Friday, November 1, 2013

Sextette (1978): When Mae West bagged James Bond

Sextette (1978)
dir: Ken Hughes

Today, Last Vegas is released to theaters around the country. I support seeing Last Vegas over Ender's Game, but why not try out!

Last Vegas is a movie about a 69 year old man going on one last bender with his other old male friends before he marries some young 20-something girl. Sextette is about the attempted honeymoon of an 83-year-old woman just after she marries a 32-year-old future James Bond. Last Vegas is about four old men who are recapturing their youth by completely objectifying women and viewing them exclusively as sex objects. Sextette is about one old woman who seems to think she never lost her youth and views men as sex objects. Last Vegas deals in cliches that had been worn out 20+ years before it had been made. Sextette deals in cliches that had been worn out 30+ years before it had been made. Last Vegas is a star-studded event. So is Sextette.

The parallels are astounding.

Sextette is a one-last-fling vehicle for Mae West, who really wanted to recapture the innocently risque style that defined her career. Supposedly inspired by Mae West's 1926 play Sex, for which she had been arrested, Sextette has nothing in common with that earlier piece of then-provocative work. Sextette casts Mae West as the Hollywood sex symbol Marlo Manners, whose theme claims her to be the "female answer to Apollo!" Marlo just got married to British Lord Barrington (Timothy Dalton, 2 years before Flash Gordon, and 9 years before James Bond) and is trying to have a peaceful sexy honeymoon in a busy hotel that is hosting top international diplomats and a generic American athletic team.

Of course, Marlo hasn't retired yet. Dom Deluise is her semi-agent who whores her out to politicians and arranges things with the "Studios." She has to go through wardrobe and do screen tests, and hook up with an ex-husband while also trying to save a cassette tape of her memoirs. Oh, and fawn over the athletic team.

The thing is, Sextette is a Broadway musical with trampy jokes that play to the cheap seats. And, it is also a zany screwball movie with very little energy for screwball. Think Oscar, but slowed down by a factor of 20. The opening theme is just a theme, but then it launches into a big grand happy-as-hell number of Hooray for Hollywood, where Mae West is not singing or dancing, but merely answering questions like "How do you like it in London?" "I like it any place I can get it."

Several of Mae West's ex husbands are also in the hotel. Her 3rd ex husband Sexy Alexei is some Russian consulate played by Tony Curtis. Her fourth ex-husband is also the director of her new film, who is present for her screen test...and is played by Ringo Starr. Her 5th (and last husband before James Bond) is presumed dead, but ends up played by George Hamilton.

Keith Moon plays the gay dress designer on speed. Alice Cooper plays a feel good piano-playing bellhop. Regis Philbin cameos as himself. Yeah, I can't make any of this up.  The casting is as mind-bogglingly strange as you can imagine.

But, what makes this movie so adorably bizarre is that everybody is throwing themselves at Mae West, much like everybody throws themselves at the old dudes in Last Vegas. And, I mean, everybody. The American Athletes are fawning over themselves to pose with Marlo Manners. All of the politicians have had sex with Marlo. Her ex-husbands are still obsessed with Marlo. She has an outrageous duet with James Bond singing Love Will Keep Us Together. She's the woman every man wants for their own.

Unfortunately that is somewhat of a disconnect because poor Mae West has had gallons of makeup plastered to her that gives her face an unnatural ghostly pale look that even is contrasted to the rosiness of her neck and bosom. Mae West is constantly deathly pale and shot in focus soft the sets frequently looks blobby.

Is Sextette good?  Not in the traditional sense. It's something that must be seen to be believed. Mae West has done much better work in her youth, and even her turn in Maya Breckinridge is much more inspired than this swan song vehicle. But, at least Mae West has agency to sleep with anybody she wants...unlike Last Vegas, where women only exist to be fucked.

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