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She Done Him Wrong

She Done Him Wrong(1933)

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Working titles for this film include Honky Tonk, Ruby Red and Lady Lou. An onscreen foreword reads: "The Gay Nineties...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." This film marks West's first starring screen role and followed Night After Night, which starred George Raft but for which West received much attention. According to the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library, Marian Marsh was originally set to play the role of Sally. Several reviews list Rafaela Ottiano's character as "Russian Rosie," which was her name in early scripts; the release dialogue script dated January 17, 1933 lists Ottiano as "Russian Rita," which was her name in the viewed print.
       According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in January 1930, Universal Pictures was considering purchasing West's play, Diamond Lil, and possibly employing West as a member of Universal's writing staff. According to a letter dated January 11, 1930, Colonel Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, discouraged Universal against hiring West. The play went through "formula," i.e., was scrutinized according to the Production Code, on April 22, 1930, when Paramount was considering adapting it for the screen. On October 19, 1932, Will H. Hays, head of MPPDA, wrote to Paramount President Adolph Zukor, stating that Diamond Lady and Diamonds, the suggested film titles, had both been rejected because "changing the title [of the play] is not enough." A note in the Code files dated November 9, 1932 states that the play had been banned. On November 21, 1932, Emanuel Cohen, Paramount Vice-president in Charge of Production, met with Governor Carl E. Milliken, Secretary of the MPPDA, for a "formula" meeting; Milliken warned Cohen that West's story could not be filmed at all unless it were approved by the Board of Directors of the MPPDA in New York.
       The film began shooting under the title Ruby Red on November 25, 1932. After Hays threatened to stop shooting if the film was not cleared by the board in New York, the story was finally accepted on November 28, 1932, with the condition that it not be associated with the play in publicity or ads, and conformed to the Code. (The New York Times review, however, states that in the film, West gave "a remarkably suspicious impersonation of Diamond Lil. In fact, 'She Done Him Wrong,' with a few discreet cuts and alterations, is the same 'Diamond Lil' without which no bibliography of Miss West's literary works would be complete.") By December 6, 1932, the title was changed to She Done Him Wrong. Following a meeting with producer William LeBaron and the Hays Office, the studio was forced to change the racket of Russian Rosie from white-slavery to counterfeiting, with the admonition that the filmmakers remove the film "as far as possible from any feeling of sordid realism," and reduce the number of men Rose has "had." (The New York Times review, however, states that Sally is sold into white slavery, and an unidentified contemporary source states that white slavery is "lurking" in the film.)
       The film was previewed by Dr. James Wingate, who replaced Joy, on January 9, 1933. On January 11, 1933, Wingate wrote to Harold Hurley, assistant to Cohen, stating that the film's "Code matters" would be cleared if the studio re-instated a line spoken by Lou to Gus: "I hope you ain't been sending them girls to the coast to become classy dips [pickpockets] and burglars like Flynn thinks," in order to remove any connotation of white-slavery. On January 13, 1933, after receiving a suggested new ending from Paramount, Wingate wrote to Hurley, adding a line [in italics] to Cummings' speech at the end of the film: "You're still my prisoner and as soon as you are clear with the law I'm going to be your jailer." [The added line was not in the print viewed.] Wingate also warned Hurley to be careful in his handling of West's line after she has been handcuffed, "hands ain't everything." On the same day, Wingate sent his reaction of the preview to Hays, stating that the film contained "ribald comedy" with "at least feeble elements of regeneration which could be argued in its defense." Adding that the picture was "toned down" from the play, Wingate says West "gives a performance of strong realism."
       In a memo to Wingate on February 3, 1933, MPPDA official Vincent G. Hart offered "severe criticism" of the song "Slow Motion Man" (also called "A Guy What Takes His Time"), warning Wingate to analyze the song's lyrics before the film's opening the following week. On February 27, 1933, Hays reported to Wingate that he had ordered all exchanges in the United States and Canada to cut 100 feet of reel six, including all but one opening and closing verse of "Slow Motion Man," the scenes of the female pickpocket, and the pianist "ogling" a singer. Following the film's release, Sidney Kent, President of Fox Film Corp., wrote a letter of protest to Hays, stating: "I believe [She Done Him Wrong] is worse than Red Headed Woman [see entry above] from the standpoint of the industry....I cannot understand how your people on the Coast could let this get by. There is very little that any of us can do now." Several local censor boards eliminated the line: "When women go wrong, men go right after them" and "Hands ain't everything."
       The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Outstanding Production category. The 1934 Film Daily Year Book lists it as "One of the Ten Best Pictures of 1933 , and the New York Times on March 11, 1934 noted it as one of the best films of 1933, calling West's films "the life-blood of the industry." On September 30, 1934, the New York Times asserted, "to be convinced that she is a breeder of licentiousness and an exponent of pornography is to be unusually blind to her precise qualities as an actress." In August 1933, the MPPDA itself had defended She Done Him Wrong to The Inquirer of Philadelphia. In a personal letter dated August 2, 1933, Kirk L. Russell, an MPPDA official, asked the Inquirer to consider the "millions of small town people" who made possible the 6,000 "repeats" of this film...the greatest record of repeats since The Birth of a Nation." Alluding to an article by Len G. Shaw published in the Detroit Free Press, Russell asserts, "women sinners have held their place in the spotlight in all ages," which, in Shaw's words, is "an explanation rather than an apology for the presence on the screen of so many bad girls." The New York Herald Tribune reported on September 5, 1935 that West's novel version of Diamond Lil had been banned by the Customs Dept. in Melbourne, Australia, for alleged "indecent and obscene passages." On September 30, 1935, after reviewing the film, the PCA refused Paramount's request for a re-issue Code seal. In a letter dated September 30, 1935 from Joseph I. Breen, Director of the PCA, to John Hammell, Paramount distribution executive, Breen states, "I am sending this to suggest, under the general head of good and welfare, that you withdraw your application for the certification of this picture...[it] is so thoroughly and completely in violation of the Code that we cannot, in conscience, approve it." On October 7, 1935, Breen wrote to Hays that, in the likelihood of an appeal by Paramount, "It would be a tragedy if these pictures [She Done Him Wrong and the West film I'm No Angel (see entry above)] were permitted to be exhibited at the present time. I am certain that such exhibitions would seriously throw into question much of the good work which has been done and stir up enormous protests."