By 1935, the Production Code had taken its toll on what Mae West could get away with, but Goin’ to Town managed to more-or-less play by the rules and still emerge as a good Mae West picture. (Two of her later films would also pull off a similar feat.) Her Cleo Borden is certainly not more moral than her earlier characters—she’s openly mercenary and quite glad to inherit the estate of a cattle baron who signed it over to her in the 1935 version of a pre-nuptial agreement. What’s mostly been toned down is the sexual innuendo, though some of it gets through. For instance, there’s an exchange where Borden says that for a long time she was ashamed of the way she lived, and is then asked if she has reformed. She responds, “No. I got over bein’ ashamed.” How that got through the censors is anybody’s guess. Most of the humor here, however, is grounded in her attempts to impress stuffy Paul Cavanagh with her refined and ladylike qualities—things that are not in her nature. (Her Brooklyn-born commonness would become a major part of the next two films as well.) It all works in an agreeable fashion, and does offer the spectacle of Mae playing Delilah (“That’s one lady barber who made good”) in Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson and Delilah. The film also offers one of West’s best put-downs (addressed to a cop no less), “I never walk when I can ride, and when I ride it won’t be with you.”
The Asheville Film Society will screen Goin’ to Town on Tuesday, April 17, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.