I was excited to complete a piece of my education today. Like all good classic comedy fans I’d long since seen all of Mae West’s pictures through My Little Chickadee (1940), and like any good camp aficionado I’d long since seen her last two, Myra Breckenridge (1970) and Sextette (1978). The elusive final piece has long been the final film of her initial Hollywood period, The Heat’s On (1943). I’d long heard of it as one of the classic bad/ sad comedy swan songs, up there with the Marx Brothers’ Love Happy and Laurel and Hardy’s Utopia or Atoll K. The other aspect is that it never gets screened or shown. But curiosity got the better of me and I bought the DVD.
The good news is that it is not as bad as those other two movies, and no worse particularly than most of the other disposable crap Hollywood was squirting out during World War Two. If you are a Mae West fan it is disappointing; she’s only in about a quarter of the movie. This was a terrible era for comedy. In the 40s everyone’s needs came ahead of the comedians: singers, soldiers, studio accountants, the flag, jazz lovers, boring ass stuffed shirt romantics, the janitor… In fact the crummy plot of this movie is notably similar to the crummy plot of Love Happy: a bunch of people scheme and strive to put on a Broadway show. In a normal Mae West movie Mae is the only important person, she is onscreen almost every minute, and she gets all the funny lines. In this one she is horribly upstaged by Victor Moore, William Gaxton and Xavier Cugat and a million musicians and singers. Ironically, West was the one whose name director/producer Gregory Ratoff relied upon to raise the financing to make the film. It plays with Mae’s image some, but has nothing like the normal ratio of Westian witticisms. Instead of Mae, you get stuff like this Hazel Scott turn, which, ya know, a vaudeville guy like me can’t hate, which is why I have to say this one is a little better than Atoll K.
For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.