Mae West (1982)

“Marriage is a fine institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.” This quote of Mae West’s pretty much sums up the theme of this biopic. Influenced by her parent’s relationship, Mae is determined not to be tied down to one man as she makes a place for herself in the world. Yet after experiencing success on stage, screen and radio, Mae comes to realise that some experiences are best enjoyed when shared. If only the biopic focused more on West’s witticisms and less on the pop psychology, it might have been far more successful.

 

As it is, the film is mildly entertaining, with most of the credit going to Ann Jillian in the title role. Performing six song-and-dance numbers, Jillian expertly reproduces the raunchy burlesque of the star’s early stage career. Off-stage, she effectively mimics West’s speaking voice while delivering the lines with a comedienne’s sense of timing.

  

Less successful is her co-star. Six years after Gable and Lombard, James Brolin’s moustache may have got fuller, but his performance remains wooden, hindered more so by a wandering Irish accent.

 

It would also be another six years before Ann Jillian made another biopic. That one was about an actress battling breast cancer. Its title – The Ann Jillian Story.

cast, Ann Jillian, Mae West, Chuck McCann, W.C. Fields
Ann Jillian
Ann Jillian

as Mae West

Chuck McCann
Chuck McCann

as W.C. Fields

Rod McCary
Rod McCary

as Cary Grant

Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer

as George Raft

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Archie Mayo, Dennis Alwood, Edgar Bergen, Nicholas Meyer, George Raft

The fictional character of Rene Valentine is a composite character based on real-life 1920's female impersonators, including Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge.

Bill Morey, Al Kaufman, Michael Currie, Bill Le Baron, Jay Garner

Biopic recreates scene from Night after Night with Mae West delivering her “Goodness had nothing to do with it” line, but adds a superfluous coda. It also features her sparring with Cary Grant in She Done Him Wrong and fluffing her lines in Every Day's a Holiday.

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