“My Little Chickadee” (1940) Starring W.C. Fields, Mae West, Joseph Callieia, Dick Foran, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Meek, Ruth Donnelly. Written by Mae West, W.C. Fields. Directed by Edward F. Cline. What would appear to be a comic match made in heaven, with West, the Queen of the insouciant double entendre and Fields, the screen’s merriest misanthrope, is actually a frustrating demonstration of the creatively debilitating effects of the Production Code. Evident from the very first scene is the gag placed on Mae West, preventing her from practicing her most signature brand of sexually provocative material; her raison d’etre. It is like handicapping Fred Astaire with cement shoes topped by spats, obliviating one of the most important foundations of her lasting appeal. Almost every opportunity for West to speak (she wrote her own dialogue) is an exercise in frustration, often awkwardly paused as if she’s imagining the dialogue she’s unable to speak before the actual uninspired lines emerge, and occasionally there seems to be a sharp edit at the end of her lines, as if she smuggled one by the censor’s and was later rudely truncated. Fields, for his part, fares much better, evidently always unfazed by the limiting restrictions of Hays, having created his own idiosyncratic vocabulary substituting for language which would be deemed “offensive”.
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