Cast & Crew
Noah Beery Sr.
In 1892, in New York's Bowery, singer and femme fatale Lady Lou is mistress to saloon proprietor Gus Jordan, who is running for sheriff, but maintains a counterfeit money racket. Jordan's rival, Dan Flynn, intends to expose Jordan and win the office of sheriff, as well as Lou. When pretty runaway Sally tries to commit suicide in Gus's tavern, Lou comes to her aid, and Gus and his accomplices, Serge Stanieff and Russian Rita, give her a job picking pockets on the Barbary Coast. Later Lou visits her jailed ex-lover, Chick Clark, whom Flynn helped send to prison for stealing diamonds for Lou, and Chick demands that she remain faithful to him. Lou falls for Captain Cummings, the handsome and pious preacher of the mission next door, however, and arranges for his mortgage to be paid. A string of incidents then puts Lou in a tight spot: after Flynn tells her a new detective in town called "The Hawk" is going to expose Gus, Cummings demands to know Sally's whereabouts, but Lou swears she knows nothing of Gus's business. Chick then breaks out of jail and nearly chokes Lou, begging her to run away with him. Next, Serge answers Lou's long-standing invitation to visit her boudoir and, in Rita's presence, confesses his love for her, while giving her a diamond brooch that belongs to Rita. In a jealous rage, Rita attacks Lou with a dagger, and Lou accidentally kills her, then orders her henchman, Spider, to dispose of the body. As Lou performs that night, Chick comes to pick her up and hides in her room, while Lou gives Flynn a signal from the stage to meet her there as well. Chick shoots Flynn dead just as Cummings, who is really The Hawk, raids the saloon, arresting Serge, Gus, Spider and Chick. Cummings then escorts Lou, who insists on wearing her wrap, to the police wagon, but lifts her into a coach instead. There, he removes her diamond rings and replaces them with one of his own, telling her, "I'm gonna be your jailer for a long, long time."
Noah Beery Sr.
Grace La Rue
Robert E. Homans
James C. Eagle
Robert M. Gillham
Charles K. