A prim school teacher & Mae West. Almost a century later, this coupling seems inspired. But in 1932, nobody knew that. West was a vaudevillian, not a movie star. Her role as Maudie, an ex of the lead, Joe Anton (George Raft), was a minor part in her first film, Night after Night. She didn’t even enter the picture until a half hour in.
The script of the movie is bland, the story plodding. Joe, the owner of a mansion-turned-speakeasy, is fascinated by Jerry Healy (Constance Cummings), the mysterious beauty who shows up at his place every night unattended. He discovers that her family owned his mansion before the market crash.
Joe has been dissatisfied lately, aspiring to a classier existence. He’s even hired a tutor, Miss Mabel Jellyman (Alison Skipworth), to improve his elocution, grammar and knowledge of current events–the type of lady who gets prissy when he uses words such as “got.”
He thinks Jerry will lead him to a better life, but he needs the tutor’s help to win her. He invites Jerry for dinner at the speakeasy, and begs Jellyman to come along. The tutor is thrilled at the chance to hang out in a speakeasy and have some fun, but what a drag to be on such a date! Joe’s attempts at sophistication are painful, the conversation stilted. Everyone at the table is bored and uncomfortable.
Then Maudie (West) enters the room.
Within five minutes, she has decimated Joe’s fragile rep, having laughed about his love for the ladies, drunkenness, and a jail visit in quick succession.
“Oh Joe,” she concludes, “it’s just life to see you,” echoing our impressions of her arrival. She has completely redeemed his date (and the existence of the film). Finally, Jerry is enjoying herself.
But clueless Joe urges Jerry to leave with him to tour the house. Jellyman, soon drunk thanks to Maudie’s generosity with the bottle, protests when Joe offers a cab before leaving them. “I don’t want to go home,” she complains. She turns to Maudie, “He said I didn’t have to.”
“Yeah, we’re gonna make a night of it,” Maudie agrees. “You go ahead,” she tells Joe, “we gotta talk it over.”
“Maudie and I have a great deal in common,” Jellyman explains to Joe.
“You said it, baby,” agrees the partying blonde, without a trace of irony.
Once they’re alone, Jellyman asks anxiously, “Maudie, do you believe in love at first sight?”
“I don’t know, but it saves an awful lot of time,” she quips.
Jellyman protests when Maudie refills her class, to which our heroine responds, “Now listen, Mabel, if you’re gonna be Broadway, you gotta learn to take it, and you may as well break in the act right now.”
“I say, this night will read great in your diary,” she adds.
“You said it, baby,” Jellyman agrees, her education from Maudie having advanced dramatically in minutes.
“Maudie, do you really think I could get rid of my inhibitions?” Jellyman asks.
“Why sure,” Maudie tells her, “I’ve got an old trunk you can put them in.”
The next time we see the two of them, they’re in bed together at Joe’s after a bender. It does the heart good to witness them:
West only agreed to play the part of Maudie if she could write her own scenes. Thank goodness she did. Supposedly, Raft later claimed West “stole everything but the cameras.” What he didn’t say is that none of us would have wanted to see the film at all, had she not.
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