She Done Him Wrong
- Mae West as Lady Lou
- Cary Grant as Captain Cummings
- Noah Beery as Gus Jordan
- Owen Moore as Chick Clarke
- Gilbert Roland as Serge
- Rafaela Ottiano as Rita
A big moneymaker in its day that saved Paramount from bankruptcy and announced Mae West as something of a sexual firebrand chafing at views of purity, She Done Him Wrong has quite a lot of historical value attached to it. Based on a Broadway play of West’s, the plot is a bit lacking, but the star vehicle for West is very entertaining due to her iconic personality and sense of impudent humour.
1890’s Bowery, New York; Lady Lou is a bejeweled and popular entertainer at a local saloon. She enjoys the company of many men, in particular those who can provide her with jewelry. The latest man in her life is the owner of the saloon Gus Jordan, who showers her with diamonds and luxuries as she is the star attraction. On the side however, along with two sleazy associates Serge and Rita, he is involved in seedy dealings in order to fund the flow of diamonds. Lou also catches the attentions of a young mission director named Captain Cummings, who she also takes a bit of a shine to( despite him having a secret agenda). While stringing men along, Lou must contend with her former flame Chick Clarke. He is currently in prison and is very possessive of the irrepressible Lou, and vows that if she strays he will make her sorry. Soon things start getting eventful around the saloon for all the men in Lou’s life and the woman herself, especially when Chick Clark escapes and heads straight to her. But as always, Lady Lou knows what to do in order to look after her own interests in typically sexy fashion.
Lowell Sherman’s direction is simple and straightforward, allowing the various events to play out in a quick and easy way. The plot in She Done Him Wrong is largely secondary to the sassy persona of West, though it has its moments of eventfulness as it includes crime and comedy. The biggest draw of the film is how it revels in a sense of naughtiness that caused a bit of a stir back in the day(hell the production code was introduced not long after this movie was released.) Some of it may appear take today, but the sheer amount of innuendo, ribald suggestion and rudeness is for all to witness, and for my money you can still see why this had tongues wagging and people a little shocked as parts of it still have a blue pizzazz. And we shouldn’t forget, Mae West had a writing credit for this film taken from her own play, which firmly established her as a shrewd and witty comedienne who did things her way and wouldn’t compromise. The script, especially the dialogue for the part of Lady Lou practically fizzes with saucy verve and sly wit( who can forget her classic line of ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?’); making the film a brisk affair that you don’t have to deeply think about, but you can just sit back and appreciate the playful sexiness it has by the bucket load. You’re not going into the film expecting an intricate plot, you’re going in for the rollicking excitement and to view how the movie obviously caused scandal in a gleeful way upon initial release in the 30’s. One can get the feeling that too much is trying to be put into this short film and to some extent that is a little true, but this flaw is largely compensated for by the energy and bawdy humour that can cover that crack. A bit more coherence could have been put in, but one can overlook that with the help of West’s larger than life appearance and button pushing attitude. A jaunty score is the excellent thing to accompany this and includes a good few musical numbers performed by West herself.
Mae West for lack of better words, is the picture and the star attraction. Everything revolves around her outrageous attitude and forthright view on sex. And boy does Mae West know how to up the ante in what was her second film and the one that really announced her as a force of nature. The way she acts as Lady Lou is just so open and raunchy, with saucy dialogue coming from her mouth by the minute and the way she struts across the screen like a diva. It’s fun to see West sashay through the picture with a cheeky twinkle and supreme confidence in massive amounts. I must say from seeing her in this film, it isn’t difficult to see why she was so popular and controversial. Plus it has me interested to see more of her no cares in the world attitude in other movies. When you have someone as brash and scene stealing as Mae West on film, the rest of the cast somewhat pales in comparison, though some have their moments. It’s interesting to see a young Cary Grant as the slightly awkward mission captain who may not be as innocent as he appears. He displays quite a few glimpses of that debonair charisma that the world would come to love when he became a Hollywood King. Noah Beery is good enough as the benefactor, while Owen Moore is impressive as Lou’s imprisoned beau. Gilbert Roland and Rafaela Ottiano are also good enough touches to the film, if somewhat overly secondary. These roles are somewhat small as West is the real draw and driving force in She Done Him Wrong.
The plot is nothing really special, but the salty script, unmistakable Mae West and an early performance from one Cary Grant are the chief attractions in She Done Him Wrong. If you want a film to give you the essence of Mae West and her persona, She Done Him Wrong is a very good place to begin.