KLONDIKE ANNIE (Paramount, 1936), directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Mae West, who's also credited with story and dialog, is a different kind of Mae West production without taking away from the traditional Mae West persona. The movie title is as memorable and most associated with Mae West than the story itself, however, this is one of her most interesting, if not entirely successful projects.
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1890s, Rose Carlton (Mae West), better known as "The San Francisco Doll," (but billed in the closing credits simply as "The Frisco Doll") works an entertainer at the House of Chan Lo. Aside from earning her living as a singer , her other position is acting as mistress to her employer Chan Lo (Harold Huber), who rewards her with luxury but not happiness. After more than a year under his constant guided protection, she becomes bitter, feeling more like a prisoner and annoyed with his abusive behavior and possessive jealously. She now yearns for a man of her "own race" and decides to make leave with Vance Palme r(Conway Talmer), a middle-aged millionaire. After one of her servants, Ah Toy, is put to the torture test, Chan Lo learns of the Doll's attempt to board passage on the next steamer for Alaska. Rose and her Chinese maid, Fah Wong (Soo Yong), leave the casino, and arrive on board the Java Maid where they become only passengers, in fact the only females, sharing the steamer with Captain "Bull" Brackett (Victor McLaglen) and his crew. Rose soon catches the attention of the captain who makes her his special passenger. As a promise to her maid, Rose arranges for Bull to stop in Seattle where Fah Wong reunites herself with the man she loves. While on port, Bull obtains information about Rose, alias "The San Francisco Doll," wanted for murder. Blinded by her beauty, he decides to help her. After the steamer docks at Vancouver, Sister Annie Alden (Helen Jerome-Eddy) of the Salvation Army, comes on board to pursue her mission to save fallen souls at the Settlement House in Nome. During the voyage, Sister Annie suddenly becomes ill and dies. Arriving in the Klondike, authorities come on board to arrest Rose. Rose switches identities with Annie, with Rose Carlton's name listed in the log book as passenger who died on board. While in Nome, Rose's impersonation of Sister Annie gradually changes her heart and soul. Out of respect for the dead woman, she uses her methods to inspire dance hall girls, gamblers and prostitutes to attend the prayer meetings. It's not long before her special brand of preaching earns her a special place in the congregation. In spite of being on an errand of mercy, Rose, who has encountered Jack Forrest (Philip Reed), of the Mounted Police, who, like Brackett, knowing her identity, plans to resign his post and go away with her. Rose is soon placed in a position as to which man she would have as well as the tough decision whether or not return to San Francisco and face up to the murder charge that awaits her.
While a theme about a troubled or bitter woman finding religion could have produced a fine and inspirational film, instead, is something with great potential, but little else. KLONDIKE ANNIE (which could have been titled I'M NO ANGEL had it not been used already), was reportedly faced with censorship problems leading to severe editing process. A notable scene early in the story was one involving a struggling match between Rose (West) and Chan Lo (Harold Huber), ending with the villain accidentally getting stabbed by one of his own daggers. This ranks one of the more regrettable cuts, making that abrupt blackout from casino to steamer a bit puzzling. Learning what had taken place through the "wanted for murder" posters does help to comprehend the continuity of the rest of the story.
Aside from deletion of other scenes leading to its final print of 77 minutes, KLONDIKE ANNIE, being the most dramatic of all Mae West films, not only takes time for some lighter moments in comedy but takes time for song numbers with West taking the spotlight, with music and lyrics credited to Gene Austin, who also appears as vocalist and organ player during the church service. The opening number, "I'm an Occidental Woman in the Oriental Mood for Love," as sung by West, is quite effective especially with the accompaniment of Oriental musical instruments. This is followed by "Mr. Deep Blue Sea" as West sings this one to McLaglen in his cabin. Subsequent songs sung by others include: "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," "Little Bar Butterfly," "Cheer Up, Little Sister," "It's Better to Give Than to Receive" (sung by Gene Austin and parishioners during the collection; and the traditional New Year's Eve theme song of "Old Acquaintance."
Out of circulation from the commercial and public television markets for quite some time now, KLONDIKE ANNIE eventually moved to the cable channel of American Movie Classics where it played several times from September 1991 to March of 1992. In fact, KLONDIKE ANNIE was the only Mae West feature from her Paramount years (1932-1938) to be presented on AMC. KLONDIKE ANNIE along with the other West/ Paramount titles, were distributed on video cassette from MCA/ Universal in 1992, and later to DVD a decade or so later. Aside from a story with a Jack London (author to "The Call of the Wild") Yukon setting, Mae West, with her attempt to be relatively different, keeps the traditional formula and style sizzling, yet goodness did have something to do with it. (**1/2)