She Done Him Wrong
Back in the thirties Mae West was known as depravity incarnate. She would insinuate sex, not the loving kind, but the raw version and she was a walking, talking scandal. At least that was her reputation. After the production code went into force her acting got more restrained. “She Done Him Wrong” is just before that happened and as far as I understand this is the film that largely created the reputation of Mae West.
“She Done Him Wrong” is not a bad film at all. I like the idea of this woman who works like a magnet on all men and juggle them partly by inviting them in and by fending them off. While taking care of her many admirers, some more dangerous than others she genuinely helps people around her that need help and has to keep her balance as the people she rely on turn out to be master class crooks. This is all good basis for an interesting film and certainly one where a woman gets the chance at glory.
There is just one problem: Mae West. The character Lou is the hottest thing under the sun, but to me Mae West is the creepiest thing to come out of a third class brothel. I know the film is from the thirties and that it is supposed to take place in the nineties and that tastes in both those eras where different from today, but really she looks like a horror show and acts like street hooker from a particularly rough neighborhood. In fact she reminds me of a spider with her web to draw in her prey (the men) which she sucks dry (of diamonds) before she discards them and moves on. That is in a sense okay if Mae West was not so entirely lacking elegance. She wrote the script herself as a showcase for herself, but I really wish she would have given her part to somebody else. I would have loved to see a true hottie like Barbara Stanwyck as Lou. She could have done a combination of “Stella Dallas” and “The lady Eve” and I would have believed why all the men of the story go nuts about her. Another interesting option would have been Aline MacMahon. Or maybe Marlene Dietrich in a combination of “Der Blaue Engel” and “Shanghai Express”.
It is really a shame. I had braced myself to watch this again as I did not like it the first time round, but found that the film really had a lot of potential if I did not get the shivers every time Mae West swung her hips or drew her lips in an invitation. Yics.
Well, that happens a lot in “She done him wrong” as the entire film revolves around her. All other characters are only there because of their relationship to her. We get to see a very young Cary Grant, which in itself is interesting. Unfortunately he does not have the screen presence here he would later develop and which would make him maybe the biggest star of Hollywood. Instead he appears pale and unseasoned and not enough the interesting mysterious man that would catch the attention of a vamp like Lou. But hey, who am I to criticize the great Mr. Grant. He is my favorite actor at the moment and cannot ruin a film.
The other actors do a good job in creating the bottom side of New York in the 1890’ies. Especially Russian Rita (Rafaela Ottiano) and her friend Sergei Stanieff (Gilbert Roland) are excellent suspect types and Owen Clark does a good job as Chick Clark, Lou’s desperado boyfriend who breaks out of jail to get back to her bosom.
No, I really wish Mae West were as good as her reputation. That she was a hot sex bomb that would give a guy wet dreams. Instead I am just feeling nauseous and shaking my head in incredulity that all the men of the film fall for this third rate prostitute bedecked by diamonds.
And then I read that Mae West apparently was a really nice woman who did a lot of good work for many people including supporting minorities. Ah, well…