Release Date(s)1933 (June 29, 2021)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
I’m No Angel was the second film to feature Mae West as its lead actor, and the first where she received primary screenwriting credit. That’s fitting, because her character dominates the proceedings as thoroughly as possible. Tira (West) is a dancer and a lion tamer at a circus sideshow who keeps herself in style by using her innumerable wiles to get men to shower her with gifts. When a twist of fate takes her to New York City, she ends up involved with the wealthy Jack Clayton (Cary Grant). But when he’s persuaded that she’s not the kind of woman that he should be with, she sues him for breach of promise and handles the court case herself. Given the legal issues that West had faced due to the risque nature of her earlier stage productions, there’s doubtless an element of wish fulfillment for her in the story, especially in the confident way that Tira handles all of the witnesses against her. While the film was directed by Wesley Ruggles, it’s definitely West’s show, all the way.
I’m No Angel is sometimes referred to as a pre-Code film, which isn’t quite accurate. It was produced after the Production Code was adopted by the MPAA in 1930, but before Joseph Breen was appointed the head of the Production Code Administration in 1934. During that brief period, the Code wasn’t rigorously enforced, and as a result, content slipped through which never would have passed muster with the notoriously draconian Breen:
“Tira can handle them cats like nobody else. She's safer in that cage than she is in bed.”
“I don't doubt that.”
Tira is one of Mae West’s best characters, a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to do whatever is necessary to get it. She isn’t ashamed of herself, and instead of being the one who has to play defense against a society which is unwilling to accept an empowered woman, she’s the aggressor in taking action against someone who she feels has done her wrong. Yet she’s no mercenary, but rather someone who simply uses men as a means to an end; when she realizes that one particular man can offer her something beside money and jewels, she pursues a different kind of fulfillment with equal certitude. Significantly, there’s never even a hint of a patriarchal conception of marriage in I’m No Angel—Tira is not a woman to be conquered by a strong man, but rather she’s both hunter and conqueror of the dapper Jack. She marries on her own terms, not those that society imposes on her.
I’m No Angel is also one of West’s most quotable films, with famous lines such as “Beulah, peel me a grape.” But this one probably sums up the West persona more than any other:
“You were wonderful tonight.”
“Yeah, I'm always wonderful at night.”
“Tonight, you were especially good.”
“Well, when I'm good, I'm very good. But, when I'm bad... I’m better.”
I’m No Angel was shot on 35 mm film by cinematographer Leo Tover and framed at 1.37:1. Unlike the Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray release of My Little Chickadee, which included detailed restoration notes in a title card at the end of the film, there’s no information available regarding the restoration process, or what elements were used. All of the negatives for West’s films are long gone, so it would have been some combination of dupe negatives and/or fine grain prints. While the picture quality perhaps falls just a tiny bit short of the high bar set by My Little Chickadee, it comes impressively close. Everything looks immaculate without even a hint of damage, but with all of the fine detail and grain intact. While it may be slightly less detailed than Chickadee, that’s as much due to the cinematography as anything else—Tover uses diffusion filters more frequently here than Joseph Valentine did on that film. Otherwise, the grayscale is just as accurate with good contrast and black levels. It’s a lovely transfer.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. The audio sounds clean with clear dialogue, though with just an occasional touch of sibilance, which is the way it was recorded.
Extras include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Samm Deighan
- I'm No Angel Trailer (SD – 1:58)
- Night After Night Trailer (SD – 2:39)
- Belle of the Nineties Trailer (HD – 1:54)
- Goin' to Town Trailer (SD – 1:42)
- Every Day's a Holiday Trailer (HD – 2:27)
- My Little Chickadee Trailer (SD – 1:36)
- The Eagle and the Hawk Trailer (SD – 1:40)
Film historian Samm Deighan’s commentary is free-flowing and conversational. While she does occasionally talk about specific scenes, for the most part she covers the historical background of the film, its themes, and the biographies of the various cast members. She talks about how the success of West’s first two films saved Paramount at that time, and how West’s persona was distinct from the typical Hollywood starlet of the era—rather than being a slim ingenue, she was a voluptuous, worldly woman with a caustic sense of humor. Deighan argues that the role of Tira was autobiographical for West, not in any particular details, but rather in the way that Tira controls her career just like West did. Deighan also gives a nuanced look at the racial issues presented in the film, noting that West both affirmed and transgressed the racial norms of that era. She also covers the way that queer culture had influenced West’s persona. It’s a good commentary track which provides important historical context to enhance appreciation of the film.
She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel both established West as one of the biggest box office draws of her era, and also established a unique persona in the history of film which has been much imitated, but never equaled. The Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray of I’m No Angel is a fantastic way to see a singular talent at the height of her powers.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)