Review: Raoul Walsh's 'Klondike Annie' Showcases West's Acting Chops

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 29, 2021

Review: Raoul Walsh's 'Klondike Annie' Showcases West's Acting Chops

Raoul Walsh's "Klondike Annie," released in 1936, is a great example of how puritanism tried to destroy Mae West and how she comes through showing off dramatic chops no one assumed she had. Paramount Pictures is left with a lasting legacy of subjugation and capitulation.

West plays Rose Carlton, a.k.a. The Frisco Doll, and once again knows how to make an entrance. The camera finds her a kept woman in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1890s, singing "Occidental Woman," lit up like a Christmas tree, and playing the mandolin. Tired of her life of servitude to the evil Chan Lo (Harold Huber), she flees on the next steamer headed to Nome, Alaska. The ship's captain, Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen, Oscar-winner for "The Informer"), is completely smitten with Rose, who seems indifferent to him. Along the journey, the ship picks up Sister Annie Alden (Helen Jerome Eddy), a devout missionary who changes Rose's life forever.

Based on West's play "Frisco Kate," and co-written with Marion Morgan and George Brendan Dowell, "Klondike Annie" was probably a better-than-good film in its initial cut. Alas, Paramount, under pressure from the censors, decided to snip eight minutes from the film (lost now, as far as we know), leaving viewers with major plot confusion and the film with noticeable chunks missing.

The gaps left by both excised sequences are obvious, and their loss hurts the film. The first leaves viewers scratching their heads, wondering what exactly happened between Rose and Chan Lo (although we are given small details later). The second cut is less confusing, but still jarring. This one involves Rose's switching identities with Annie. In addition, the wholly unsatisfying ending feels production code-enforced, as well.

Walsh handles things as well as possible, and would go on to direct, "The Roaring Twenties," "They Drive by Night," "High Sierra," and "White Heat."

West proves in this film that she could inhabit a character that was a bit removed from her persona. It's a shame that side of her wouldn't ever be successfully explored. Her evangelical scenes are splendid.

The Kino Blu-ray looks as good as it can, considering the original negative is lost. The soundtrack is fairly clean.

Special Features include West film trailers and a truly absorbing audio commentary by film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson.

"Klondike Annie" succeeds, no thanks to the cowards at Paramount Pictures and all thanks to Mae West and her never-ending charisma, charm, and determination.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson

  • Six Mae West Trailers

    "Klondike Annie" is available on Blu-ray on June 29, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute