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When Columbia Pictures sought to pair Mae West and W.C. Fields in a film, neither was thrilled, but since both stars' careers were on the skids, they agreed to the project. They fought about everything: script, billing, casting, philosophy, work habits, style. Onscreen, Fields is always the butt of his own jokes. West never is. He's all broad slapstick, she, all sly innuendo. In the film West hangs onto her precious image--that inimitable combo of sexiness and wit--as Fields systematically subverts it. It's the clash of the screen-legend titans.
In the Wild West town of Greasewood, West, as Flower Belle Lee (her usual seductive saloon singer), is kidnapped by the Masked Bandit (Joseph Calleia, in a role Bogart turned down). After refusing to turn him in, she's run out of town and can only return when she's "married and respectable." She meets flimflam man Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields) on a train. He's instantly smitten: "My heart is a bargain today, will you take me?" "I'll take you, and how," she agrees, spying his satchel of cash. Many plot twists later, Twillie's on the gallows. Hangman: "Have you any last requests?" Twillie: "I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do." In her ideal happy ending, West's Flower Belle finds true love--with two men--the Masked Bandit and the town muckraker, Wayne Carter (Dick Foran).
The film's funniest scenes involve Field's futile attempts to get West into a compromising position: "I have some very definite pear-shaped ideas I'd like to discuss with thee." Suffice it to say that Fields ends up in bed with a goat. --Laura Mirsky
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