Paramount Publix
Leo McCary
William LeBaron
Mae West
21 September 1934
73 minutes
Mae West, Roger Pryor, John Mack Brown,
John Miljen
and Katherine DeMille
“Belle of the Nineties” started out with the working title, “It Ain’t No Sin”. But this proved too much for the censors and the title was changed at the last minute. A lot of the pre-publicity showing the original title still exists and is now very collectable.
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Mae is lavishly costumed by Travis Banton for her role as Ruby Carter in this gay 90s extravaganza. The plot is slight but the film is a wonderful vehicle for Mae’s personality, and the turn of the century period is beautifully captured in all aspect of the production.
Mae gets to sing some wonderful blues numbers backed by Duke Ellington (with whom she was rumoured to have had an affair).

Mae had a fight with the studio over the use of Ellington. When she realised that there was a racist undertone to their resistance to her proposal she dug her heels in and she won out, with sensational results. These musical numbers - “My Old Flame”, “Memphis Blues”, “When A Saint Louis Woman Comes Down To New Orleans  ” and “Troubled Waters” - are, without doubt, her strongest ever captured on film.
One of the musical highlights of the film is the production number, “My American Beauty” in which Mae doesn’t sing. Instead she appears in a succession of tableau - as a rose, a butterfly, a moth, a spider and finally as the Statue of Liberty. This latter image inspired a riot when it was referred to as the Statue of Libido!