Thursday, July 24, 2008

Im No Angel

In the comedy classic, I'm No Angel (1933), one of Mae West's three best films, she was reunited with supporting star Cary Grant following their success in She Done Him Wrong (1933). (This film even surpassed their previous film's record at the box-office.) Appearing just before restrictions would be imposed by the Production Code on motion pictures, this was West's second original effort, and was partially written and directed by her.

The funny plot directed by Wesley Ruggles, about West as a floozy lady lion tamer who makes it big on Broadway and hustles men out of their money, was an excuse to load up on the comical talents, quotable wisecracks and one-liners, and racy double entendres in her promiscuous dialogue, suggestive songs and body language.

A one-ring circus and sideshow carnival, called Big Bill Barton's Wonder Show is managed by Big Bill Barton (Edward Arnold). As the barker (Russell Hopton) tempts a crowded audience to enter, a carnival pickpocket named Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde) works the crowd.

Carnival queen and dazzling international small-time circus star performer Tira (Mae West), the Incomparable, is the side-show's vamp attraction. The barker uses her to lure middle-aged male patrons into the show. She is introduced:

Over there, Tira, the beautiful Tira, dancing, singing, marvel of the age, supreme flower of feminine pulchritude, the girl who discovered you don't have to have feet to be a dancer.
Tira's sauntering entrance is preceded by a red-carpet roll-out and trumpeters. On the midway on a raised catwalk, while parading past a crowd of leering men in a sexy gown, she purrs to the spectators:

A penny for your thoughts. Got the idea boys. You follow me?
Inside the show, she performs "Sister Honky Tonk," moving with suggestive body motion behind a veil. Another of Tira's talents is to hustle and personally attract the attention of wealthy, diamond-ringed spectators. After playing with her erotic costume and shimmying, she exits from the stage:

Am I makin' myself clear, boys? Suckers.
Big Bill wants her to work the lions that night as she leaves, but she responds:

I'm gonna be a bad girl and go home to bed. I'm tired of tossin' my hips.
Tira normally performs with the lions after her sideshow stint. Rajah (Nigel de Brulier), the astrologer reads her horoscope:

Rajah: You were born in August.
Tira: Yeah, one of the hot months.
Rajah: It was on the 17th under the sign of Leo, the Lion.
Tira: Aw, King of the Beasts, huh.
She is warned to be careful that night, because she might be unlucky. Tira then asks about her future, because she knows all about her past:

Rajah: Ah, you have a wonderful future. I see a man in your life.
Tira: What, only one?
Rajah: But this is one very particular man. He is very wealthy, enormously wealthy.
Tira: ...What does he look like?
Rajah: I see he has brown eyes. In fact, I see two men...two different men. In the near future, I see a change....I see a change of position.
Tira: Sitting or reclining?...
Rajah: The horoscope. Keep this where you may consult it frequently.
Tira: All right, I'll take it to bed with me.
She returns to her place that she shares with Slick Wiley. Although she lives with Slick, she also maintains a place away from the circus. He complains how cool she has been to him lately. He wonders why she acts so "high-hat," not wanting to help the circus by performing regularly with the lions, and for often being away from the show lot.

Tira is sick and tired of the show: "I've got about as much privacy around here as a goldfish." Then, she notices his slick new haircut: "What did you do? Did you get your hair cut or have your ears moved down?" He appears jealous when she is brought a note from an admirer. As she leaves for a hot date, she advises her friend Thelma with her personal motto:

Always remember, honey. A good motto is: Take all you can get and give as little as possible.
Tira explains how she nabs rich men - with her philosophy of how to treat men:

Don't forget, honey. Never let one man worry your mind. Find 'em, fool 'em and forget 'em.

As she leaves the circus grounds, an amorous trapeze artist makes a play for her. She warns him to be careful and not feel crazy about her when he's up on the flying rings. She fondles his arm, while reassuring his acrobatic partner: "Don't worry. I ain't gonna hurt him. I only wanna feel his muscles."

Tira intends to shake down an admiring, visiting suitor in his hotel room, a Chump named Ernest Brown (Wm. B. Davidson) - the one in the crowd who had earlier flashed his expensive ring at her. He claims that she is different. She replies: "Anything different always costs more, but it's worth it." Tira asks him how many times he has been married. When he replies five times, this causes her to react:

Tira: Five times!...Wedding bells must sound like an alarm clock to you.
The Chump: I don't suppose you believe in marriage, do you?
Tira: Only as a last resort...What do you do for a livin'?
The Chump: Oh, uh, sort of a politician.
Tira: I don't like work either.
The Chump: Oh, you know I like to get around and travel, and believe me, I've been places and seen things.
Tira: I've been things and seen places. That sorta evens us up, huh?
Learning that he is from Dallas, she puts on a record: "No One Loves Me Like that Dallas Man," (originally titled No One Does It Like That Dallas Man), choosing the appropriate city title from among similar records for Frisco and Memphis Men. The song's racy lyrics have a number of suggestive lines:

Why, brother, he's a wild horse trainer,
With a special whip -
Gals you'll go insaner
When he gets you in his grip...

