Filmsite Movie Review
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Pages: (1) (2)

She Done Him Wrong (1933), from director Lowell Sherman, is Mae West's star-making, most famous film role as a liberated, racy woman who enjoyed her sexuality - as a character named Lady Lou. The Naughty/Gay Nineties character was a recreation of her own 1928 Diamond Lil Broadway stage play (and its bejeweled title character). Credits for its screenplay were given to Harvey Thew, John Bright and Mae West herself.

The box-office smash film for Paramount Pictures, given a different title than Diamond Lil to disassociate itself from the toured, scandalous play during part of 1929, was shot in approximately three weeks (including rehearsal time). Its single Academy Award nomination was for Best Picture, but it lost to Cavalcade. (It was the only Mae West film ever to be nominated.)

The famous film, featuring West's first starring role (she had appeared in a supporting cameo role in Night After Night (1932) with George Raft), was filled with lots of brazen, clever and naughty innuendo, witty and liberated one-liners, and bold carnality, as she spouted irreverent and unabashed one-liners (the oft-misquoted 'Why don't you come up sometime 'n see me?'). The actress' main goals were to demolish the double standard, to be sexually frank, and to end prudery on screen.

In the unlikely story, a Gay Nineties saloon singer seduced a Salvation Army mission officer-worker/undercover cop (Cary Grant in one of his earliest roles), and sang bawdy songs (including Frankie and Johnny, I Like A Guy What Takes His Time, and Easy Rider).

It has been generally claimed that this mostly-uncensored film (considered objectionable by some) and West's other 1933 picture, I'm No Angel (1933), both helped to spur the coming of stricter enforcement by the Hays Production Code one year later (with the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC)), and the development of the Catholic Legion of Decency.

The film's criminal subplot about white slavery and counterfeiting was confusing due to the Hays Office's sanitizing demands to rid the film of references to white slavery, although odd fragments remained.

The tagline of one of the film's posters confirmed the film's dangerous sentiment:

"Mae West gives a 'HOT TIME' to the Nation."

Plot Synopsis

A title card described the Gay Nineties (1890s) and the turn-of-the-century setting of New York City's Bowery:

When they did such things and they said such things on the Bowery. A lusty, brawling, florid decade when there were handlebars on lip and wheel - and legs were confidential!

Bejeweled chanteuse and brash entertainer Lady Lou (Mae West) worked in the 1890s Bowery bar-room saloon ("Gus Jordan's Place") of her boss and benefactor Gus Jordan (Noah Beery, Sr.), who had given her many diamonds (hence her nickname Diamond Lil). There was a large nude painting of Lady Lou over the bar - it was the audience's first view of the star performer.

Unbeknownst to her, Gus (who was running for sheriff) trafficked in white slavery (prostitution) and ran a counterfeiting ring (to help finance Lou's expensive diamonds). He also sent young women to San Francisco to be pickpockets. Gus worked with two other crooked entertainer-assistants or accomplices:

  • Rita (Rafaela Ottiano), a Russian
  • Serge Stanieff (Gilbert Roland), Rita's suave boyfriend-lover

A city mission (a thinly-disguised Salvation Army) was located next door to the bar. Its young missionary director, Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) was, in reality, an undercover agent working to infiltrate and expose the illegal activities in the bar. Gus was unaware, only worried that Captain Cummings would reform the place and scare away the bar's customers.

Lady Lou first appeared riding in her carriage with a parasol, encouraging nasty looks from a group of women. She descended and affectionately patted a child's head. His mother remarked what a fine gal and woman she was. Lou announced herself as: of the finest women who ever walked the streets.

When introduced to Lady Lou, male admirer Serge kissed her hand gallantly: "I am delighted. I have heard so much about you." She answered: "Yeah, but you can't prove it." She showed the group a recent set of pictures that were taken with her "rocks." One of them she prefaced by describing: "For the bedroom. A little bit spicy, but not too raw - you know what I mean?"

