This post is part of the The “…And Scene!” Blogathon. Check out the other entries here.
There are very few scenes in film as funny as when Mae West is talking about the number of men in her life, or, as she famously put it after the courtroom scene in I’m No Angel, the much more important amount of “life in your men.”
I’m a sucker for courtroom scenes in general, but most are thrilling, dramatic. I admit that a few are funny–From the Hip, Seems Like Old Times–but there’s nothing like Mae West on a roll, and every second of the courtroom scene of this glorious pre-Code wonder is the actress (and writer) at her best.
Tira, a circus performer, is suing her wealthy fiancé (Cary Grant) for breach of promise. He broke off their wedding because he saw another man in her place while she was out, not knowing it was a set-up by her boss, who didn’t want to lose her successful act to matrimony.
Unsurprisingly, the defense attorney immediately tries to besmirch Tira’s reputation, suggesting she gets around, that she has a “colorful past.”
In another movie, we might expect shame, embarrassment, hostility at such an attack. But this isn’t just any movie.
“Well, I gotta admit, I’ve been the love interest in more than one guy’s life,” Tira agrees. “I don’t see what my past has got to do with my present.”
“We shall show that to the satisfaction of the court, I believe,” the attorney primly responds. “Nevertheless, the fact remains that you’ve been on friendly terms with several men.”
“Alright, I’m the sweetheart of Sigma Psi. So what?”
The audience in the courtroom aren’t the only ones laughing at her quip. Even the defendant can’t resist.
“I do recall their faces,” she answers, “but them ain’t the names they gave me.”
Appalled, her own lawyer asks for a recess and chides her for admitting to such an active dating life.
Tira is unrepentant: “Why shouldn’t I know guys? I’ve been around. I travel from coast to coast. A dame like me can’t make trips like that without meeting some of the male population.”
He explains that she can’t win the case. She considers her options.
It’s at this point that West really hits her stride–literally. Because she gets to walk up and down past the jury box, practicing her famous strut repeatedly, flirting with everyone in the courtroom.
She treats her accusers with disdain, slamming their efforts to make her look bad, and saying, “OK, I’m through with you,” after she completes her questioning. Between witnesses, she asks the jury, “How ‘m I doin, hmmmmnnnn?”
For once, jury duty has proven to be a blessing. Just look at their reactions to her performance:
As Tira concludes, her lover (Cary Grant) can’t handle it anymore and admits defeat. He’s fallen more in love with her than ever, as we have. Who cares if she’s the sweetheart of Sigma Psi? She’s Mae West, idiot. Catch her while you can. Case closed.