She Done Him Wrong (1933)
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Director: Lowell Sherman
Cast: Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore
Synopsis: In the Gay Nineties, a seductive nightclub singer contends with several suitors, including a jealous escaped convict and a handsome temperance league member.
The Bowery district of New York proved fertile ground for Warner Bros, with many of their most memorable films of the 1930s using it as a setting for tales of crime amongst the underclass. She Done Him Wrong, however, while steeped in the flavour and atmosphere of the Bowery, was actually made by Paramount Studios, who are now more closely associated with European-style sophisticated comedies. It’s the first starring role for Mae West, that most controversial of screen sirens, after making an eye-catching screen debut opposite her friend, George Raft, and of all her movies She Done Him Wrong comes closest to capturing the essence of the actress. The full force of the Production Code was yet to be felt in Hollywood, so Harvey Thew and John Bright’s script was able to journey much nearer to the knuckle than movies released just s few months later (including West’s I’m No Angel). Ironically, it was also the movie most responsible for awakening the wrath of the agency, and casting the American entertainment industry into a generation-long era of total censorship which insisted that double beds were a figment of the population’s collective imagination, and everyone kissed with their mouths closed. No longer would an American movie character be able to refer to two obviously gay male prison inmates as the Cherry Sisters…
She Done Him Wrong is a sharp adaptation of West’s Broadway hit, Diamond Lil, although for the movie, the name of West’s character is changed to Lady Lou in a rather lame attempt to distance it from its racy origins. After an amusing sequence of introductory scenes which immediately immerse us in the boisterous atmosphere of the late-19th Bowery, Lou is introduced as the self-proclaimed ‘finest lady who ever walked the streets.’ All that’s behind her now, though. Now she’s the mistress of saloon owner Gus Jordan (Noah Beery Sr., – Glorifying the American Girl, The Stoker), who’s tilting his hat at the office of Mayor even while heavily involved in a counterfeit money ring with Russian Rita (Rafaella Ottiano – Grand Hotel, Riffraff) and her toy-boy lover, Sergei (Gilbert Roland – The Lost World). But Gus’s days look numbered because his rival, Dan Flynn (David Landau – Cabin in the Cotton, I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) is planning to rat on his operation, then make a move on Lou once Gus is out of the way. What Dan doesn’t realise, though, is that Lou is growing increasingly fond of Captain Cummings (Cary Grant – I’m No Angel, The Awful Truth), the handsome young Good Samaritan from the mission next door.
She Done Him Wrong’s plot is nothing to write home bout, but is no worse than one would expect from a Mae West flick. People were more interested in hearing the saucy innuendoes with which she bombarded them, anyway, and She Done Him Wrong delivers more than its fair share, including the legendary ‘Come up and see me’ line with which she will forever be associated. West looks good, too – a lot slimmer than in I’m No Angel, which would be released just a few months later, and is on top of her game in a role with which she was intimately familiar. In comparison, Grant struggles to be noticed when they share the screen and, despite his classic good looks, shows little of the star quality to come. Having said that, his part is a lot smaller than one might expect for a leading man, and despite this failure to make much of an impression, he obviously did enough to have West choose him to appear opposite her once more in I’m No Angel. Although it’s talky, She Done Him wrong is also entertaining and fast-moving, and provides newcomers with a suitable introduction to West’s raunchy sense of humour.
(Reviewed 20th March 2016)