Mae West Plays Herself in “Go West, Young Man”

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November 18, 1936 was the anniversary of the release date of the Mae West comedy Go West, Young Man.

Unthinkably this movie is not a western, the title is literally just a pun on the star’s name. Sadly, this is one of Mae’s worst films, not as bad as The Heat’s On, but it certainly takes second place. Interestingly (and not surprisingly), while Mae was the foremost reason for the strict enforcement of the Hayes Code starting in 1934, she was also its most obvious victim. What could Mae do…if she couldn’t do what she did?!

GWYM was an attempt to make the star more mainstream, to take her out of her two usual settings: the criminal 1890s and the criminal present. Here, she plays something not too far from herself: a movie star diva. The tone is screwball comedy (the genre was then at its peak), and the director is Henry Hathaway. The property was based on a stage play adapted by West. On the face of it, it sounds great. Unfortunately, Mae is working so hard to convince the audience that she is not REALLY this awful character that she gives the worst performance of her career.

The first eight minutes are a film-within-the-film, as we screen the end of one of her character’s films. Then she comes out and gives a very long expository speech. You could cut out the first ten minutes of the movie without spilling a drop. Then we get the set up. Warren William (miscast) plays her studio p.r. man, whose job is to keep her out of trouble with men. (William, one of my favorite actors, is miscast here — too old, and too unselfish. He’s at his best as a con man or an ambulance chaser). Mae has a romance going with a young ambitious Chicago politician (Lyle Talbot), which William tries to discourage. While they are driving across rural Pennsylvania to meet him, their car breaks down and they have to stay at an inn run by a family of women. While there, she falls for local inventor Randolph Scott, who’s fixing their car…but apparently she is just toying with him and wants a piece of his invention. Then the authorities and public get the idea that she is kidnapped. Talbot and cops come rushing to the rescue. In the end she rejects both guys and goes with Warren William. The moral being that this corrupt, immoral movie star belongs with a corrupt, immoral press flack, instead of the normal, healthy, all-American tinkerer. It smacks of a message no one involved with this movie believes, least of all its star. It kind of seems like an exercise in building up Randolph Scott as a studio property at Mae’s expense. But she wasn’t through yet – – she had a couple of perfectly great pictures still to come.

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