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,I'm No Angel

I'm No Angel

Cary Grant was given one of his first major comedic roles in She Done Him Wrong (1933), starring alongside the sexy and controversial Mae West. Wishing to capitalize on the success of their first film together, West also cast Grant in her next film that same year, I'm No Angel. This film grossed $250,000 more in the U.S. and Canada than their first film effort together, quite a difference in the 1930s. As for the plot, I'm No Angel stars Mae West as Tira, a circus sideshow entertainer whose real talent lies in luring men backstage after the show and swindling them out of money and jewels. Millionaire Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) turns out to be the only man out of many who is able to win Tira's heart in the end.

Mae West often said in interviews that she discovered Cary Grant but the latter was always quick to correct that statement since She Done Him Wrong was his eighth Paramount film and not his movie debut. Nevertheless, Grant felt that West was a unique and powerful personality but, off the record, he was more critical of the buxom star: "She always got a great deal of publicity for herself. She was intent upon what she wanted to do and did it. Everyone else suffered the consequences - I could never understand the woman. I thought she was brilliant with that one character she portrayed, but she was an absolute fake as a person."

Typical of a Mae West film, I'm No Angel features smart, snappy dialogue and loads of double entendres. It was West's second original writing effort; she is credited with both the story and the dialogue. Her first original work was the play Diamond Lil, upon which She Done Him Wrong was based. To this day, West is known for her one liners, wisecracks, and blatant sexuality in an era that was not exactly receptive to that type of behavior on the stage and screen. In fact, West was arrested in 1926 for writing a play simply called Sex. The trial which followed that arrest is probably what inspired West to include a courtroom scene in I'm No Angel in which she takes over and cross-examines the witnesses, something she probably wished she could have done in her own situation.

One interesting cultural note is that I'm No Angel was one of the few early Hollywood films that characterized African-American actors in a positive light. Major studio films of this period, and even after I'm No Angel, often used white actors to portray black characters but one this time. And while the black women in the film are still playing maids, West bonds with them in a scene that was relatively unheard of at that time. It's no secret that Mae West loved to break boundaries wherever she could, and whether she played a woman exerting power over men, wore revealing clothing, or used race to get a point across, her films are still remarkably entertaining and prove she was a true original.

Director: Wesley Ruggles
Producer: William LeBaron
Screenwriting: Harlan Thompson and Mae West
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editing: Otho Lovering
Art Direction: Hans Dreier
Music: Harvey Brooks
Cast: Mae West (Tira), Cary Grant (Jack Clayton), Gregory Ratoff (Benny Pinkowitz), Edward Arnold (Big Bill Barton), Ralf Harolde (Slick Wiley).

by Sarah Reiman



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