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Robert Harris

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Mae West entered films via a contract with Paramount at age 40.

Between 1932 and 1940, she appeared in nine films for them.

Unfortunately for her ribald humor, the production code hitting the industry seriously in the summer of 1932, affected her abilities to push her act as far as she might have desired.

Over the years, Universal has made her work available in various formats, inclusive of DVD. We're fortunate that Kino has stepped to the plate to finally give them the Blu-ray treatment they deserve.

Original negs no longer survive on these films, so everything is derived from safety dupes, presumably of varying quality.

Expectations on this series left a big question mark out there, as to what they might look like, but based upon sampling the two earliest, I've come away extremely pleased with the quality.

Rather than handle them as single reviews, I'll append to this thread as I'm able to check out each release.

As a whole, Kino is giving us history in a bottle, as film by film, we're able to appreciate the work of, and add to our collections the films necessary for that completist ethic.

The first two, Night After Night (1932) and She Done Him Wrong (1933) seem to be of equal quality.

Each has a lovely gray scale, proper film grain and (especially for a dupe) very nice black levels, with just enough air to make things work.

Look closely through the digital clean-ups, and you'll occasionally find some very minor wear, which from a normal seating distance becomes invisible.

In short, I'm thrilled with these Blu-rays.

Although (by billing) one might be led to believe that Night After Night is a Mae West film, it isn't. It's a George Raft film, and is merely Miss West's first appearance, for which she properly received fourth billing.

Reviews were okay. The New York Times' Mordaunt Hall, in his October 31, 1932 review, where he notes that Miss West plays

"Maudie Triplett... [which character is made quite amusing by Miss West], who cares not whether the moon is out or the sun is shining or Joe has a new interest in life, so long as she is not short of alcoholic beverages."


A year later, Miss West does receive first billing in She Done Him Wrong, the billing of which is "with Cary Grant." Score one for Grant completists!

Based upon the 1928 play Diamond Lil by Miss West, this is the film via which a cinema star was born - bawdy, and pushing the limits of film censorship.

When the film opened at the Paramount in New York in February of 1933, there was a small extra. Per The New York Times:

On the Stage. Miss West supplements her cinema appearance by lending her swaggering talents to the stage show. With Georges Metaxa for a foil, she repeats three or four brief scenes from the picture and sings some of its songs.The surrounding bill features Cliff Edwards, with his faithful ukulele, as well as the Diamond Boys and Rubinoff."

One can only imagine it.


With I'm No Angel (1933) Mr. Grant received billing without the "with."

As with the majority of her other films, Miss West was writing, and receiving story, screenplay and dialogue credit. stories, if not screenplays.

Wesley Ruggles, younger brother of Charles (Bringing Up Baby, Ruggles of Red Gap) directed. His film credits go back to 1915, as an actor in Caught in the Park, a Mack Sennett short for Keystone. He began directing two years later. He spent time at Universal, directed for Goldwyn (Condemned! - 1929), RKO, M-G-M, Columbia, with and moved (not exclusively) to Paramount beginning in 1930, and during his stint there did this single film with Miss West.

Technically, as far as survival quality, this is one of the best seen thus far. Superb image and sound quality. And that's a good thing, as it's one of West's major films, which nicely stands the test of time.

When people think of her career, it's generally She Done Him Wrong, I'm No Angel and My Little Chickadee that come to mind.


Next up, the 1934 Belle of the Nineties, directed by the great Leo McCarey, who seems not a great match for his leading lady. Interesting to note that every one of her films was directed by someone different. Karl Struss shot three of them.

Not a great film, Belle is the most problematic technically, with both imagery as well as sonically.

I honestly have a problem figuring out whether this is from a fourth of fifth generation appearing 35mm element, or from a quality 16 dupe. The image is more than there, and serviceable for those seeking to view West's career, but it's hopefully going to be the single problem of the bunch.

One thing that I've noticed for the first time is that when Miss West is on display in one way or another, as she usually is, she just stands there and does her best at looking amorous.


1935 brought "Goin' to Town" directed by Alexander Hall (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), for which West is credited with the screenplay.
Not one of her standouts.

Image appears to be from an older telecine, as it wombles a bit in the frame. Nothing untoward, but more than simple bob & weave.


Go West Young Man, 1936, directed by Henry Hathaway, who knew his way around a western, is based upon the Broadway play "Personal Appearance." It's a return to a more basic plot line, with Randolph Scott taking the second lead.


Again, this appears to be an older transfer, but it's generally fine. Akin to Goin' to Town, some wear is noted, but nothing problematic.


Klondike Annie, the other 1936 production, directed and Raoul Walsh and with Victor McLaglen in the supporting role, is yet another film based upon a play and with screenplay by Miss West.

It carried on what was becoming a tradition of less than wonderful films, all based around West's persona.

Frank Nugent in the New York Times noted:


"Mae West's "Klondike Annie" really does not merit the agitation it has caused. Neither as healthily rowdy nor as vulgarly suggestive as many of her earlier pictures, it emerges... as a tiresome and rather stupid combination of lavender and old japes. Although we are prepared to debate the blue noses on Miss West's right to wave, we cannot accept undulation without wit or négligée without reason. It is, of course, highly ironic that the more she attempts to please the censors the more she displeases them. In her new film she gets religion, turns evangelist of a sort and speaks generally as though she had just been spanked for saying something naughty and was trying not to offend again. Although it seems to put us on the wrong side of the fence, we must mention that Miss West does not function any too well in a moral strait-jacket."

