America’s most confident woman returns in I’m No Angel, not to be confused with the Gregg Allman album of the same name.
Released 9 months after She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel reunites Mae West and Cary Grant, and once again revolves around West literally charming the pants of anyone and everyone she meets. The eccentric plot starts at a circus and ends in a courtroom, featuring West as a charismatic, intelligent lion tamer(!) named Tira who cracks risqué one-liners like a circus whip.
Just as West dominates every scene, Tira is in control of every scenario, even when under attack by the patriarchy. As a writer, West normalises female promiscuity in a manner that’s gloriously witty and way ahead of its time. When Tira ends up in court (where she serves as her own defence lawyer), her sexual history is used against her. “I don’t see what my past has got to do with my present,” she responds, challenging the men to the same standards expected of her. This is 1933. Made “pre-Code”, before the introduction of film censorship guidelines, I’m No Angel depicts a level of female sexual liberation that would all but disappear from mainstream cinema.
At the same time, West’s strong Brooklyn accent and stronger innuendos (and the fact that she’s a lion tamer!) challenge further the notion of how women should behave. Her ethos is to be yourself, and to be fabulous with it. And it’s easy to be fabulous with such incredible costumes, including a sparkly spider’s web number, complete with sparkly spider.
I’m No Angel has it all. Music. Romance. Lions. One can’t help but feel bad for the circus lions, and worse for Tira’s stereotyped black maids… the film is more progressive in some areas than others. But all of Tira’s one-liners are as beautifully crafted as the diamonds that cover her clothes, and the overall effect is liberating. Come up and see it sometime.