She Done Him Wrong
SHE DONE HIM WRONG
Director: Lowell Sherman
Production: Paramount Pictures; black and white, 35mm; running time: 65 minutes. Released 1933. Filmed in Paramount studios.
Producer: William LeBaron; screenplay: Mae West with Harvey Thew and John Bright (some sources do not list West with script credit), from the play Diamond Lil by Mae West; photography: Charles Lang; music and lyrics: Ralph Rainger.
Cast: Mae West (Lady Lou); Cary Grant (Captain Cummings); Gilbert Roland (Serge Stanieff); Noah Beery, Sr. (Gus Jordan); Rafaela Ottiano (Russian Rita); David Landau (Dan Flynn); Rochelle Hudson (Sally); Owen Moore (Chick Clark); Fuzzy Knight (Rag-Time Kelly); Tammany Young (Chuck Connors); Dewey Robinson (Spider Kane); Grace La Rue (Frances).
Baxter, John, Hollywood in the Thirties, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1968.
West, Mae, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, New York, 1970.
Moley, Raymond, The Hays Office, New York, 1971.
Mellen, Joan, Women and Sexuality in the New Film, New York, 1973.
Tuska, Jon, The Films of Mae West, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973.
Vermilye, Jerry, Cary Grant, New York, 1973.
Cashin, Fergus, Mae West: A Biography, London, 1981.
Eells, George, and Stanley Musgrove, Mae West, New York, 1982.
Britton, Andrew, Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1983.
Schickel, Richard, Cary Grant: A Celebration, London, 1983.
Chandler, Charlotte, The Ultimate Seduction, New York, 1984.
Dupuis, Jean-Jacques, Cary Grant, Paris, 1984.
Ashman, Chuck, and Pamela Trescott, Cary Grant, London, 1986.
Higham, Charles, and Ray Moseley, Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart, New York, 1989.
Buehrer, Beverley Bare, Cary Grant: A Bio-Bibliography, New York, 1990.
Wansell, Geoffrey, Haunted Idol: The Story of the Real Cary Grant, New York, 1992.
Hamilton, Marybeth, When I'm Bad, I'm Better: Mae West, Sex, andAmerican Entertainment, Berkeley, 1995, 1997.
McCann, Graham, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, New York, 1996.
Wansell, Geoffrey, Cary Grant: Dark Angel, New York, 1996.
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Variety (New York), 14 February 1933.
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Troy, William, "Mae West and the Classic Tradition," in Nation (New York), 8 November 1933.
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Deffaa, Chip, in Entertainment Weekly, no. 183, 13 August 1993.
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Given the variety and richness of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s—the decades now called the classical period of American film—it is difficult to claim that any stretch of time belonged to any star, director, or studio. Still, it is tempting to proclaim the years from 1932 to 1934 as the age of Mae West.
From her movie debut in Night after Night (in a small part: the studios were not sure how the movie public would take to the woman whose contempt for all proprieties and censors was so manifest), Mae West asserted her force as a screen presence. However, it was not until her second film, She Done Him Wrong, that the audience could appreciate the range of West's appeal. Based on one of West's most celebrated stage vehicles, Diamond Lil, the film showed us a woman of uncanny sensitivity to verbal sex-play (she was responsible for transcribing the lines she wrote for herself in Diamond Lil to the screen); a woman whose self-assurance was matched only by her capacity for self-caricature; a woman who would give ground to no mere male; a woman who calmly overturned all the principles of what we now call sexism; and a woman with a voice like none other heard in the movies.
There is no overestimating the last of these characteristics. With the death of silent film, individuality of vocal inflection assumed paramount importance; with the demise specifically of silent comedy, the human voice substituted for some of the comic uniqueness implicit in the bodies of Chaplin, Keaton and the others. (Significantly, when Chaplin at last gave in to speaking on the screen, a new visual presence had to be devised.) The stage, radio and vaudeville comedians, for a while at least, could provide what was needed, but no one with more dazzling public success than Mae West. There could be no separation of her dialogue from her voice. Her popularity was for a time so enormous that the movie censors waited to put her in her place, or rather the place the censors thought she ought to occupy. Eventually the censors had their way: with the advent of the Breen Office in 1934, Mae West was fated to become a rather bowdlerized memory of the star of She Done him Wrong and I'm No Angel.
The woman was indomitable; she continued making films through the 1930s and early 1940s. In the final years of her life, she made atrocities such as Myra Breckinridge and Sextette. Even in the later 1930s, however, few of the pleasures of She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel were to be duplicated.
Aside from West herself, She Done Him Wrong is notable for West's "discovery" of Cary Grant (he had actually appeared in several earlier movies). Grant manages to make himself noticed despite his relative inexperience, despite his function as a foil for Mae West, and despite the fact that he has to impersonate a policeman impersonating a Salvation Army officer. And in the course of its preposterous little plot, involving such unlikely comic topics as white slavery, the film somehow manages to come up with a villainess called "Russian Rita." The real lure is, of course, Mae West, the woman who could make America howl by introducing herself as one of the finest women who ever walked the streets.