There’s something terribly wrong and terribly right about Klondike Annie’s (1936) odd musical tribute to Asian sensuality. It’s one of the few moments of the film when Mae West seems somewhat genuine. Elsewhere, she can’t sell the censored treatment of her material, so she doesn’t try. She adopts an expression that looks more like indigestion than anything else, and makes us wonder what’s going on inside that canny mind of hers.
In the film, Rose (West) dislikes and fears her sugar daddy, Chan Lo (Harold Huber). She’s tired of his dangerous possessiveness and plans to escape, but before she does, she entertains her lover’s nightclub customers. She’s not in charge of her fate in the film–imagine that condition for West! (Of course, sex with an Asian man MUST be torture in those racist times. Sigh.)
Another actress would have teared up while singing this lusty song, trying to capture her character’s likely emotional state. West? She’s finally enjoying herself, expressing her love for romance, which they won’t let her do throughout the rest of the movie. (After all, a mistress is supposed to regret and hate sex, according to the Production Code.) In this strange musical interlude, however, West refuses to play Rose at all. Her expressions as she sings make no sense in terms of the character’s dilemma, but then, neither does the plot.
I wish I could know what West was really thinking while crooning, “I’m an Occidental Woman, in an Oriental mood for love.” Instead, I’ll take a few guesses:
“I could get used to an Asian lover, MmmmmHmmmm. But not this guy they stuck me with. Harold?”
“I’m slamming this headpiece on Breen’s head, first chance I get.”
“So this made it past the censors, and the knife scene didn’t? They’ve got a thing or two to learn about the power of suggestion.”
“That extra over there looks yummy. Look at those muscles on him. Better see what he’s doing after.”
“Movies now are for suckers. Next show I write: Gal makes it to Santa Fe. Starts a brothel. Has 50 men a day. Now, what’s my first line…”
This is part of my monthly tribute to West. Click here for more posts on this hilarious pioneer.