DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: SHE DONE HIM WRONG

Thursday 24 April 2008


She Done Him Wrong (1933) dir. Lowell Sherman
Starring: Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore, Gilbert Roland


Mae West is one fascinating movie star and “She Done Him Wrong” is a fascinating film. The Academy Award-Nominated film was like the “Midnight Cowboy” of its day, a racy sex-charged drama which helped cause the Hollywood studios to implement the famous Motion Picture Code which outlawed moral unacceptable content from it’s pictures.

As per the opening titles, the film is set in the "Gay 90’s" – referring to 1890’s New York. West plays Lady Lou a seductive dancer in a bowery saloon, who works for her boss and benefactor Gus (Noah Berry). Cary Grant plays Captain Cummings a kind of Salvation Army missionary worker who’s about to be evicted by the owner of the building. Lou's former beau Chick Clark (Owen Moore) is in prison but itching to escape, something which would cause great conflict at home.

Lou's seductiveness and confident street smarts has made her into a character like Humphrey Bogart’s character from Casablanca. Guys swoon over her and will do anything catch her attention, or even go to bed with her – something which she unsubtly takes pride in. She speaks in sharp double-entendres like "Is that a pistol in your hand or are you just glad to see me?"

But when Gus’s racketeering draws the attention of the police West suddenly becomes an accomplices to Gus’ illegal activities. Will her sexiness be enough to get her out of her jam?

Mae West is fascinating because she is more than just the blonde seductress she portrays on screen. Before Hollywood she was an accomplished stage writer, penning some of the more edge-pushing plays about sex and homosexuality. In fact, “She Done Him Wrong” was adapted from one of West’s plays, “Diamond L’il” I guess she could have been considered the female Orson Welles – a “L’enfant terrible” who took Hollywood by storm with strong swiftness. She wasn’t exactly a youth though. She was 38 when she made her first film in 1932. She became a pin-up star at an age when Hollywood usually discards and trashes actresses for the younger generation.

With today’s eyes the film may not feel racy, but considering the Code of Morality which resulted in decades of saccharine depictions of sex, Lady Lou is a menace to society. It’s also interesting to watch how general attitude of beauty has changed over the years as well. West is definitely a full-figured woman and flaunts every curve she’s born with. In fact, all the dancers in her show are buxom hippy girls - a stark contrast to the 'ideal woman' of today.

Lowell Sherman as director shoots the film with great pace. In addition to West’s character, the style of the film could have been an influence on Michael Curtiz in making "Casablanca". The film takes place entirely in a one bar, and the many subplots which revolve around Lady Lou over the course of the film converge in the final act. The film never feels like a 1933 film. The restored cinematography in the Universal Classics DVD looks like the film was made today.

"She Done Him Wrong" is a significant, influential and most importantly enjoyable that has, for the most part, survived the ages. Enjoy

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