Review: Mae West at Her Best in 'She Done Him Wrong,' Out Now From Kino Lorber

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 29, 2021

Review: Mae West at Her Best in 'She Done Him Wrong,' Out Now From Kino Lorber

Released in January of 1933, "She Done Him Wrong" was Mae West's second feature film, and her first starring role. It was a smash hit, single-handedly saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. It would signal a string of films that followed a similar narrative starring the icon, even though she was being condemned from pulpits across the country. This one crept in right before the Hays Production Code took effect. Never again would West be as sexually free.

The comedy/crime drama was also an Academy Award nominee for Best Outstanding Production (Best Picture) — strangely, the film's only nomination. West would never receive Oscar recognition.

The film was based on West's play, "Diamond Lil," but, to shield that fact from the censors, West, along with Harvey F. Thew and John Bright, rewrote much of the explicit material so it was now inferred, and the title was changed.

In "She Done Him Wrong," West plays Lady Lou and makes her grand entrance via horse and buggy. Lou is an attitudinal saloon singer who has a love affair with diamonds. She also has a number of suitors, including the handsome Sergei (Gilbert Roland), but her main squeeze, Chick (Owen Moore), is currently in prison. Lou finds herself falling for a young man who works at the local mission (Cary Grant, in one of his first major roles). And that's just for starters. There is a subplot involving human trafficking that is way before its time.

West struts her stuff and belts out "Easy Rider" and "Frankie and Johnny," although the latter is interrupted for plot reasons.

We get more famous lines ("When women go wrong, men go right after them"), including "Why don't you come up some time and see me," thought to be oft-misquoted but which actually becomes, "Come up and see me some time" in her next film, "I'm No Angel."

Directed with comic flair by Lowell Sherman, the film is terrifically entertaining, and West is at her best.

Grant is charming, and "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel" would catapult him to leading man status.

Louise Beavers is a treat as Pearl, one of West's perennial Black maids. West fought for Black representation in her films. Through a contemporary lens, Black actors are used in a very derogatory manner, but, contextualizing, it was considered bold and progressive.

The Kino Lorber Studio Classics 4K restoration Blu-ray presentation is to be commended for its (for the most part) clear visuals and crisp sound.

The disc boasts an intro by Robert Osborne, who in two minutes gives us a ton of facts. There are two audio commentaries, and the 1933 cartoon spoof "She Done Him Right," which is quite amusing.

West pushed boundaries both onstage and onscreen. She was arrested when her risqué play "Sex," rubbed religious groups the wrong way, and spent 10 days in jail for "corrupting the morals of youth." Onscreen, her sexual persona led to tougher censorship rules - a damn shame, since I could only imagine what her creative energies would have generated.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian Kat Ellinger

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle

  • Introduction by Turner Classic Movies Host Robert Osborne

  • Bonus Cartoon: "She Done Him Right"

  • Six Mae West Trailers

    "She Done Him Wrong" Special Edition Blu-ray will be available June 29, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute