Cast: Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore, Gilbert Roland, Noah Beery, Sr., David Landau, Rafaela Ottiano, Dewey Robinson, Rochelle Hudson
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture
SUMMARY: In the 1890s, Lady Lou (Mae West) is the most famous entertainer in New York. She works at the Bowery, a saloon/club owned by current boyfriend Gus Jordan (Noah Beery, Sr.), and along with her reputation as a performer, she is known for her vast collection of diamonds. Some of these have come from Jordan, while others have come from (numerous) past boyfriends. One of these boyfriends is Chick Clark (Owen Moore), who is in prison after trying to steal some of those diamonds back. In addition, Lou has attracted the attention of Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), the head of the new mission next door to the club. He comes into the club almost every day, but Lou is unable to convince him to become a more personal friend. Unbeknownst to Lou, Gus Jordan has a side business: prostitution and counterfeiting, which is how he pays for the diamonds. He runs this crime ring with Russian Rita (Rafaela Ottiano) and her assistant Sergei Stanieff (Gilbert Roland), who quickly becomes smitten with Lou. Another club owner, Dan Flynn, is onto Jordan’s scheme, as are Federal agents. Flynn uses this knowledge as a weapon, trying to force Lou into leaving Jordan’s club and coming to his. However, Lou is more worried about Chick, who is getting nervous about her faithfulness to him. Lou tries to reassure him, but a few days later, Chick escapes from jail and comes looking for her.
Before a performance one night, Chick suddenly appears in Lou’s room and tries to strangle her. He is unable to finish because of his feelings for her, but is still irate: Lou calms him down by promising to leave with him after singing her next song. Downstairs, she runs into Sergei, who presents her with a new diamond pin. However, Lou recognizes the pin as belonging to Rita – and Rita sees it, too. She follows Lou back to her room after the performance and threatens her with a knife. During the ensuing struggle, Lou accidentally stabs Rita, who quickly dies. Just then, the police show up, looking for Chick, but Lou manages to hide the fact that Rita is dead by brushing her hair over her face. After the police leave, Lou gets her bodyguard to take care of the body. She also sends him to retrieve Chick while she sings again. During the song, Lou tries to send covert signals to Dan Flynn to go to her room, knowing that Chick is already there. When Flynn goes to the room, Chick shoots him; the shots attract the attention of the police, who quickly raid the building. To her surprise, Lou learns that Cummings is not a mission leader at all, but a famous, accomplished Federal agent. He arrests the remaining men (Jordan, Sergei and Chick), and takes them outside to a police escort. Lou is also placed under arrest, but is not put into the paddywagon with the men. Instead, Cummings takes her to a private carriage. Lou is sarcastic and slightly indignant, particularly when Cummings tells her that the police will seize all her diamonds. However, he then puts an engagement ring on her finger, and tells her that she belongs with him, not in jail.
MY TAKE: This movie was adapted from a stage performance that was actually written by Mae West, and is widely considered to be the world’s introduction to Cary Grant. While I admire Mae for being a badass – she wrote her own play, made it into a success, then turned it into a successful movie, all while playing the lead role – I didn’t find the movie to be that outstanding. It’s really short (66 minutes), which makes the plot seemed rushed. Quite a bit of that time is spent setting up the climactic night at the club, so it seems like there’s only two parts of the movie. The first part is pretty routine, and even a little tedious – it’s established that Lou knows (probably rather closely) just about every man in New York, and that several saloon owners/entertainers are running a crooked business. I thought there were too many characters, especially since most of them are men who are obsessed with Lou. In addition, her relationship with Cummings isn’t developed much at all, which makes it hard to believe that he would suddenly propose to her – and that she would accept. Everything kind of comes together all at once, with literally every character converging on one location at the same time. Naturally, Lou comes out smelling like a rose, although it’s hard to believe that she had no idea what Jordan was doing. She’s not a naïve woman, after all. It’s also hard for me to believe (sorry) that Cummings was ready to take her away and marry her on the spot. He’s several social classes above her usual type, and since he “worked” next door to the club for a year, he has to know of her reputation. My guess is that this film is on the list for the brassiness of Mae West, who had a lot of control over the film in a time when that was not the norm. Since the movie is pre-Code, there’s also a lot of innuendo, most of which comes from her. She plays a very ballsy character, which seems to mirror her real personality fairly accurately.
RATING: Weak plot.