#383) She Done Him Wrong (1933)

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#383) She Done Him Wrong (1933)

OR “Come What Mae”

Directed by Lowell Sherman

Written by Harvey F. Thew and John Bright. Based on the play “Diamond Lil” by Mae West.

Class of 1996

No trailer, but here’s THE clip

The Plot: There’s about three hours worth of plot crammed into this 65 minute movie, but who cares? This movie is really about Mae West wearing extravagant gay nineties attire, singing songs full of double entendres, and spouting sexual one-liners at every single man in sight, including a young Cary Grant!

Why It Matters: The NFR offers no plot synopsis or superlative, but does cite the film’s role in establishing the Hollywood Production Code. There’s a more detailed essay by author/NFR regular Randy Skretvedt.

But Does It Really?: “She Done Him Wrong” is on here for Mae West, pure and simple. As a film it’s convoluted and a bit of a mess, but at its center is one of Hollywood’s most important stars. I feel like Mae West doesn’t get her due as often as she used to, but Ms. West was a true trailblazer, and the last star to benefit from the pre-Code era. “She Done Him Wrong” showcases West’s confident performance skills, plus racy quips that still pack a punch almost 90 years later. The NFR would not be complete without Mae West, and “She Done Him Wrong” is a natural choice to represent her.

Everybody Gets One: A vaudeville performer since her teenage years, Mae West made headlines when she wrote and starred in the 1926 Broadway play “Sex”. The show was a hit, but West was arrested on obscenity charges (the show tackled prostitution) and served 10 days in a workhouse. The subsequent publicity solidified her star status, and West cranked out hit after hit. 1928’s “Diamond Lil” was her most popular (and controversial) play, finally attracting the attention of Hollywood.

Title Track: After a lot of pushback from the Production Code Association, “Diamond Lil” was allowed to be filmed on the condition that all direct references to the play be removed, including a name change for the title character. Production began under the working title “Ruby Red”, but Paramount eventually settled on the surprisingly more evocative “She Done Him Wrong”.

Seriously, Oscars?: “She Done Him Wrong” was the runaway hit that struggling Paramount Pictures needed to get out of the red, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Despite being one of four NFR entries in that category, “She Done Him Wrong” lost to the now forgotten “Cavalcade”.

Other notes

  • The Production Code Association finally approved the screenplay for “She Done Him Wrong” three days after shooting began. Among the required alterations was the complete removal of a subplot involving forced prostitution, and toning down the screenplay’s “ribald comedy”. Mae West allegedly liked the new, more suggestive substitutions better than the original, more explicit dialogue.
  • Lowell Sherman was an oddity in the Hollywood Studio System: an actor who got to direct. Sadly, Sherman’s career was cut short when he died at 46 of double pneumonia, but his directing career also included “Morning Glory”, featuring Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar-winning performance.
  • The 1890s seems far away now, but to a ‘30s moviegoer it was only 35 years prior. “She Done Him Wrong” was the “Stranger Things” of its time!
  • We’re only five minutes in and there’s already way too much plot. Do you expect me to remember all of this? And stop introducing me to characters who aren’t Mae West; you know why I’m here!
  • Now that’s an entrance! Mae’s Lady Lou arrives in a horse-drawn carriage and immediately implies she’s a prostitute. Mae West’s screen persona is lust disguised as a human. She could make a W2 form sound sexy.
  • The good news: Mae West advocated for casting African-Americans in her productions, even when staging a play with an integrated cast would immediately shut down the theater. The bad news: Louise Beavers is the sole African-American in this film, playing Lou’s ignorant maid Pearl. Don’t worry Louise, “Imitation of Life” isn’t too far away.
  • Best exchange in the movie: “Your bath is ready, Miss Lou.” “You take it, I’m indisposed.”
  • This is one of Cary Grant’s first movies! Mae West spotted him on the Paramount lot and reportedly quipped, “If he can talk, I’ll take him.” It’s fun watching Grant be a little stiff, as befitting an inexperienced film actor. Even the most iconic screen personas were honed one movie at a time.
  • “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” is one of those quotable lines that benefits from repeated use. Lou says several variations of the line throughout the film, hence the future misquoting (see “Legacy”).
  • Lou’s first number is the very suggestive “I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone”. Last I checked they were headed to Mardi Gras.
  • The musical numbers are a nice sampling of West’s stage performance, but I can’t understand what she’s actually saying. I think we figured out how this all got past the censors.
  • Mae West may be the only woman in film history to reject an advance from Cary Grant.
  • Raciest line in the movie: Lou, while resisting handcuffs, “Hands ain’t everything.” Did it get warmer in here?
  • And now a sample of the kind of controversial dialogue Mae West was known for:

“When women go wrong, men go right after them.”

“There was a time I didn’t know where my next husband was coming from.”

“I have heard so much about you.” “Yeah, but you can’t prove it.”

and the piece de resistance –

“Haven’t you ever met a man who could make you happy?” “Sure, lots of times.”

Legacy

  • “She Done Him Wrong” was the first in a series of successful pictures for Mae West, but the implementation of the Production Code in 1934 neutered all of West’s subsequent screenplays. West eventually left the movies, spending the next four decades touring, recording albums, and making the occasional TV appearance (including “Mr. Ed”!). Additionally, West revived the original “Diamond Lil” play from time to time.
  • Mae West only made two films after her ‘30s heyday: 1970’s “Myra Breckinridge” and 1978’s “Sextette”. Both are routinely cited among the worst movies ever made.
  • This film’s biggest legacy is one of Hollywood’s great misquotes. “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” quickly became “Come up and see me sometime”, and the go-to line for Mae West impressions. Mae does, however, say the oft-quoted version in her next film, 1933’s “I’m No Angel”.

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