Sunday, February 16, 2014

Film Classics of the 20th Century

 In this ongoing series on film classics of the last century, we've looked at Tootsie,  After Hours,  Edward ScissorhandsChristmas in Connecticut, Desk Set,  When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

movie montage

1940's My Little Chickadee is the only pairing of legendary comics Mae West and W.C. Fields. A box office hit of its day, the film remains a comedy classic.

The film opens with singer Flower Belle Lee on a train, en route to see family.  Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton of The Wizard of Oz fame) notices her and takes an immediate disliking. 

The two end up on a stagecoach which ends up robbed by a masked bandit.

Later, at her relatives, Flower Belle is visited by the masked bandit.

Mrs. Gideon, well played by Hamilton, is a sexually repressed figure whose actions make even more sense when you grasp she's looking for sex throughout the film.  This explains why, in the dead of night, she's walking through town and discovers the masked bandit climbing out of Flower Belle's bedroom window.  She immeditately calls it to the town's attention and a trial is held with Mrs. Gideon the star witness.

Flower Belle is run out of town and Mrs. Gideon decides to tag along.  They end up on another train and, shortly after, W.C. Fields's Twillie shows up on the railroad tracks with his Native American companion.

On the train, Mrs. Gideon immediately tries to charm Twillie.

But he has eyes for Flower Belle.

And she for him when she mistakes him for wealthy.

The two 'marry' on the train (Flower Belle knows the preacher isn't a preacher) and go on to the next town (with Mrs. Gideon following them) where Tillie will become sheriff.  

He will also attempt to sleep with his 'wife' but Flower Belle puts a goat in their bed and covers it before turning down the lights and leaving.  Emerging from a bath, Tillie will move towards the bed and, when the goat makes a cry, wonder what Flower Belle is trying to say.  "Maaawwwww Maaaaawwwwww!" cries the goat leading Tillie to think Flower Bell is calling for her mother.

While Tillie messes around with the goat, Flower Belle's meeting up with the masked bandit.

Tillie and the masked bandit aren't the only ones pursuing Flower Belle, there's also journalist Wayne Carter (Dick Foran).  

Wayne: Spring is the time for love.

Flower Belle: What's the matter with the rest of the year?

Along with the masked bandit, Tillie and Wayne Carter, there's also saloon owner Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia).  As Flower Belle observes, "Funny, every man I meet wants to protect me.  I can't figure out what from."

And the boys in the school house are also taking in Flower Belle.  Told they'd been working on arithmetic when the previous teacher became ill, Flower Bell informs them, "I was always pretty good at figures myself."

While Flower Belle's teaching the boys about Cleopatra, Mrs. Gideon shows up at the jail to flirt with Sheriff Tillie and give him a pie and some gossip.

Learning of the masked bandit's fascination with Flower Belle, Tillie decides to dress up as him, sneak through the window and steal some kisses from Flower Belle because, as he notes in the movie, "If a thing is worth having, it's worth cheating for."

One kiss and she knows it's not the masked bandit.  Lights on and she knows it's Tillie.  She sends him packing and, climbing back out the window, he's spotted by Mrs. Gideon who quickly begins screaming even before he's stepping on her face.

Her screams attract attention and Tillie attempts to run off but people are pursing him since he's dressed as the masked bandit.  In the jail, he quickly changes out of his costume but is seen doing so through the window and it is not assumed that the town sheriff is the masked bandit.

He's grabbed and, with Mrs. Gideon egging them on, the townspeople decide to grab Flower Belle as well so both end up in jail.

Film critic Pauline Kael once observed Fields was "a master of inflection" and West was one of innuendo.  Both had worked at Paramount in the thirties in successful films -- Mae West's blockbusters She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel credited with saving the studio from bankruptcy.  But it was at Universal where the two would be paired in the film directed by Edward F. Cline.

And the writing?

Credited to West and Fields which allegedly ticked West off due to Field's writing only one scene.  

This was given as the reason why the two never reteamed.

Once was enough to make a classic.

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