29 July 2004 | lugonian
The Cattle Queen of Society
Going' TO TOWN (Paramount, 1935), directed by Alexander Hall, from the story by Marion Morgan and George B. Dowell, with screenplay and dialog by MAE WEST, in her only theatrical release of 1935, repeats the formula of sorts from her hit comedy, I'M NO ANGEL (1933), but not as successfully. Once more, she plays a woman who wants to crash into and be accepted amongst the swells of high society, only to get snubbed by the grand dames but admired by the millionaire gents.
Mae West plays a saloon singer named Cleo Borden ("A woman of very few words and lots of action"). She is first seen kissing a young cowboy (Grant Withers) behind a semi- closed curtain, then serenades him on the dance floor with a song before Buck Gonzalez (Fred Kohler Sr.), a wealthy rancher by day and cattle rustler by night, enters the scene. So much in love with her, he proposes marriage. Instead of giving him an answer, Cleo decides to gamble on her decision through a crap game. Losing, she consents on becoming his wife, on the condition that he'd wait two weeks to prepare herself. During those two weeks, Buck is caught cattle rustling (a profession very few people had known), and shot and killed in the process by the sheriff (Francis Ford), who had his suspicions on him. On her wedding day, Cleo arrives at Buck's ranch to learn of her future husband's death. Because she was willing to keep her part of the bargain, she learns from Winslow (Gilbert Emery), Buck's financial accountant, that he had awarded Cleo his entire fortune, making her the wealthiest woman in the state. While inspecting an oil field, which has become part of her inheritance, Cleo takes notice on a geological engineer named Edward Carrington (Paul Cavanaugh). She tries to become the object of his affection, but the no-nonsense Englishman appears to have a strong will and ignores her. After Carrington transfers to Buenos Aires, South America, Cleo reads an article on Mrs. Crane Brittony (Marjorie Gateson), a wealthy matron, in a society magazine. Taking Winslow's advice by winning the heart of Carrington is to become refined and cultured, Cleo heads for Buenos Aires. While there, Cleo enters her horse, Cactus, in the big race, beating the horse owned by Mrs. Brittony, who takes an immediate dislike towards the "cattle baron's widow." Unable to nab Carrington, who defends her honor against malicious gossip, Cleo acquires the affections of Fletcher Colton (Monroe Owsley), Mrs. Brittony's nephew, whose main weakness is gambling. When Colton loses his entire fortune, Winslow talks him into a marriage of convenience with Cleo. Now husband and wife, the couple settle in Southampton, New York. Mrs. Brittony schemes on hiring Ivan Veladov (Ivan Lebedeff), a handsome gigolo, to discredit her and a private detective (Paul Harvey) to expose her low morals standpoints, later leading Cleo as a murder suspect.
Going' TO TOWN is the kind of movie in which the contributors to the screenplay couldn't make up their minds which direction the story is heading. Is it western, comedy or social drama? By the looks of it, all three combined. It starts off promisingly as a full- fledged modern-day western, consisting of shoot-em-up cowboys riding horses, gathering in a local saloon where they indulge themselves with either drinking beer or being around Cleo (West), where the story should have remained throughout. However, after twenty minutes or so, the locale shifts to Buenos Aires where horses continue to take part of the stock, this time at the races, and finally to Southampton, New York. According to the theatrical trailer that precedes the movie in the 1992-93 video release, Mae West has not ONE, but SEVEN male co-stars. With Cavanaugh as her British co-star, West might have selected better known debonairs as Herbert Marshall or Melvyn Douglas, for example, for stronger box-office appeal.
Unlike her previous screen efforts, Going' TO TOWN has its limitations when it comes to song numbers. West first sings "He's a Bad Man" while on the dance floor with Grant Withers, with his profile looking directly at her while the camera catches West's face is full view. Later on in the story while trying to be accepted to high society, she sings "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice" in the SAMSON AND DELILAH opera. Interestingly, she doesn't spoof opera, as one might expect, but plays it straight. Before the fade-out, she sings, "I'm a Lady" (with part of her lyrics being her catch phrase of "Come up and see me sometime") as she walks downstairs with her new husband by her side. The camera this time ignores her male co-star and takes full focus on West while singing her closing number. There were a couple of times in the story where West did appear to be preparing herself for another moment of vocalization, one at a social function and another where she puts on the radio playing instrumental music. Expecting her to go into a song, this scene soon goes into a fade-out.
In spite of mixed reactions towards Going' TO TOWN, this fifth Mae West feature has become a rare find these days. Unseen in the television markets since the 1970s, it was distributed on video cassette in 1992 and cable television's Retroplex (Premiere: November 12, 2016). Credited at 74 minutes, video presentation runs at 70. West's one liners still makes the movie (WEST: "For a long time I was ashamed of the way I lived." GRANT WITHERS: "You mean you reformed?" WEST: "No, I got over being ashamed"; or her reference to Ivan Lebedeff: "We're intellectual opposites. I'm intellectual and you're opposite."). Mae West certainly has her moments on screen, but from the basis of the script, is passable entertainment. (***)