It’s a toss-up as to whether She Done Him Wrong or I’m No Angel (both 1933) is Mae West’s purest, most uncensored film. Both are essentials, but I’m No Angel is undeniably the more elaborate of the two and probably has the larger amount of “how did that get by the censors?” moments—even for a pre-code film. The film tells the story of Tira (West) in her rise from tawdry carnival performer (singing “They Call Me Sister Honky Tonk” to a crowd of rubes, which she contemptuously calls “suckers”) to world-famous lion-tamer surrounded by luxury and well-heeled men (she settles on Cary Grant, which seems reasonable). Of course, her colorful past resurfaces to pose problems, but there’s no doubt that Mae West triumphs over any and all obstacles. The racy one-liners are thick and fast, the songs are good and her breach-of-promise trial (with the wonderful Gregory Ratoff as attorney Benny Pinkowitz) is prime West. This is the film where she expresses the ultimate in lazy ennui by instructing her maid, “Beulah, peel me a grape.” There was no way this sort of thing could continue—and by her next film, the new production-code censors would do their damndest to make sure of that.
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