Someone, somewhere at Prime, with over a century of cinematic history to choose from, is coming up with Sextette as something worth promoting on their streaming service; it’s pretty odd that this legendary 1978 clunker should feature in their line-up. Sextette had been a stage vehicle for Mae West from 1961, and it’s clear that the most, or only remarkable thing about it, was the star. A film version was first announced way back in 1970, but by the time it got in front of the camera in 1978, West was in her eighties and somewhat less that the sin-sational broad promised on the posters.
West certainly had presence, but she moves like a parking hovercraft and delivers her lines as if she’s never formed a sentence before, a phenomena that has inspired a number of urban legends about lines being fed through an ear-piece. But there’s many a film in which an aged male actor froths over young women, so Sextette’s notion of having West meet six of her previous young husbands while staying at a London hotel isn’t necessarily awful.
But Sextette is awful, and the contents read like a crime sheet. How about Mae West and Timothy Dalton performing Love Will Keep Us Together? Or West directing a flirtatious performance of Happy Birthday Sweet Twenty-One to the entire US Athletics team? Tony Curtis as a diplomat called Sexy Alexi? How about rando cameo action from erm, Dom DeLuise, Ringo Starr, Walter Pigeon, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and George Raft? Perhaps to compensate for the star’s immobility, all concerned give inhibited, off-key performances that must have been the subject of some regret.
Ken Hughes’s shambolic film switches gears with unease, balancing casual racism with tremendous homophobia while the cast pick their way through such mind-numbing innuendos as ‘Have you seen Big Ben? / I hardly know the man!’ Sextette is a ten vehicle car-crash of a film that has to be seen to be believed, filmed in a dank process which should be called Awful-o-Vision which makes everything look like its filmed through a screen door. After ninety minutes of this, you’ll feel like you’ve been trapped in Mae West’s boudoir with an assortment of 70’s fading glitterati; an experience that you’ll never forget. Like the Mae-Goes-Disco version of Baby Face that climaxes the film, it burns it way into your consciousness, leaving you changed inside forever, wrestling with questions of your own mortality.