Film Flick: She Done Him Wrong

Friday, November 1, 2013

One woman can't really be responsible for an entire overhaul of an industry, but Mae West sure made it look that way when the infamous Hayes Movie Code was put into place in the early1930s. Pre-code Hollywood was rife with barely-there costumes, "sex and salvation epics," characters who went on wild sprees and drank like sailors- and then there was Mae West. Though she'd been an entertainer most of her adult life, the film She Done Him Wrong, was her first appearance in Hollywood and nothing, on the face of it, could seemed unlikelier. She was forty, an age when most actresses were trying to gracefully transition into more matronly roles. She wasn't a lithe, little flower either. She had a brain and a mouth that was always saying exactly what she thought. But what she did have was Diamond Lil, a huge, roaring success on Broadway for years, and she'd both written and starred in the play. Though the Code was not yet in place, studio execs decided to change the name and tone down the content, but were otherwise excited to use that same play to launch their newest star. What they couldn't know was no toning down would have ever stopped what was coming.

Though a huge box office hit, this film and Mae West's quips, such as the iconic "Why don't you come up and see me sometime," were the straws that broke the camel's back. The Hayes Code was put in place and soon no movie man and wife would even share a bed together (twin beds began to play prominent roles in movie sets). In the press releases about it, Mae West and She Done Him Wrong were specifically sited as examples for why this reform was so desperately needed. Amazingly enough, this was only West's first film. She would go on to a long  career on the silver screen- skirting the lines of propriety (as set out by the Code anyway) all the way, and remaining an enduring sex symbol.

In the Bowery, Lady Lou is the name on everybody's lips. Men follow her like puppy dogs, and she'll let them in exchange for gifts of diamonds. But is it one too many men for even this saucy entertainer to handle? Murder, jail breaks, double-crossing, stage shows, and salvation in an unlikely place- this film's got all of the them and more.

The entire point of watching She Done Him Wrong is not the plot of course; it is flimsy at best. Nor is it the historical backdrop; it took me most of the movie to figure out it was not set in the Wild West but the1880s in New York. No, no. The point of She Done Him Wrong is to watch Mae West slink about, dripping in diamonds and bustiers that showed off her curves, while she shot out sultry double entendres at anything male.  As such, it might not be the film for a classic movie newbie, but it is a perfect introduction to the fabulous actress. The title may say She Done Him Wrong, but on screen, it may seem she can do no wrong at all.


  1. I've never seen a movie with Mae West. It looks like I'd love it just for the clothing alone.

    Oh how the TV censors have changed!


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    1. Oh, her outfits are all quite the big deal!

      It is interesting, the Hayes Code ended up playing a very big role in Hollywood for both obvious and not so obvious reasons. It did force more creativity, both in what the movies were about and how to have sex without well, sex. The famous kiss scene in Notorious is a series of small kisses in quick sucession- done beause the code had a time limit or how long a single kiss could take! But history was also made with the films in the 50s and 60s that chose to disregard the code as well.

  2. I don't think I've seen a Mae West film, but now I really must!

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