She dances seductively in front of him as he warms up to her:

The Chump: You're certainly givin' me the time of my life, baby.
Tira: Don't say givin'. I don't like that word givin'.
She gives him a long kiss.
Just then, Slick comes in (a familiar shakedown tactic to extract money from the Chump), breaks in on his "wife" to threaten the suitor and call the cops. But she is upset with Slick:

You can't shake this guy down. Here I am just about to come up with some dough and you come in and spoil it.
And the Chump refuses to be taken for a sucker:

You picked the wrong one this time. I got connections in this town and I'm gonna see that you get what's comin' to ya, both of ya.
Slick knocks him out with a bottle after he resists. Tira refuses to take the blame for what Slick has done, although Slick understands her motives:

You'd like me to get set up though so you could have a free hand with the boys. What a good time you'd have. Well listen, you may be tired of me, but I ain't tired of you.

He forces a kiss from her. Unconcerned and coldhearted about the stiff body on the floor, Slick robs the Chump of his expensive diamond ring before the two of them leave. Soon after, Slick is caught on the circus grounds with the stolen ring, identified by the Chump, and arrested/jailed for theft and beating. Tira calls long-distance for lawyer friend Benny Pinkowitz (Gregory Ratoff) to help out. Big Bill Barton thinks Pinkowitz is a shyster and wonders how she got mixed up in the incident with Slick. "Like an olive in a dry martini," she replies.

Pinkowitz agrees to help but demands money to cover court costs: "a nice piece of change to square up everything." Tira asks Big Bill a favor for "some dough right away." She explains her alternatives:

It's either one thing or the other. You fix me up with dough before morning or I gotta get out of town. If Slick goes up, he's gonna drag me with him. I want the dough and I'll pay you back as soon as I can.
To help raise money to help Slick and cover his defense, Tira proposes a crowd-pleasing act for Barton - she will even stick her head in the big cat's mouth. Bill is unconvinced until the circus barker persuades Bill to go through with her crazy proposal. They rush to Tira's quarters:

Big Bill: I changed my mind.
Tira: (wisecracking) Does it work any better?
They suggest a business proposition to her, to become the star attraction of Barton's new show that would play to large audiences:

The Big Show. Playing the big cities...No more worrying...All the clothes you want.
But Tira is already skeptical and fearful: "What good will clothes do me without a head?" But she is soon convinced by the promise of stardom, fame, and money:

Boys, I think you got me sold. The only trouble with a trick like that. If it don't work the first time, you don't get a second chance.
Tira is advanced $2,000: a "couple of grand." She immediately prepares her whip and pistol, and walks to the lion's cage. She consults with the lion in the cage:

Now listen, honey. There's a little somethin' I want to talk over with ya. Now this is what you gotta do!
At the Big Show playing for two weeks in New York City, Tira is the star of the new sensational lion-tamer act, the "million-dollar beauty." She enters the ring astride an elephant, wearing a white sequined uniform with a whip in her hand. The climax of her act is the death-defying act of placing her head in the jaws of the king of beasts.

A sailor in the audience tells his pal: "Say, if them lions don't show some sense, I'm going down and bite her myself." Following the show, Tira tells her black maid Beulah Thorndyke (Gertrude Howard):

Well, Beulah, that's another performance under my belt and I still got the face...It's my fortune. When I was born with this face, it was the same as striking oil.
Back stage, she is introduced to "silk hats" (high-society people), including rich playboy Kirk Lawrence (Kent Taylor) and his fiancee, an upper class snob named Alicia Hatton (Gertrude Michael). Alicia believes that Tira is beneath her and leaves immediately. The group of "silk hats" tells her how impressed they are with her daring lion act and request autographs. As Kirk leaves, he personally tells her:

Kirk: Well anyway, you've been awfully kind. I'll never forget you.
Tira: No one ever does.
Speaking loudly outside Tira's door so that Tira can hear, Alicia feels Tira only appeals to the men because "they all have low minds and she's certainly low enough to appeal to them...I think she's crude in a very ill-bred person." Not willing to let the insult pass, Tira humiliates the woman by tossing her glass of water out the door, soaking society girl Alicia's bare back.

