phone prank of another suitor calling and the sap
falls for it and dumps her. Kirby now gets his fighter
to concentrate on fighting for the championship
instead of being sidetracked with matters of love.
After Tiger writes Ruby a Dear John letter, she
accepts an offer from the vile New Orleans "Sensation
House" saloon owner Ace LaMont (John Miljan)
and sets up shop on Bourbon Street. Ruby rejects Ace's
come-on, as he tells her he's wild about her and she
retorts that "the wildest men make the best pets."
Meanwhile Ace's squeeze is his club singer Molly (Katherine
de Mille), who is jealous of Ruby and
not bashful of telling her to lay off my man. Instead
Ruby lures the wealthy playboy Brooks
Claybourne (Johnny Mack Brown),
who courts her with diamonds. Meanwhile the crooked
Ace hires Tiger to fight for the championship in a
fixed fight he promotes and through trickery gets the
dim-witted boxer to steal Ruby's diamonds while she's
riding in a darkened coach. When Ruby gets wind of
what Ace is up to, she drugs Tiger's water bottle and
he loses the championship fight that Ace bet
everything he had on Tiger, including Ruby's diamonds
he stole from her while keeping them in her safe. The
story goes off the track with all sorts of mayhem
before it concludes with a contrived and unmerited
happy ending, forced on it by the censors.
good about the film is that Mae, accompanied onscreen
and sometimes off screen by Duke Ellington and
Orchestra, delivers with flare such honky-tonk blues
treats as "When A St. Louis Woman Goes Down To
New Orleans," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Troubled Waters,"
"Memphis Blues," and "My Old Flame."
interest to me, Libby Taylor plays Mae's black maid,
who in real-life is also her maid.
REVIEWED ON 7/4/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