Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mae West, Roger Pryor, Johnny Mack Brown, Katherine DeMille, John Miljan, Duke Ellington, James Donlan, Stuart Holmes, Harry Woods, Edward Gargan, Libby Taylor, Warren Hymer, Benny Baker, Morrie Cohan, Tyler Brooke, Tom Herbert, Eddie Borden, Fuzzy Knight, Gene Austin, Blue Washington
Written by: Mae West
Directed by: Leo McCarey
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 75
Date: 09/21/1934

Belle of the Nineties (1934)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dangerous Curves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I came to Mae West late, in 2021, when Kino Lorber released a batch of her movies on Blu-ray. I was familiar with her snide, sexy drawl, and her memorable one-liners, and the way she seemed to sway and sashay across a room, rather than moving her feet. But I had never seen a whole movie. Having watched four of them now, I'm of a mixed mind. She truly was one of a kind; her sex appeal came not from her mathematically-impressive curves, but from her attitude. She liked sex and let us know it, but she also liked to turn down all propositions. Her unavailability made her more desirable. Yet, even in the pre-code era, the movies shoehorned her bawdy style into a formula: she gets the guy in the end, and it feels like a letdown. Post 1934, forget about it.

Belle of the Nineties (1934) was directed by one of the greats, Leo McCarey, but it sadly does not offer much of his sophisticated touch, nor is not really a laugh riot. Set in St. Louis and New Orleans, it features a strange nightclub show wherein Ruby Carter (West) stands still, and lights projected on the stage turn her into a variety of shapes, like a butterfly with wings. The plot involves a boxer and the crooked nightclub owner, a boxing match, and a fire. But Duke Ellington appears, which is a bonus, and West sings "My Old Flame." Quotes include: "Ruby, I must have you... your golden hair, your fascinating eyes, your alluring smile, and lovely arms..." "Wait a minute. Is this a proposal, or are ya takin' inventory?"

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