Mae West at the Cinematheque Ontario

“This picture will not amuse or interest children,” reads a March 10, 1933 ad for She Done Him Wrong. The Toronto Star‘s disclaimer was rather tame compared to the cries of indecency coming from various Catholic groups around the U.S. It’s often been said this film led to the formation of the Catholic Legion of Decency and the subsquent enforcement of the Production Code, whereby Hollywood would endure three decades of censorship.

Tonight, the Cinematheque Ontario is showing She Done Him Wrong as part of “Under the Spell: Surrealism and the Cinema”. Rather than being eight screenings of Un Chien Andalou — which is what my cynical mind expected —  the Cinematheque’s programming also includes Spellbound (May 24, 7pm), the Marx Bros. in Monkey Business (Jun 2, 7pm), Battleshop Potemkin (May 28, 7pm) and Le Sang d’Un Poete (May 29, 8:45pm).

Seeing Monkey Business in this context is exciting, since it really is the Bros. in their most anarchic state. As opposed to all the other Paramount films and the MGM musicals that followed, Groucho is not leading a country, dean of a college or a (horse) doctor. All four Marx Bros. are on equal ground, causing havoc for the elite aboard an ocean liner. It also features one of my favorite moments in any Marx film: as they are being chased by the liner’s crew, they perform a strangely chaotic musical interlude in an empty hall.  It’s surely one of the most surrealist moments of their films.

Accompanying each screening will be short films by Rene Clair, Luis Bunuel, Jean Vigo, and tonight’s presentation, Warhol’s Dali Screen Tests.

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