Mae West (TV Movie 1982) Poster

(1982 TV Movie)

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Ann Jillian as
petershelleyau17 December 2002
Mae West was a singer/actress/writer who was imprisoned for 10 days in 1926 for corrupting the morals of youth in her Broadway show Sex, transfered to Hollywood in the 1930's but was done in by the Hays Office Censors, and had a triumphant return to Broadway in the 1940's.

Jillian is far more attractive than the real Mae, with a shot of her lying on her bed in her negligee after she is fired from Paramount more recalling Jean Harlow, and though she uses Mae's famous intonation, Jillian loses it when she yells. Jillian's singing is jazzy/blues which only sounds impressive in her Broadway comeback with `Frankie and Johnny', but her costumes by Jean-Pierre Dorleac are a mix of the Gay nineties period clothes with low cut bosom - a black shimmery dress with jewelled collar and straps to her bust is particularly striking. Jillian is certainly likeable but in a way the Mae voice limits her performance to an impersonation, which is ironic since Mae herself was thought of as a female impersonator. Jillian's femininity is never in doubt so we also lose the suggestion of androgyny. What perhaps would have been more interesting would have been to cast an actress who approximates Mae's height at 5 feet - perhaps Patty Duke? - which makes her sex goddess persona all the more intriguing.

Jillian also doesn't make Mae's lines funny eg the famous diamonds bit from Night after Night, and even her being introduced to Reverend Cox from the Production Code gets a laugh from someone's look at Mae rather than her eye response. However Jillian has moments - a closeup reaction to her manager/lover Jim Timiny (James Brolin) telling her she lied to him about her marriage, and her sobbing as she kisses him when he returns to her.

The teleplay by E. Arthur Kean first presents Mae as a brunette child star, pushed by her stage-mother Matilda (Piper Laurie), and when Jillian appears, her Mae seems more the dancer than singer. However she gets tips on style from drag queen Rene Valentine (Roddy McDowell) who encourages her to suggest rather than flaunt her sex appeal, use double entendre and innuendo, and become a blonde as it makes her face look thinner. Mae's secret marriage is arranged to legitimise her promiscuity, with what could be seen as feminism ahead of her time, perhaps a reaction to her father's brutishness. We also see Mae admiring body builders on the beach as a sign of what is to come after the end of the treatment.

Apart from the use of lines associated with Mae used out of context, Kean supplies funny ones of his own - `When a knife thrower gives you something, you don't turn it down', and `I went over (the script) with a microscope to find my part'. Director Lee Philips uses Mae looking into a mirror for flashback up till her trial, returning when she pushes a powder puff into the mirror, quick editing for narrative jumps, Mae seen in spiro-view, a Cary Grant sound-alike for She Done Him Wrong, and a WC Fields double for My Little Chickadee.
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Fact more Entertaining than Fiction
mickie249 May 2004
Miss Ann Jillian is a fine actress and comes off quite well in her portrayal of the legendary Mae West. She looks great in the gowns, feathers and furs, and gives enough of a well crafted impression of the character to keep her performance from being a parody.

All the cast does a fine job here. I do feel however that fault lies with shortcomings in the writing department. Fact is most often more entertaining than fiction. One case in point is 'The Mighty Barnum' which came out in the 1930's. The most interesting person of his day was so poorly portrayed by the script men that it is almost painful to watch! This is unfortunately the fate of many a Hollywood biographical film.

This film does have what it takes to stand on it's own but misses the mark because the writers left out some of the very best of what made Mae West so interesting as a performer and as a truly fascinating person in her private off screen life. There was just so much more to Mae West than was depicted here. Miss West was a shrewd woman and a true professional. She usually got what she wanted in life by whatever means whether fair or as it was sometimes, foul! She kept gangsters as friends and could wrap the studio big shots around her bejeweled little pinkie!

James Brolin is a Hollywood hunk and a fine actor also.Unfortunately, as James Timony he is sorely miscast. Mr. Timony was an overweight round faced man who in the early years was perhaps a passing romantic interest but the truth is he was more Miss West's manager and business partner than anything else. It would have been great stuff to see what really went on. Miss West would see to it that the jealous Mr. Timony was kept occupied with some sort of business doings while on the sly she dropped her room key into the pocket of one of the muscle boys in her nightclub act! A good writer could have had a hayday with that! And most of all, it was true!

Some films of this sort, and I feel this is one, are so often flawed from the point of historical accuracy. But....with all the efforts of a fine cast it is ....Entertaining? Yes! Worth seeing? Indeed!

Perhaps only the true West fans will pick out the errors in an otherwise well done television movie. If you haven't seen it, watch for it. And if like me, a true devote' of the great Mae West, you've just got to not miss seeing it.
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8/10
Roddy McDowall's character
PourRire27 March 2007
RODDY McDOWALL'S character Rene Valentine was based on the legendary stage and film star JULIAN ELTINGE, and not the drag queen that is mentioned above. Mr. Eltinge was quite influential in creating the sexy style and alluring mannerisms that became Ms. West's trademarks in the long run. Before she was tutored by him, she was nothing more than a raucous singer that had little style. The costume she wears in the scene at the vaudeville theater, after working with him, is based on factual information researched by Costume Desinger, JEAN-PIERRE DORLEAC, who was nominated for an Emmy for the film. The same goes for all the other costumes in the film.
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9/10
Ann Jillian was completely memorable as Mae West.
philyon-229 June 2002
I can only say that when I saw this movie on Showtime I completely enjoyed it. Then, in the months that followed, when I would be flipping through the channels looking for something to kill a little time, I'd stop when I came upon Mae West. I'd think to watch it for a few minutes and go on. Inevitably I would watch it through to the end once again. I must have seen the last half or two-thirds of this movie twenty times or more and I never tired of seeing it again.

If I could find it on DVD or VHS I'd likely watch it twenty more times. I can't really say why but the story, the casting and the acting, mainly Ann Jillian made it memorable and endlessly enjoyable.
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