Saturday, December 17, 2016

Night after Night

A few months back, I bought a 3-disc collection of Mae West movies. Among the movies in the collection that I hadn't seen before is Night After Night.

Mae West is neither the star here, nor the female lead, this being her first film. The star is George Raft, playing Joe Anton. Joe owns a speakeasy in New York, assisted by high right-hand man Leo (Roscoe Karns). Joe's doing well enough for himself, but he's got some problems. One is Frankie (Bradley Page), a gangster who wants to buy the place what with this still being the Prohibition era and gansters not wanting competition.

Joe, however, seems more concerned with his romantic life. There's a woman named Healy (Constance Cummings) who comes into the place every night and sits alone. She seems much too high-class for Joe, so Joe has been taking lessons in being classier from Miss Jellyman (Alison Skipworth). Joes past, of course, threatens to make a mess of the whole situation. There's Iris (Wynne Gibson), a flapper type who seems to be a bit too much of ill repute. And then Joe gets a phone call from Maudie (Mae West). She's apparently returned from abroad, and would like to start seeing Joe again. Joe doesn't want this, presumably because it wouldn't look good to Healy or Jellyman, although it's never quite revealed what West's past is. (She does give an explanation, although you have to believe she's making it up.)

The main thrust of the movie has Joe pursuing Healy, who is also being pursued by Dick Bolton (Louis Calhern), and variously winning and losing her heart against backdrops of those other women and the gangsters wanting the place. To be honest, the movie is really a bit of a mixed bag. The main plot never quite goes anywhere -- or, at least, it veers wildly from one place to the next -- and it's more up to the comic relief to try to save the movie. Roscoe Karns does well as Leo, having to fix the messes created by Joe's inattention to detail. Skipworth also does well as Jellyman, both in her early prim-and-proper scenes and then later after she's had too much to drink. But, of course, it's Mae West who steals the show. She has a memorable first scene in which she responds to a coat-check girl who says, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" with "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." She then proceeds to worm her way into a dinner with Healy and Jellyman, teaching Jellyman a few things about how not to be the stuffy part of high-class all the time. West only gets three or four scenes, but she shines in them.

Several of the reviewers at IMDb say that Night After Night would probably be forgotten if it weren't for the presence of Mae West. I have to agree with this assessment. The movie is a run-of-the-mill pre-Code in many ways, up until Mae shows up, and then wow! The box set I got that included this movie is under $20, so it's not much to drop for nine movies. (And you get She Done Him Wrong, too.)

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