Making The Best Of Code Crutches
Mae West Juggles Censor Balls in Goin' To Town (1935)
Crackdown of the Code came in part to make an example of Mae West. She'd be a first bad apple plucked from decency's barrel. The brawl over Belle Of The Nineties was less clean-up of that '34-release than notice posted to all of industry: You'll Not Release What We Don't Approve.
There was a PCA seal that went in front of credits for a number of that year's output. Audiences began booing them on sight, so it didn't last. A larger public, folks who actually liked movies and paid to see them, hated the spoon-feed. In fact, movies had become spoon bread, the Hays Office resented for making them so. Still, it was necessary evil if the business was to stay in business. Mae West would have to walk the chalk between ribald and her former outrageous. Goin' To Town has her signature cheek, plus wit penned by the star. West had habit of giving scripts a once, if not twice-over, to instill words/gesture unique to herself. Seemed she could trust no one to gag-up dialogue, not unlike one-of-kind the Marx Bros., who had strong writers behind them for stage work and the better movies they did. West went it in large part alone, for after all, who knew the character better than she? Of concessions Mae further made, one was to dame fashion, which by '35 dictated she be "streamlined" (read: thinner) what with Goin' To Town being current set and necessity of its star squeezing into modern dress.
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West had a same issue as colleagues-at-Paramount Bill Fields and the Marx Bros. All were well into maturity by the time talkies beckoned. For Mae, this meant care with costuming and movement. Notice how still she is at most times, seemingly in repose even where standing. Something I noticed in Goin’ To Town was diminutive Mae West in comparison with others, men and women. Accounts suggest she was five feet tall. I wonder if that’s not on the high end. Her public knew Mae had been tamed, but evidence shows Goin’ To Town made money, and the film does have movement, lively situations, and dialogue spicy as West could make it under restriction imposed. Her crash of high society is a set-up any of fans, then or now, would approve, and though a comedy, Goin’ To Town tells its narrative straight (there is a third act murder, but with Monroe Owlsley as victim, most would call that pest removal). Goin’ To Town has been long out of circulation, other than DVD (as part of a West collection). Occasion to re-see was courtesy RetroPlex HD, lately home to several