The “sin-sational” Mae West makes a campy – and, some would say, ill-advised – second comeback (after her earlier comeback in the screen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) with an all B-cast in SEXTETTE, getting the anamorphic treatment from Scorpion Releasing.
West is Marlo Manners (West), who has just wed her sixth husband: the much younger Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS). Their nuptials rate more press coverage than the UN conference being held upstairs (a tour through their honeymoon suite is covered by sportscaster Gil Stratton: “Hello there, sports fans!”). Michael is perturbed to discover he’s her sixth husband, and she replies, “Henry was the eighth, and they still remember him.” Her agent Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise, HAUNTED HONEYMOON) is eager to get her back to the States for her new film (“a satire on Washington. By the time she gets out of bed, there may be a new administration!”), and has also scheduled costume fittings and a screen test during the honeymoon. Docweiler (George E. Carey) orders Turner to recruit Marlo to spend one more night with ex-husband Alexei (Tony Curtis), a Russian delegate who is stalling negotiations. Turner offers to distract Michael for the time being, starting with sending him after “pussycat with an iron tail” gossip columnist Rona Barrett (as herself), who is also in the hotel looking for dirt on Marlo (Michael soon has to defend himself against the impression that he is gay). Turner also wants to destroy Marlo’s damaging tape-recorded memoirs, which then get lost in a kitchen scuffle. With Michael continuously distracted, Marlo herself is running around the hotel in search of the tape (which ends up inside of a cake and then in a lion’s mouth on the hotel façade). Marlo’s jack-booted director ex Laszlo (Ringo Starr) shows up at the hotel to shoot a screen test with her and Michael punches out her co-star. Then, Marlo’s late gangster husband Vance (George Hamilton) turns out to be quite alive. Marlo cannot remember if she divorced him, so they need to find the tape of her memoirs, but it has already wound up in the conference chambers with several people whose reputations it could damage.
SEXTETTE was intended as a zany musical comedy, but the musical numbers are limp (despite energetic choreography) and the songs largely unmemorable. An Olympic gymnastics team is also in the hotel so Marlo can find herself up to her neck in muscles and lip-sync to her own recording of “Happy Birthday, Twenty-One,” an adaptation of Neil Sedaka’s “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” recorded by West for the album GREAT BALLS OF FIRE. West also sings a cringing disco rendition of “Babyface” to the UN delegates. According to vocal coach Ian Whitcomb, West had trouble remembering her lines so director Ken Hughes (NIGHT SCHOOL) cued her through a radio transmitter (which may explain why her comic timing seems slightly off in more than a few instances), but she is still good at putting her own spin on the suggestive (though now very dated) double entendres. Dalton just gets away with his dignity intact (he has to sing “Love Will Keep Us Together,” but he does get to call Rona Barrett a “cheeky hussy”). He also gets some preparation for playing Bond (ten years later) by scaling the side of the hotel to retrieve the tape and dropping down through a skylight onto a trampoline (SPOILER ALERT: he is revealed to be a top British spy “even bigger than 007” explains Turner, to which Marlo replies “I never got to take his measurements”). DeLuise gets almost an equal amount of one-liners as West and tap dances on a clear piano. Keith Moon plays Marlo’s flamboyant dress designer. Walter Pidgeon has a brief bit as the chairman of the committee (and seems even more decrepit than West). George Raft (as himself) reports from the lobby and Regis Philbin shows up early on (as himself) covering the wedding ceremony. Alice Cooper shows up in the last few minutes for a musical number. The production values are fairly high, but West is obviously off her game here (even though the film is based on her own play).
Previously released on DVD by Rhino Home Video (when they had the Crown Library) in an open-matte transfer, SEXTETTE has been re-released by Scorpion Releasing in a new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (the end credits are framed at 1.66:1). Some edge enhancement is evident (some of the overall softness may have been intentional to make Miss West look younger), but the colors are bold. The mono audio is always intelligible, but there is some high end distortion (particularly noticeable during the musical numbers). Extras include an interview with West’s vocal coach Ian Whitcomb (38:11), onscreen liner notes by Dennis Dermody, and the film’s theatrical trailer (1:09). The Whitcomb interview runs at fast clip, thanks to Whitcomb’s enthusiasm in speaking about his collaborations with West (two of his songs were used by West in her album WAY DOWN WEST and then he collaborated with her on the later album GREAT BALLS OF FIRE). He describes his frustrating experience working on SEXTETTE (which seems to have been as chaotic a shoot as the original CASINO ROYALE) and reads excerpts from his journals about the shoot. Dermody’s text screen liner notes are a first for Scorpion and are navigated with the chapter-skip menu (not unlike Mondo Macabro’s liner notes for their discs). Trailers for WHERE THE BOYS ARE ’84, I WANT WHAT I WANT (the Spanish one featured on the Scorpion disc of that title), SKATEBOARD: THE MOVIE (with Leif Garrett), SAY HELLO TO YESTERDAY and GOODBYE GEMINI comprise the remaining extras. (Eric Cotenas)
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