Friday, 13 August 2010

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

“She Done Him Wrong” is arguably the best of Mae West’s vehicles – and I don’t think the word was ever better used. Have no doubt: from the poster (below) to the final shot, it’s all about Mae. It is also one of only two of films where she was the star to be released before the full enforcement of the Hays Code: in her first film “Night After Night” she had only a supporting role despite effortlessly stealing every scene from rather bland leads, including George Raft.

I truly enjoy this film and make no apologies for it. West is a pleasure to watch, dropping sex-filled innuendos and one-liners that have still the power to surprise a friend watching it for the first time, while being pursued (and managing) a whole army of men intent on enjoying her company (*). Among them, the very famous “Why don’t you come up some time and see me?”. Worth mentioning that among the many men that lust after her is a very young Cary Grant, still more his leading ladies’ crumpet than a leading man.

Adapted from West’s own play “Diamond Lil” the film had to fit the leading lady to a T. I suspect that although the film itself is a pre-Code it is a rather toned down adaptation of source material. West was notoriously daring for her time, spending a few days in jail for one her earlier plays, aptly named “Sex”. It is worth pointing out other than a strategically covered naked painting (and even that is briefly), you never see more than her shoulders and her low necklines. Proof, if necessary, that suggestion can be far more interesting that bearing it all. Interestingly enough, while the overt sexuality of the dialogue is the most obvious and preeminent of the film, something else caught my attention – and spoiler alert here – our leading lady literally gets away with murder.

Equally interesting, is placing West’s comedies in the context of Paramount’s output. Paramount clearly catered to a sophisticated audience – the Lubitsch/Hopkins comedies and the von Sternberg/Dietrich films are among the most remembered; and West fits in that. Moreover, she blends Dietrich’s carnal sexuality with Hopkins’ comedic one into something unique – even if she had invented herself on stage before either of those two.

(*) – Basically the same routine she kept doing until her last film, the infamous “Sextette”.

1 comment:

Whitney said...

The Mae West poster is great, it certainly is all about Mae here.

I love pre-code Hollywood, and this is one I haven't seen before. Thanks for the review.