Making the Grades
When a masked bandit holds up a stagecoach, making off with some gold and a female traveler named Miss Flower Belle Lee (Mae West), the citizens of Little Bend are mortified. Yet the damsel in question looks anything but distressed after she wanders back into town a few hours later. Nor is the blonde bombshell alarmed at the reappearance of the tall, dark stranger at her bedroom window.
However, such is not the case with local busybody Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton). Thanks to her gossiping tongue, the little Miss is asked to leave town and not return until she is respectably married.
Nonplused by the scandal, the former entertainer from Chicago boards the train and promptly turns the heads of all the male passengers -especially a Mr. Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields). As word of the plight of this "vision of loveliness" reaches the gray-haired salesman's ear, he offers himself as a solution. The buxom blossom agrees to his proposal after catching sight of a wad of greenbacks in the old man's carpetbag (and the reassuring foreknowledge that the officiating minister is really only a pious-looking gambler).
The marriage of convenience proves to be a bit of a hindrance once they arrive in the rowdy, old west community of Greasewood. Regardless of her wedding ring, the sultry seductress entertains the attentions of a slippery, casino owner named Mr. Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia) and a morally upright newspaperman called Mr. Wayne Cater (Dick Foran). Meanwhile, her coy detachment gets the goat of her husband, who is eager to consummate their union.
My Little Chickadee simmers with as much sexuality as the censers would allow in 1931. Bringing their already well-established personas to their respective roles, this movie was the first time W.C. Fields and Mae West combined their talents on screen. It was also the last. Apparently not all of the leading-lady's distain for the main male actor was just for show. According to inside sources, the rivalry between the two prima donnas was so great most of their close-ups were shot separately, so the stars could spend as little time together as possible on set.
There is no question W.C. Fields was a comedic genius (in one of the funnier scene in the film he is shown taking a bath while still wearing his signature white gloves). And Mae West was equally well known for her show stopping, sex appeal. But parents wanting to introduce their youngsters to these famous entertainers may want to approach this title with some caution.
Although the movie contains little overt content, much of the humor is derived from lustful intentions. The rest comes from a bevy of slapstick antics including drunkenness, gambling, gunplay, and demeaning depictions of American Indians. Unlike the unflappable Miss Flower Belle Lee, explaining the nuances of such jokes to your little chickadees may be the cause of some slight embarrassment.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about My Little Chickadee.
How is the handling of the sexual tension in this film different than movies made today? In what ways is it the same? Does time tarnish some of the humor?