Lady Lou lived over the bar in a lavish upstairs (balcony-level) apartment. Her black maid Pearl (Louise Beavers) was impressed by her riches - mostly diamonds: "You're so rich." Lou explained: "Yes. I wasn't always rich. No, there was a time I didn't know where my next husband was coming from." Lady Lou admitted she had known harder times: "The wolf at my door? Why, I remember when he came right into my room and had pups!"

One day in Jordan's barroom, a depressed young girl named Sally Glynn (Rochelle Hudson) entered with torn clothes. (Was she pregnant?) In silhouette, the pretty runaway had attempted to commit suicide but was prevented. To recover after failing to kill herself, she was brought to Lou's upstairs room to recover. The soft-hearted Lou befriended the distressed Sally, and perceptively knew her problems involved romance with a man. Sally wondered how she knew a male was involved. Lou replied:

You know, it takes two to get one in trouble.

Lou asked: "What was he? Married?" Sally replied: "Yes, but I didn't know." Lou offered more advice by reciting her philosophy of life:

Men's all alike - married or single. It's their game. I happen to be smart enough to play it their way. You'll come to it.

Lou suggested that Sally go out and buy some new clothes, and continued to encourage her: "Always remember to smile. You'll never have anything to worry about. Forget about this guy. See that you get a good one the next time." Sally was convinced that no one would ever want her after what she had done ("Who'd want me after what I've done?"), but Lou replied, with a famous line:

Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.

Lou explained to Gus, Serge and Rita what the commotion was all about: "Some guy done her wrong. The story's so old it should have been set to music long ago." It appeared to be fateful luck when Rita expressed an interest in the innocent but wronged girl, by offering her a 'song and dance' job on the Barbary Coast. However, Rita was only thinking of how Sally might become useful to their 'white slavery' operation (possibly as part of their corrupt racket to use her as a pick-pocket or as a prostitute):

What a sweet, innocent face?...Can you sing and dance, perhaps?...Well, but you'd be willing to learn...Then I think I can find you a very nice position. Have you heard perhaps of the Barbary Coast?

Gus and Rita told the very pleased Lou that they would help the girl, but obviously they had their own intentions. As Serge left, Lou delivered a suggestive double-entendre line to him:

Lou: Come up again, anytime.
Serge: I shall. And I hope you will be alone.
Lou: So do I. (He graciously kisses her extended hand) Warm, dark, and handsome.

Lou postponed her activities if there were more important things to attend to, mostly male admirers. Pearl announced: "Your bath is ready, Miss Lou." Lady Lou replied: "You take it. I'm indisposed." Pearl and Lou had both noticed the man from the mission, Captain Cummings. Her maid noted that he was different from other admirers: "He ain't like the other men you done made history of."

Lou's past was revealed when she heard from her forgotten former boyfriend Chick Clark (Owen Moore). He had been was convicted for robbery and went to Sing Sing prison for trying to steal diamonds for her (after being set up by shyster Dan Flynn (David Landau), a rival competitor to Gus Jordan). Flynn was also trying to expose Jordan's criminality and run for the office of Sheriff himself..

She was more smitten and attracted to the young handsome, psalm-singing Captain Cummings from the next-door mission. While he was rescuing a young offender from the police, Lou met him, complimented him and repeatedly invited him to visit her in her apartment:

Lou (seductively): I always did like a man in a uniform. That one fits you grand. Why don't you come up sometime 'n see me? I'm home every evenin'.
Captain: Yeah, but I'm busy every evening.
Lou: Busy? So, what are you tryin' to do, insult me?
Captain: Why no, no, not at all. I'm just busy, that's all...
Lou: You ain't kiddin' me any. You know, I met your kind before. Why don't you come up sometime, huh?
Captain: Well, I...
Lou: Don't be afraid. I won't tell...Come up. I'll tell your fortune...Aw, you can be had.

Next Page