Belle of the Nineties

Ruby Carter, "The Most Talked About Women in the World." What an introduction for Miss Mae West. The film opens with a vaudevillian styled production, full of scantily clad dancers (female, surprisingly). It is set in the 1990's. This is the nearly famous opening, with Miss West appearing in front of assorted backgrounds, such as a rose, butterfly, spider, and finally as the Statue of Liberty.

Afterwards, she is being escorted by the Tiger Kid, but has a fiery run in with the Kid's manager, who doesn't approve of his involvement with Ruby. She arranges for the police to pick up the offending man. In response, he arranges to make the Kid believe Ruby is unfaithful. Of course the Kid falls for it. She gets a letter from him saying how much he is hurt by her supposed infidelity right as she is offered to move her act to New Orleans. In an exchange between her and the manager that truly shows Miss West's potential for dramatic acting, she decides to sacrifice her relationship with the prizefighter so that he can become the champ without distraction and takes the offer for the move.

In New Orleans, she is greeted by Ace Lemont, the owner of the hall where Ruby will be performing. Her arrival is obviously meeting with some resistance from Molly Brant, Ace's "sweetheart." After Ruby's first performance, Ace makes his intentions clear. But Ruby is somewhat cool on the idea, not wishing to fill another woman's shoes.

Despite Ace's proposal, Ruby apparently spends considerable time with another gentleman, Brooks Claybourne. His gifts are noted by Molly and reported to Ace. Ruby asks for a week vacation which is promptly denied. She makes it quite clear that with her recent acquisition of diamonds, she does not *have* to work and walks out.

Ace soon learns that the fight he's scheduled between the Champ and a contender is in jeopardy. The contender has run out, so Ace needs a fighter to replace him. He visits the training center and sets his sights on the recent arrival, the Tiger Kid. Ace arranges the matchup and talks the Kid into helping him take away the diamonds Ruby can use for her independence. Of course, the Kid doesn't know who this woman is. Under the cover of darkness, he holds the couple up and takes all of her jewelry.

Ruby figures out what has happened, after seeing the two together later. Her and the Kid finally meet again, and he realizes that his friend set her up. Aware of the Kid's involvement with the abduction of her diamonds, she leads him to believe she's still in love with him. But she resists his physical advances.

Ruby's maid asks to go to a prayer meeting, for which Ruby hands her some money to put in the collection plate. The music from the group can be heard in Ruby's apartment and leads to a lovely blues song and a wild montage of a group of African Americans dancing and singing by the river.

As Ruby prepares to go to the big fight, she arranges for Ace to open the safe that he's put her stolen jewels into. She uses binoculars to make sure she catches the combination.

Later, at the fight, she puts something in the water that she has Ace give to the Kid. During the next round, the Kid is knocked out. But Ace has bet so much on the Kid, it will ruin him if he pays off. He plans to burn down the house before paying and take Ruby to Havana. She plays along, and with "Frankie and Johnnie" playing in the background, she takes her jewels and money out of Ace's safe.

Ace begins to prepare for his plan, including locking Molly in a closet for her to die in the blaze but the Kid shows up. Ruby convinces him that Ace set him up, and in a rage, he knocks Ace out. Ace falls over and hits his head. The Kid realizes he's dead and panics. Ruby feels sorry for him, after realizing that he didn't know it was her he was stealing from. She goes into the room with Ace's body. She unknowingly throws her cigarette which lights the kerosene that Ace had already spilled around. The resulting fire and smoke, awakens Molly who screams. Ruby and the Kid rescue her and call the fire department.

A montage of newspaper headlines explains that after the authorities figure out Ace didn't die from the fire, the Kid gives himself up but the case is dismissed. The final scene is the marriage of the Tiger Kid and Ruby Carter.

Although, Belle of the Nineties" has it's fair share of comedic lines, it is much more of a drama. With beautiful sets, dazziling costumes and more jazz and blues songs than seen before in her movies, it's a fantastic film. Mae West proves that she can act.

By Kim Stahl Cotton

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Last updated: June 30, 2004