“The Sin-Sational Mae West”
Director: Ken Hughes
Cast: Mae West, Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise
Synopsis: Interruptions spoil a Hollywood sex symbol’s (Mae West) honeymoon with her sixth husband.
The story goes that octogenarian star Mae West had trouble remembering her lines while filming Sextette, and had to rely on them being fed to her through an earpiece. Unfortunately, when the earpiece inadvertently picked up messages from the local police radio, instead of cooing sweet nothings to her co-star, the 87-year-old West sexily informed him that there had been an accident on the 405 Freeway. That, unfortunately, is the funniest thing about this hopelessly dated farce which, even back in 1978, must have felt like a breath of dead air from a long-locked tomb.
As the iconic movie star Marlo Manners, West, whose only other movie in the previous 33 years was the equally dire Myra Breckinridge, shuffles about in a soft-focus haze, her advanced age tactfully ignored by all around her, including new husband, Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton – Flash Gordon, Toy Story 3 – who, at 31, was technically young enough to be West’s Great-Grandson) who, on the night of his wedding, is keen – understandably, or otherwise – to bed his new wife. What should be a joyous night is complicated by the fact that a number of Marlo’s past husbands (Barrington is her sixth) just happen to be visiting the same plush hotel. Russian diplomat Alexei Karansky (Tony Curtis – Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like it Hot), attending a major political summit, refuses to cast his assenting vote to the matters being discussed until he is permitted one more romantic dinner with his former wife, temperamental film director Laslo Korolny (Ringo Starr) is busy shooting his new movie, and mobster Vance Norton (George Hamilton – A Thunder of Drums, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing), whom Marlo can’t remember whether she divorced or not because she believed him to be dead, is on the run from the police. While Marlo is kept busy soothing the fraying tempers of her former and current husbands, her manager, Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise – Fail-Safe, Blazing Saddles), frantically tries to retrieve a cassette tape on which Marlo’s incriminating memoirs are recorded.
Somehow, West, whose cheekbones here are far better defined than they ever were in the 1930s, gathered together a reasonably famous cast mostly made up of old stars like Walter Pidgeon (How Green Was My Valley, Cass Timberlane), George Raft (Scarface, The Bowery), with whom West appeared in her first movie forty-six years earlier) and Tony Curtis, and slightly past-it rock stars like ex-Beatle Ringo Starr as a pretentious movie director, Who drummer Keith Moon as a manic costume designer, and Godfather of Shock Rock Alice Cooper as a piano-playing waiter, but, apart from Curtis, the old actors are given little to do, while the rock stars give the kind of unstable acting performances you’d expect from rock stars. In fact, only Dom DeLuise as Manners’ perpetually-scheming manager comes out of this mess with any real credit.
For maybe twenty minutes or so, the ghastly fascination of seeing the plump, mummified remnants of a once-great sexual icon stumbling about in a variety of flowing gowns is enough to keep us watching Sextette. But, eventually, the sheer awfulness of the clumsily staged musical numbers, featuring such creaky standards as Hooray for Hollywood and Baby Face, and a lifeless screenplay which was probably gathering dust in some forgotten corner of La West’s boudoir since 1947, combine to weave a malign spell. We want to stop watching, but we can’t because we have to see just how low West will go in order to kid herself that she’s stil a star of the movies. Sextette is a sorry, horrible, coda to the career of a once vibrant actress that is best forgotten by both those who appeared in it and those of us unfortunate enough to view it.
(Reviewed 19th March 2016)