Release Date(s)1933 (June 29, 2021)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Set in the bawdy Bowery of the Gay Nineties, She Done Him Wrong stars Mae West as Lady Lou, a saloon singer who has a talent for juggling the men in her life and accumulating diamonds in the process. She’s dating saloon owner Gus Jordan (Noah Beery, Jr.) and is also on the make for pimp Serge Stanieff (Gilbert Roland) while her boyfriend Chick Clark (Owen Moore) is in jail. Meanwhile, sly operator Dan Flynn (David Landau) tries to take over the saloon and Lady Lou with it. With all this intrigue brewing, Lou still has time to notice and try to win over Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), a missionary who pops into the saloon occasionally.
Director Lowell Sherman begins the film with a humorous nostalgic montage establishing the time period and then builds up to West’s entrance by introducing the other characters who speak about her, creating anticipation of her appearance. And her entry doesn’t disappoint. It’s perfectly suited to West’s larger-than-life screen persona. She is driven in an open horse-drawn carriage, flaunting a fancy period gown, a gigantic hat, a parasol, and glittering diamonds dripping from her hands, wrists, and neck.
The scenes between Grant and West are especially effective, with typical male-female roles reversed. He’s the innocent, she’s the predator attracted by his youthful good looks. Lady Lou is convinced she can add the missionary to her long list of conquests.
The plot is thin and serves primarily to showcase West and give her plenty of opportunities to drop her signature one-liners, which are highlights. She sings three songs—I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone, A Guy What Takes His Time, and Frankie and Johnny—sashaying onto the saloon stage between nonchalantly figuring out how to deal with problems that would overwhelm less powerful women. The characters she creates always seem in charge of every situation, showing little emotion other than a raised eyebrow or a sexy leer.
West adapted the screenplay from her own stage play Diamond Lil, changing the name of the main character and softening some of the play’s racier lines. The new dialogue drew on implication, insinuation, and innuendo, which West actually found funnier. Some examples: “Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them;” “You know, it was a toss up whether I go in for diamonds or sing in the choir. The choir lost;” “I wasn’t always rich… there was a time I didn’t know where my next husband was coming from;” and when an old woman refers to Lady Lou as a fine gal, a fine woman, West replies, “One of the finest women ever walked the streets.”
Because She Done Him Wrong was made prior to strict enforcement of the Hays Production Code, West was free to project her freewheeling, sexually liberated screen persona. In her later films, her characters would never again be this open and uninhibited.
Featuring 1080p resolution, She Done Him Wrong is presented by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The picture quality is sharp and free of visual distractions such as dirt specks, scratches, or emulsion clouding. The black-and-white photography nicely captures what was a bygone era, even in 1933. Mae West’s elaborate, form-fitting period gowns accentuating her hourglass figure, trimmed with plenty of glitter, sequins, feathers, and frills, stand out amid the saloon customers in street clothes. Her numerous diamonds catch the light and sparkle. West wears one magnificent outfit after another. There are few exteriors, but a highlight is Lady Lou’s entrance by carriage. Lady Lou’s elegant apartment over the saloon, complete with maid (Louise Beavers), is appointed with silk curtains, dressing screens, settees, make-up table, and mirrors, offering a marked contrast to the stark bar and stage area of the saloon.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, vital since the film is dialogue-driven. West’s quips, double entendres, and wisecracks mostly have a sexual connotation. Her manner of speaking gets a laugh even when the words themselves are not especially amusing. Even a simple “Mmm” after a conversation with Grant’s character has a subtext and her songs are also delivered in a suggestive manner. Ambient sounds of general saloon chatter are well balanced with dialogue. A singing waiter (Fred Santley) has a nice piece of screen time, performing Darling, I Am Growing Old, backed by a male chorus, in the elocutionary style of the time, complete with rolled r’s.
Bonus materials on this release include an introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, 2 audio commentaries, a period cartoon, and several theatrical trailers.
Introduction – Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne tells us that the film saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy. Mae West was older than other leading ladies of the period. She signed a multi-picture deal after a brief appearance in Night After Night. Her stage production of Diamond Lil was a great success on Broadway and on tour. When Paramount purchased it, the Production Code office sent the studio a message that Diamond Lil could not be made into a film. So the title was changed and some of the racy dialogue was replaced with innuendos and double entendres. Cary Grant was in his second year as a film actor. She Done Him Wrong was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.
Audio Commentary #1 – Film historian David Del Valle notes that She Done Him Wrong was the first film under a multi-picture deal Mae West made with Paramount. Like Marlene Dietrich, West orchestrated her own costumes and lighting, but West also produced her own projects. “She was an astute businesswoman.” By 1935, West was earning more money than Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount. Mae West arrived in Hollywood not as an ingenue but as a big girl from a big city—New York City. In her films, West’s character was always in control. She was born in 1893 into the milieu depicted in the film. Diminutive of stature, West was always super-confident, building and polishing “her brand.” She Done Him Wrong is the closest viewers will get to the real, unfiltered Mae West. Crippled by censorship, West was still able to get away with a lot. Her Diamond Lil character is a composite of Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. West handpicked the cast and worked well with director Lowell Sherman, who understood this was West’s project more than the studio’s. She never had a Svengali to guide her career; she was always the boss, calling the shots.
Audio Commentary #2 – Film historian Kat Ellinger notes that Mae West was an established writer and stage performer. Old traditions were broken down in the pre-code period, and West’s brand of risque humor challenged long-held taboos. Throughout her career, West guarded and embellished her own myth. She often obscured or exaggerated the truth about herself. She came to Paramount “fully formed.” Even though she had been accused of writing pornography, Paramount took a chance on her. She was always “on.” Ten minutes elapse before Mae West makes her entrance, as the dialogue of other characters creates anticipation. The film was a boost to Cary Grant’s career, which hit its stride when he started appearing in screwball comedies. West’s dresses were so tight that duplicates were made in a looser fit for scenes in which she had to sit down. The best fabrics were used to construct her costumes, which were all handmade. The film made a fortune at the box office and was constantly re-booked by theaters. It’s remarkable that she conquered Hollywood in such a short time.
Cartoon – The 1933 Walter Lantz/Universal Pooch the Pup cartoon She Done Him Right features a cast of dogs. Buxom Poodles is a saloon singer patterned on Mae West’s character. She sashays, wears a large hat, and a gown with a long train. The cartoon opens with an instrumental version of The Sidewalks of New York as the time period is set with amusing sight gags. A canine tenor sings My Darling Nelly, and Poodles takes the stage with Minnie the Moocher.
Trailers – Six trailers for other Mae West films available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber are included: Night After Night, I’m No Angel, Belle of the Nineties, Goin’ to Town, Every Day’s a Holiday, and My Little Chickadee.
Released in 1933, She Done Him Wrong was one of the most controversial films up to that point. There was no explicit sex or nudity, but it was Mae West’s liberated attitudes that made waves in Hollywood and led to tougher censorship. Pushing boundaries, the film was both a showcase for West and the death knell of suggestive content on American screens for decades to come.
- Dennis Seuling