Film: She Done Him Wrong

''"Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"

She Done Him Wrong is a 1933 film from The Pre Code Era starring Mae West and Cary Grant, set in The Gay Nineties, and directed by Lowell Sherman. West is Lady Lou, a bawdy singer who works in the Bowery saloon owned by Gus Jordan. She's also his kept woman. Unbeknownst to Lou, Jordan is deeply corrupt, involved in prostitution and running a counterfeiting operation. Lou is fending off the attentions of Dan Flynn, a former lover who is looking to take both Lou and the saloon away from Jordan. She is also fending off the attentions of Chick Clark, yet another former lover who is in prison for stealing diamonds for Lou, and is demanding from jail that she stay faithful to him. At the same time Lou is attracted to Captain Cummings (Grant), who works at the charity mission next door to the saloon.

She Done Him Wrong was West's second film and Star-Making Role. It was an adaptation of her own stage play, and she received story credit. For decades afterward West claimed credit for making Cary Grant a star as well, but Grant had already been in several films, including a starring role in Blonde Venus opposite Marlene Dietrich.

This film, with it's wall-to-wall double entendres and winking sexual euphemisms, led to a backlash from the Moral Guardians, and the strict enforcement of The Hays Code in 1934. (West's next film, I'm No Angel, also played a part.)

At a length of only 66 minutes, She Done Him Wrong is the shortest film to ever get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.


Tropes:

  • As You Know: Some expository dialogue between Flynn and Spider establishes Lou's relationship with Jordan.
  • The Chanteuse: Lou's job—assuming that "Jordan's lover" isn't her actual job. Mae West gets to sing a couple of numbers.
  • Double Entendre: Just about every other line of dialogue out of Lou's mouth. This more than anything else is what incensed the Moral Guardians.
    Old Woman: Ah, Lady Lou, you're a fine gal, a fine woman.
    Lady Lou: One of the finest women ever walked the streets.
    • Though the original play was far more direct. West later admitted that having to be more coy with the sexual references made it much funnier.
  • The Gay Nineties: The setting, as explicitly stated in the opening title card.
    "When they did such things and they said such things on the Bowery. A lusty, brawling, florid decade when there were handlebars on lip and wheel - and legs were confidential!"
  • Greedy Jew: Jacobsen, the owner of the building where the mission is located, who drives a hard bargain with Lou when she wants to buy it, and says things like "Oy gevalt!".
  • Hello, Nurse! / Ms. Fanservice: Lou spends the whole movie in a succession of cleavage-baring, skintight outfits. (West had to be sewn into them.) All the men at the saloon admire her.
  • Her Code Name Was Mary Sue: Co-writer Mae West spends the entire first ten minutes of this film that's barely over an hour on line after line after line about how impossibly gorgeous her own character is.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Instant Death Knife, as Rita kicks it approximately three seconds after getting accidentally stabbed in a struggle with Lou.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Sally is interrupted in the process of killing herself in Jordan's saloon. Jordan promptly sends her off into prostitution.
  • Officer O'Hara: Doheny, the stereotypical local Irish beat cop.
  • Organ Grinder: Seen in the opening montage, helping to establish the Gay Nineties setting.
  • Really Gets Around: Lou has had a lot of boyfriends. A lot. She plays Jordan, Flynn, Clark, Sergei, and Captain Cummings off each other during the course of the movie.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: The ending reveals that Capt. Cummings is "The Hawk", the undercover cop sent to bring down Jordan's criminal organization.