Kirk returns to retrieve his cane, deliberately left so he can speak privately to Tira and make a play for her: "You're wonderful. You're dazzling. You're beautiful. You're gorgeous...Let's get better acquainted." She finally accepts his dinner invitation for the next day, and expresses her admiration for Kirk by offering one of her typical interchanges to the males in her life:

Tira: I like sophisticated men to take me out.
Kirk (counting himself out): Well, I'm not really sophisticated.
Tira (quick-wittedly): Ah, you're not really out yet either. (He kisses her hand as he parts.)
In a montage of images, Kirk drops his fiancee and the next day purchases expensive presents for Tira - duly impressed with her courageous act with the lion. One present has a note attached: "To Tira - Who can tame more than lions. Kirk." While receiving a pedicure, a manicure, and hair-styling from three black maids, her coterie is very impressed by her appeal to gentlemen:

A maid: I been under the impression that you is a one-man woman.
Tira: I am. One man at a time.
In a visual gag, Tira places photographs of her male admirers next to porcelain animals. Kirk's photograph is next to a stag, Barton's is beside a skunk.

Kirk's jealous fiancee Alicia Hatton appears at Tira's door, and is let in to complain:

I suppose you know why I'm here...I am Kirk's fiancee...I want to know just what you intend to do...You know you're making a fool of him...
Alicia accuses Tira of taking an interest in Kirk's wealth. Tira defends herself but Alicia calls her a liar:

Tira: Whatever you're thinkin', you're wrong. I only like him like a brother. You ain't got nothin' to worry about...Say, listen you. A better dame than you once called me a liar and they had to sew her up in twelve different places. You're lucky I'm a little more refined than I used to be. And if you was as much a lady as I am, you'd get out of here before I get real sore.
Alicia: You haven't a streak of decency in you.
Tira: I don't show my good points to strangers. I'll trouble you to scram.
Tira refuses a bribe to stay away from Kirk, and then shoves Alicia out the door. Turning back and striding across the room, she instructs Beulah in one of her most famous lines:

Tira: Oh, Beulah.
Beulah: Yes, ma'am.
Tira: Peel me a grape.
(She has a pet African woolly monkey, Boogie, who makes a cameo appearance and loves to peel the tough skin off each grape.)
Kirk's cousin, millionaire leading man Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) is concerned about Kirk's passion for Tira and suggests that Kirk drop Tira before she ruins his life:

Jack: This mad infatuation of yours for this lion tamer will ruin your life and Alicia's too...You seem to forget that you're an engaged man.
Kirk: I intend to handle my own affairs...(I'm going to continue with this woman) indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Slick is released from jail and compliments Tira on her penthouse and lifestyle:

Slick: ...a swell joint you got here. You done pretty nice for yourself. From a tent to a penthouse. Yup. This is a great layout.
Tira: Well, this is one place you ain't laying out in honey.
She does promise to help him get a place in the circus if he gives up pickpocketing.

Jack Clayton calls on Tira to explain his concerns about his cousin Kirk's interest in her, and quickly falls under her spell himself:

Jack: He's neglecting important business on your account and, of course, there's Ms. Hatton his fiancee to be considered. (He sits down.) Do you mind if I get personal?
Tira (in a drawl): Go right ahead. I don't mind if you got familiar. It's all in the family.
Jack also wonders if she really loves Kirk. She replies that her horoscope tells her that he's the one: "My whole life is ruled by astrology." He can't believe that just because Kirk fits some vague description in her horoscope that she would deliberately break up Kirk's relationship with Alicia:

If you're thinking of marrying Kirk, you'd better not count on it.
As they discuss Kirk, they become more and more friendly, wishing they had met under pleasanter circumstances. She gives him a framed picture of herself to keep and he presents her with his business card. As the fascinated Jack leaves, she has "a new train of thought":

I'll think it over and let you know what I decide...You fascinate me. You'd better go.
Soon after, Tira calls Jack at his office with a decision - something that pleases Jack: "Good, I'm glad you made up your mind so quickly." Tira tells Jack that he must come over right away:

Oh, I'm very quick in a slow way. You see, I can't discuss it over the phone. It's got a lot of angles to it. You'd better come up and see me.
The Social Registry in the gossip column of the newspaper announces that Jack Clayton has replaced his cousin Kirk for lion-tamer Tira's affection, and the new couple have fallen in love:

After several weeks' campaign, will positively announce his engagement to what beautiful lion-tamer? Wonder what his cousin thinks? Said cousin spent a mess of G's on her and all he gets now is busy signals! ! !
Wearing a shimmering coat with a white fur collar, Tira enters her place with Jack, instructing her maid: "If anyone should call, I'm indisposed. You know what I mean, don't you?" Jack compliments Tira, and she replies with one of her most-famous comeback lines:

Jack: Tonight, you were especially good.
Tira: When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad, I'm better.
They carry on a romantic exchange as he plays a tune on the piano, and then she sings and accompanies herself to the tune of "I Want You I Need You":

