Night Angel [1990]

Genre: Horror
The triumph of personality is beautifully demonstrated in Mae West: The Glamour Collection, a bundle of five comedies featuring the never duplicated (if often imitated) Ms. West. Never altering her insouciant, sexed-up persona, Mae West sashays through these films like a tour guide in a well-lit bordello, cheerfully cracking herself up with a series of perfectly-timed one-liners. Since she wrote her own material, there was no separation between the lady (what a feeble word) and her scandalous dialogue. If you doubt this, check out Night After Night, her film debut. The first half of the picture is an unremarkable gangster comedy: George Raft in his usual inert form, Constance Cummings the good girl, capable comic support from Roscoe Karns and Alison Skipworth. Then West blowses in, and it's all over. Within a minute she's tossed off an eternal signature line (hatcheck girl: "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." West: "Goodness had nothin' to do with it, dearie") and disrupted the high-class aims of gangster Raft. The other actors look agog at this unapologetic force of libido. Watching this, you might recall the first time you ever saw Groucho Marx or Bill Murray on film--the movie itself disappears, replaced by gratitude that someone like this exists. I'm No Angel followed her first starring vehicle (She Done Him Wrong, not included here), and its lunatic plot--Mae as a lion tamer taken up by New York society--does nothing to slow the barrage of sexual innuendo. West hums her way through the film with the kind of confidence that must have inspired countless fans to try something disreputable. Cary Grant is the bemused recipient of West's attention. Goin' to Town is nearly as good, as dance-hall gal Mae inherits an oil fortune, then sets her cap for the haughty Englishman working on her, uh, wells. West's style is undiminished (she was in her mid-forties already), although by this time the Production Code--concocted in part as a horrified response to her first films--was trimming her entendres. Tamer still is the tongue-in-cheek Go West Young Man, although the spectacle of West (playing a "temperamental" movie star) leering after hunky Randolph Scott is pleasant. My Little Chickadee, made at Universal after her run at Paramount ended, is the legendary pairing with W.C. Fields. It's full of great bon mots from both drawlers, even if the sum is less than its parts. Disapproving Margaret Hamilton tells Fields of West, "I'm afraid I can't say anything good about her." Fields replies, "I can see what's good, tell me the rest." These five films are a good introduction to the rest. Beulah, peel me a grape. --Robert Horton

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