Image-wise the film is about average for the Paramount elements. Audio likewise. It's just fine for the purpose. Contrast is a step above some of the others, and works nicely.


Every Day's a Holiday, 1937, directed by A. Edward Sutherland is yet another film for which Miss West created the screenplay, and if things had begun to seem repetitive, possibly that's the problem.

There are those who are huge fans of her work, and I find myself interested in a few of the
films. This isn't one of them. But as released, it's integral to telling the West story at Paramount.

Image quality and audio are barely acceptable, but they are what they are, for as a whole, the elements that survived, or safety elements created for the sale to Universal, aren't a pretty picture. They were good enough for TV syndication.

Here the image is the softest of the bunch, and doesn't like projection.


The final film in the Kino group produced by Universal, jumps to 1940, and is a strange amalgam of the work of two sole entertainers, working together for the first (and only) time, and sharing screen credit.

For that reason alone, it's an interesting film, and one of the most famous of the bunch - a favorite of 1960s college screenings.

Shot by Joseph Valentine, as opposed to Paramount's Karl Struss, it's immediately clear that surviving elements at Universal are far superior to those from Paramount.

Resolution pops, with a proper grain structure and complete gray scale. If only the others looked as good as Chickadee.

While Mr. Fields had another couple of quality films yet to come - The Bank Dick and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break - Miss West seems to have either given up or worn out her welcome.

I have no idea what was going on, and haven't researched the facts, but at 47, the true West films were at an end. She made one more forgettable film in 1943, and the '50s created a nightclub act.

I'm not ignoring Myra Breckenridge or Sextette. They're simply outside of the present subject.


Night After Night

Image – 4.25

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely

Recommended.



She Done Him Wrong

Image – 4.25

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Yes

Highly Recommended.



I'm No Angel

Image – 4.5

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely

Very Highly Recommended.


Belle of the Nineties

Image – 3.25

Audio – 3.5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Not Certain


Goin' to Town

Image – 3.5

Audio – 4

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Yes



Go West Young Man

Image – 3.5

Audio – 4

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Yes

Recommended.


Klondike Annie

Image – 4

Audio – 4

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Yes


Every Day's a Holiday

Image – 3.25

Audio – 3.5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Only for huge fans and completists



My Little Chickadee

Image – 4.5

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely

Recommended.



RAH
 
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B-ROLL

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These are my most anticipated catalog titles of the year so far. I’m especially excited for My Little Chickadee!
classic film im no angel GIF
 

RobertMG

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Sad it took the fire at Universal for them to start going thru and checking all their assets and condition of these priceless films and THANK YOU Universal for seeing their worth now and THANK YOU KINO for releasing them! We as film lovers must support these efforts and knowing the great people here that is happening!
 

B-ROLL

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From what I've heard, Universal/MCA had better knowledge of their asset inventory than most studios. The somewhat apocryphal story of "save the" "Brendan Fraser" version of The Mummy vs the Karloffs et al is that high res data and analogue versions of the earlier films had already been created and the new Mummy films were made using obsolete data storage/creations systems and the versions in that vault fire were more necessary to continue to be able to have the newer versions of The Mummy as future assets.

The music lost in the 2008 vault fire was a completely different issue as MCA/UMG kept on acquiring music companies and apparently were behind preserving and cataloging those assets.
 
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RobertMG

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From what I've heard, Universal/MCA had better knowledge of their asset inventory than most studios. The somewhat apocryphal story of "save the "Brendan Fraser" version of The Mummy vs the Karloffs et al is that high res data and analogue versions of the earlier films had already been created and the new Mummy films were made using obsolete data storage/creations systems and the versions in that vault fire were more necessary to continue to be able to have the newer versions of The Mummy as future assets.

The music lost in the 2008 vault fire was a completely different issue as MCA/UMG kept on acquiring music companies and apparently were behind preserving and cataloging those assets.
Thank you for the info my remarks about Universal were not meant to insult them, the work they did on their classic horror films was amazing and the work they are now doing is a miracle, too bad though NO uncut print survives on HORSEFEATHERS. What does puzzle me with Universal is they spent 2 million to restore the FUN Henry Aldrich Paramount's and they are sitting there collecting dust, last time I saw them was in the early 70's here on NYC television, always like them better than the Andy Hardy's! THANK YOU RAH for this great review you just sold me some Mae West Blu Rays
 
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Josh Steinberg

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I preordered direct from Kino and sometimes they will ship a little before street date - with how early RAH has gotten review product, I’m hopeful that I might not have to wait until the very end of June to enjoy the ones I’ve preordered.
 

bujaki

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@Robert Harris, I watched all the films when they recently played on the Criterion Channel. Your assessment is spot on. Some transfers were spectacular; others were disappointing. I'd hoped that Kino's releases might have been an upgrading of what was shown by Criterion, but alas, your reviews point out that what I saw were the new masters.
 

Richard M S

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It's great news about the early films with improved picture quality; however I am disappointed about the condition of Belle Of The Nineties, which features Duke Ellington and Mae's introduction of the song My Old Flame, now a standard.

I also guess Klondike Annie's 8 minutes of censored footage are forever gone as well otherwise it would have been highlighted by Kino.
 

David Weicker

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Yes, indeed, my comment was posted just below it, was it not visible to you? In any case, thanks so much for pointing it out!!
On my browser, post 16 had his comment 'quoted' with no text from you. Your text was on post 17


I'm used to seeing both quote and comment in the same post. (like this one).
 

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