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'Ultimate' Set: Sinful Sampling of Mae West

August 13, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The indomitable Mae West, who would have been 100 this coming Tuesday, charged the screen as she charged the stage, and there was hell to pay everywhere. You can get some idea of that double-entendre wit, daring and wickedness that enraged the censors and brought the Breen Office snapping at Hollywood's neck in the MCA/Universal three-disc boxed set "The Ultimate Mae West Collection."

The CLV package, priced at $100, comes with a glossy pamphlet that offers a brief history of that grande dame and the four films in the set are all richly transferred black-and-white.

They're early, and vintage, Mae West if not the compleat Mae West, beginning reasonably enough with her first film, the 1932 "Night After Night." It's easy enough to fast-forward past some of the less compelling footage directly to West's scenes, but you can't tell from the chapter stops where she enters the picture. George Raft may have started the film as the star, but there's no question he didn't wind up on top, as a line attributed to him attests: "She stole everything but the cameras."

West sounded the sirens with her first lines, in response to a hatcheck girl's admiring, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." Saeth Lady Mae: "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie!"

"I'm No Angel," following "She Done Him Wrong," opened in 1933 and its success helped keep Paramount solvent. It's no "Done Him Wrong" (not yet available on laser), but pretty close, also with a suave Cary Grant, along with Edward Arnold. It's classic West, here in a circus sideshow with her sights set on playboy Grant, who's not so bad himself. It takes up half of Side 2 and all of Side 3.

The 1934 "Belle of the Nineties," a loose adaptation of West's play "The Constant Sinner," tested her ability to outwit the Production Code. It was directed by Leo McCarey and features an eclectic supporting cast including Johnny Mack Brown and Duke Ellington and his orchestra backing West in four pieces. Among them, a typical West-strutting version of "My Old Flame," in which she teases, tantalizes and puts down an audience of Western male stereotypes.

The 1935 "Klondike Annie," directed by Raoul Walsh, also ran afoul of censors. Unfortunately, eight minutes snipped to satisfy them was lost forever when Paramount destroyed its outtakes before selling its library to MCA. Several West numbers, easily identified by chapter stops, are worth seeing, though, including the bizarre "I'm an Occidental Woman" and the more typical "It's Better to Give Than to Receive."

The set also includes the original theatrical trailers for "Night After Night," "I'm No Angel" and "Belle of the Nineties."

LASERBITS

New Movies Just Out

"Falling Down" (Warner, $35); "Army of Darkness" (MCA/Universal, letterboxed and pan-and-scan, $35); "Homeward Bound" (Disney, letterboxed, $40).

Coming Soon: Warner's "The Crush" ($35), due next week; Warner's "Boiling Point," with Wesley Snipes ($35, Aug. 25); Paramount's "The Temp," starring Timothy Hutton and Lara Flynn Boyle (letterboxed, $35, Aug. 25); Columbia TriStar's "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray ($35, Aug. 25); Warner's "Point of No Return," starring Bridget Fonda, (letterboxed, $35, Sept. 1); Paramount's "Fire in the Sky," with D.B. Sweeney (letterboxed, $35, Sept. 15).

Old Movies Just Out

"Rio Grande" (Republic, $40, 1950). The Western directed by John Ford, with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.

"The War Wagon" (MCA/Universal, $35, letterboxed and pan-and-scan, 1967). Western featuring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas.

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