Jack: The only thing, I'm going to be jealous...Cause if I could only trust you.
Tira: You can. Hundreds have.
Jack: Do you know I'm mad about you?
Tira: I could tell you'd be the first time I saw ya.
Jack: Say, I must be transparent.
Tira: Honey, you're just wrapped in cellophane...
Jack: I could be your slave.
Tira: Well, I guess that could be arranged.
Tira tells Big Bill Barton that she's getting sick of the circus show and is planning to get married to Jack Clayton - "the right man." Bill objects when she gives two weeks' notice before quitting. He fears that the circus will financially fail without her:

Bill: You can't quit! You've got a 5-year contract with me.
Tira: Did you ever read it? It says with good cause, you can give it two week's notice...(Marriage) is a good enough cause for anything.
To keep Tira with the Big Show, Slick and Big Bill conspire to play a trick on her, and make it look like she is two-timing Jack by seeing Slick on the side. With Tira out of the way temporarily, Slick (wearing a dressing gown or bathrobe) masquerades as Tira's ex-lover in Tira's penthouse when Jack arrives:

I know all about you and Tira, but that's all finished. I've been away, but I'm back again, and she ain't wanting no change. We're going on just the same as before. Get it?...She didn't like to tell ya herself so I'm going for her. Ain't that enough?
Jack is stunned by the revelation and fooled by the Barton-Slick conspiratorial act. Oblivious to the sabotage, Tira is trying on an elaborate wedding dress when she receives a letter from Jack that breaks off their engagement. Kirk assures Jack: "With a woman of her type, this would have happened sooner or later. And if you ask me, I think you're lucky." Despondent, Jack tells his secretary that he will be out of town for 3-4 weeks, maybe longer. He is "out to all calls," even Tira's phone calls.

Tira brings a breach of promise suit against Jack, hiring lawyer Benny Pinkowitz to sue her ex-fiancee. She has all the necessary evidence: letters, wires, newspaper stories, even her trousseau.

In the final courtroom scene, the best single scene of the film, Tira has brought a lawsuit against Jack for breach of promise, for a large cash settlement. Ignorant of the trick that has been played, Jack defends himself and contests the suit on the grounds that Tira has had friendly relations with a vast number of men. Jack's lawyer (Irving Pichel) calls all her ex-lovers/admirers into the courtroom as witnesses to testify against her to prove Jack's allegation. The witnesses include the following:

Mr. Brown (the "Dallas man")
Kirk Lawrence
five other men
After seeing the witnesses brought forth against her, Tira is allowed to cross-examine the witnesses herself. She sashays back and forth in front of the jury and the judge (Walter Walker), impressing them with her wit, charm, and questioning ability. The first witness, Brown is forced to admit that his evening with Tira led to nothing - their association is easily dismissed as "a little social date." When finished with him, she quips in front of the jury: "How'm I doin'?"

The second witness, Kirk, is reminded that Tira broke off their engagement after his fiancee Alicia requested the split. Beulah also testifies on Tira's behalf about her sincere love for Jack: never knew you could love a man like you loved him...You said that you done fall so hard for him it hurt...Well, I ain't never seen nobody so broken-hearted as you was when you and Mr. Clayton done bust up.
Another witness, Slick lies about his relationship with Tira, but is forced to admit that he is a "crook and a jailbird" - a totally untrustworthy witness. Tira wins her breach of promise suit by default when she disqualifies all the witnesses' testimonies.

Amused by her spunk and love for him, Jack allows her to win the case by dropping his defense and forcing his attorney to give up. Persuaded that she sincerely loves him, he ceases the contest of the suit and is prepared to settle at once for the full amount of the case. The judge dismisses the case and the court is adjourned.

Asked by a woman reporter following the trial, Tira delivers another classic line:

Reporter: Why did you admit knowing so many men in your life?
Tira (rephrasing the question): Well, it's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men.
Back in her penthouse, Tira finishes a conversation with the judge, and then receives a congratulatory phone call from Juror #4. She thanks him for the beautiful flowers and offers:

And don't forget. Come up and see me sometime.
Jack calls on her in her penthouse, and believes that she expressed her love for him in the courtroom. Slick's conspiratorial frame-up to keep Tira in the show is revealed. Jack proposes that they reconcile:

Let's forget the whole thing and go on together...You're everything to me...You're more fascinating than ever.
To his relief, Tira rips up Jack's settlement check for the damages ordered by the court:

Jack: Well, I'm glad to know it wasn't the money you wanted...
Tira: You've got a lot of other things it takes to make a woman happy.
She begins to sing "I'm No Angel" to him as the screen fades:

Baby, I can warm you with this love of mine. I'm No Angel. Aw, let me feel my fingers running through your hair, I can give you kisses...