W.C. Fields was a successful vaudeville and stage performer with a few films to his credit when he signed a contract with Paramount, which then built a string of star vehicles for him. The greatest of these is It’s a Gift, whose story was written by Fields himself, structured like a series of sketches featuring the comedian in the guise of a put-upon paterfamilias and small business owner. And in fact, much of the material here derives from Fields’ vaudeville routines, which by this point had been polished to a perfect gleam. His gimlet-eyed persona, unwaveringly unsentimental and gruffly indifferent to social niceties and family ties, is if anything more shocking now than it was in the 1930s.
Another comic stage star brought to the screen by Paramount, Mae West continued to provoke controversy during her time at the studio. Given her penchant for reveling in raunchy double entendres, West had already found herself the target of censors many times before coming to Hollywood. The suggestiveness of her two pairings with Cary Grant, She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, is said to have hastened the onset of the Production Code. Here, she’s a circus entertainer and kept woman who falls for her patron’s business partner. Perhaps what most troubled the guardians of morality, more than the suggestive situations and risqué dialogue, is the reversal of conventional gender structures at work in the way West eyes Grant in these films, like a cat watching its prey.