Friday, September 13, 2013


George Raft buys an old house on Park Avenue and turns it into a speakeasy. It becomes so successful, other shady characters try to pressure him into giving it up.  In the meantime, Raft is taking lessons in how to be a gentleman from older schoolteacher Alison Skipworth, partly to deal with his clientele, and partly to impress one specific woman, a socialite (Constance Cummings), who comes to the speakeasy alone every night. When he finally gets up the nerve to talk to her, he finds out that she grew up in that house before her family lost their money. She is currently being kept by the rich Louis Calhern, whom she intends to marry. Also on the scene:  Raft's current mistress (Wynne Gibson) and his former mistress (Mae West), who happens to return to the speakeasy the same night that Raft has arranged to have dinner with Cummings (with Skipworth along as a sort of chaperone). Despite some mixed signals, Cummings eventually falls for Raft, and he ends up getting the girl in a climax that involves other bootleggers shooting up the house in an attempt to get Raft to give up his property.

This movie's reputation is based on the fact that it’s Mae West's first film, though she's strictly in a supporting role. West (pictured with Raft) is quite amusing, giving the movie a needed jolt of energy about halfway through—when she enters the club, the coat check girl says, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" and West delivers her famous line, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie!" In most of her later roles, West is languorous, almost lethargic, as though she's acting in slow motion, but here she's brisk and lively, and it's great fun to see her that way. But the film is worth watching even when West isn't on screen. Raft, who is not one of my favorite actors, does a fine job here, much more likeable than usual. Skipworth is great fun, especially in a scene in which West tells her she should become a member of her profession—Skipworth assumes she's a prostitute, but she really operates a beauty salon. Cummings is OK early on, but not terribly believable when her character acquires more depth, though she's good in a scene in which she smashes up Raft's room in a fit of rage. [DVD]

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