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Uncomfortably Warm For Mae
on September 14, 2012
A very different Mae West vehicle, The Heat's On supposedly led its star to avoid motion pictures for the next 26 years. According to her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, Miss West said she had been talked into the film by her old friend Gregory Ratoff, who told her he was set to Produce (un-credited) and Direct a film version of a then-Broadway musical called Tropicana. After the deal fell through, he told her, "Dahlink, we can't do the picture I told you about, but a movie called Tropicana we'll make". Miss West further related that when she saw the script she tried to back out, but too much money had already been invested, and the producers, including Mr. Ratoff, would be ruined if the film didn't go forward. Many film buffs will remember that, among his many film credits, Gregory Ratoff had played Benny Pinkowitz in Mae West's I'm No Angel in 1933, and later played producer Max Fabian in All About Eve (1950), but few realize that he directed (30) almost as many films as he appeared in (49).
The Heat's On is a curiosity. Fleshed out as a standard musical of the early 1940's, it boasts a silly plot but several genuine talents. Chief among these, besides Miss West, are Victor Moore, who turns in a delightfully comedic performance as curmudgeon Herbert Bainbridge, Jazz pianist/singer Hazel Scott, who simply burns up the screen in each of her musical numbers, and the entire Xavier Cugat Orchestra, with Mr. Cugat handling a few lines of dialogue and several showcase musical moments.
Nevertheless, the film mostly falls flat. Mae West seems to give it her best shot when she's allowed on screen, which is not enough, but appears somewhat bored and distracted in some scenes. She apparently wrote some of her own lines, as many are undeniably in her customary snappy writing style. But the good performances are balanced by the completely wooden acting of William Gaxton, who plays bad-guy producer Tony Ferris. Miss West describes his character at one point as "a guy so low, he could walk under the door without taking his hat off". Fortunately for viewers, that's one of her worst lines in the film. Her best are classic West.
What will probably interest Miss West's fans the most is her Amazing appearance at age 50. She appears to have slimmed down considerably from her most previous role, 1939's My Little Chickadee, which she made with W. C. Fields. She looks younger at 50 in The Heat's On (1943) than she did in Chickadee (1939) at age 46. The lovely gowns help quite a bit, although it's rather jarring to view her in a 1940's pompadour hairdo.
All in all, it's pretty much an affair for Mae West aficionados, given the silly plot and excruciatingly long musical sequences. Fans of 1940 musical films just may (or is that just MAE) enjoy it for the staged production numbers, but there are many reasons why it's Mae West's most obscure film. I give it four stars for her presence, but minus one for the script.