The skeleton of the story, along with West's signature come-hither manner, can still be seen in the film. Instead of prostitutes in a brothel, Lil (now "Lou") and her friends are dancing girls in a saloon. Instead of explicit mention of girls being sold into sex slavery on the Barbary Coast, it is implied. Instead of the huge white swan bed in which Mae greeted her male visitors, it is a chaise lounge. Instead of the five signature songs that wowed the Broadway crowd, there are three, one of which is missing a verse. Despite all of this, the essence of the play is still there, and all the Codes in the world couldn't keep Mae West from being her typical seductive and sexy self.
She plays Lou, the girlfriend and head dancer for a tough borough boss in 1890s New York. Gus (Noah Beery), her boyfriend, has dealings on the side with two Europeans who kidnap girls and sell them to slavers in North Africa. Lou doesn't know anything about it, and unwittingly delivers a young despondent girl into their hands. She has her hands full, though. In addition to Gus, there are a lot of other guys who want a piece of her. There's Flynn (David Landau), a rival tough guy who wants to get depose Gus and take everything he has, including Lou. There's Chick Clark (Owen Moore), an unbalanced gangster who escapes from prison with the intention of reclaiming his "property" and killing her other suitors. There's Serge, the suave and handsome crony to the head of the slaving ring. Finally, there's Cummings (Cary Grant), who runs a Christian mission next door but has his own secrets to keep.
Mae carries the movie; during an era when skinny boyish girls were the rage, she was proudly full-figured and a heck of a lot more attractive than many of the flappers she despised. She gets to sing three songs, but unfortunately two of them, "A Guy What Takes His Time" and "Easy Rider", are cut badly. If you ever get the chance, look for a collection of her songs on CD, even though they lose a little without seeing her suggestive delivery. This is the film that made her a star, and it contains many of her best one-liners, including the oft-misquoted "Why don't you come on up sometime, see me?" Even after 70 years, it is obvious what all the fuss was about. The movie was nominated for Best Picture, of all things. That would be like nominating a good Farrely Brothers film for Best Picture today.
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