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Ruby (Mae West) and boxer Tiger Kid (Roger Pryor) are in love, but the
boy's manager Kirby (James Donlan) does want him to prepare for his big
fight and not be diverted by a dame. So he makes Tiger believe that hse is
seeing someone else, he breaks up with her on the spot, and heartbroken,
she goes to New Orleans to become the singing star of a revue show. Soon
enough, the show's sleazy producer Ace (John Miljan) has set his eyes on
her even if he's engaged to Molly (Katherine DeMille) - and doing men who
are in a relationship is a big no-no for Ruby. Instead she dates Clayburn,
a rich man who showers her with gifts, especially diamonds and stuff -
much to Ace's dismay.
Eventually, Ace gets the Tiger Kid down to New Orleans to fight a
championship fight, without knowing that the Kid and Ruby were lovers, and
neither does the Kid know that Ruby's in town nor does she know her ex is
coming to town. Ace meanwhile uses the Kid to teach Ruby a lesson and has
him rob the diamonds she has received from Clayburn - without the two
recognizing each other.
However, it's not much later that Ruby learns of Ace's and Tiger's evil
scheme, and makes up a devillish plan to get back at them: Ace has bet all
his money on the Tiger Kid because he is clearly the better fighter but
also the outsider - so during the fight, Ruby drugs Tiger's water but
makes Ace give him the drugged bottle (which she makes mysteriously
disappear after the fight), and as a result the Tiger Kid of course loses
and with him, Ace loses all his bets, then Ruby empties Ace's safe - where
he has hidden her diamonds -, which leaves Ace with only one solution, to
burn down his club and make a swift escape. Then though Ruby convinces
Tiger that it was Ace who drugged his water, and as a result, Tiger
accidently knocks him dead.
Ruby thinks revenge is hers, and it's only then that she learns that
Tiger did not actually know he was robbing her but thought he was only
teaching a golddigging blackmailer a lesson ... and suddenly the two
realize they are still in love with each other. So Ruby decides to burn
down the building anyways (Ace did not quite come round to do that before
his death) to destroy all evidence ...
... and the end sees Ruby and Tiger marrying, but not before Ace was
publicly exposed as the scoundrel he was and Ace was tried for his murder
but acquitted for some reason (hey, the Production Code demanded this sort
of ending) ...
The first film Mae West made along the lines of the newly installed Production
Code saw some changes in her character: She was no longer the
husband-stealing promiscuous bad girl who comes out on top anyways but
essentially a wronged woman in love with just one man who's almost cheated
out of the luck she deserves and thus does everything to get it back.
Apart from that though, Mae West has changed very little, her walk, her
posing and her gestures still spell SEX in capital letters, and
even if her oneliners are less direct and more in form of double
entendres, it's still pretty clear what she's talking about.
That aside, is Belle of the Nineties a good film ?
Not really, as a film Belle of the Nineties is so-so (like most
of West's films actually) ... but as another showcase for the incredible
Mae West it's great, she dominates every scene she's in, delivers her
witty lines in her trademark style, poses as sexy and provocative as ever,
sings some of her best songs (accompanied by Duke Ellington and his
Orchestra) and thus makes the film another great
Mae West-experience - even if her character and the film as a whole suffer
a bit from the restrictions of the code.