Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 6 min.
Release Date: February 9th, 1933 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Lowell Sherman Actors: Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore, Gilbert Roland, Noah Beery, David Landau, Rafaela Ottiano, Rochelle Hudson
uring the gay nineties in the Bowery, hopeful sheriff Gus Jordan (Noah Beery) becomes the target of political opponent Dan Flynn (David Landau), who hopes to steal away Jordan’s luscious new performer Lady Lou (Mae West), whose popularity in the community is skyrocketing. Though Gus is a bit jealous, he’s also thrilled that so many men drool over his dance hall’s rising star. But trouble soon brews, not only with Flynn’s machinations but also with the arrival of the suicidal Sally Glynn (Rochelle Hudson); the conspiratorial foreigners Serge Stanieff (Gilbert Roland) and Rita (Rafaela Ottiano); and with Captain Cummings (Cary Grant in a very early role), running a neighboring mission, who hopes to reform Jordan’s patrons as they revel in booze and beer and dames.
“When women go wrong, men go right after them.” Newcomer West oozes sexuality in every frame, chasing men and hurling flirtations with a distinct aggressiveness and confidence. It’s rather refreshing to see a formidable female star unafraid of a sultry reputation, while still remaining tough even in the presence of gangsters and other questionable types, refusing to let her guard down. She’s untrue and unfaithful, but she definitely knows how to toy with men, gain the upper hand, and manipulate people to advance her position. She’s smart, experienced, and calculating – quite a combination for a leading lady who can’t help but to be more prominent than all of her male co-stars.
“Why don’t you come up some time and see me?” Unfortunately, when West isn’t dropping torrid insinuations or pulling strings (or using possibly ill-gotten goods for surprisingly noble causes), the story moves more slowly – despite an incredibly brief runtime – dwelling on lesser transgressions and local entanglements. Even her stage performances, during which she croons animalistic tunes, tend to draw out developments rather than speed things up (though these sequences showcase her singing talents). Fortunately, her dialogue is a consistent high point; it’s no exaggeration to say that she gets all the best lines. In many ways, her matriarchal role in the saloon resembles that of Rick Blaine’s in “Casablanca,” as she slyly conducts business, dodges a wealth of criminal activities on the premise, and presents a deceptive front for the generosity that lurks beneath her diamond-adorned exterior. “Baby, I ain’t got no soul.”
Paramount was close to the brink of disaster when this film – along with the show-stopping Mae West – came along to such unexpected success that it singlehandedly brought the studio back. The picture was also so controversial that it caused problems with the production code; even when West isn’t trying to be seductive, her intonations are unavoidably evocative. Though “She Done Him Wrong” is based on a play, which was edgier and more sexually suggestive, the toned-down innuendo and double entendres actually amplify the humor and drama; the scripting is intended to be subtler, yet it’s more potent for its efforts to deflect. Sadly, the end result isn’t a memorable film as much as it’s merely a memorable performance – and a clever closing scene (even if the romantic pairing isn’t the least bit convincing) – neither of which can make up for the blandness of the supplementary content.
– Mike Massie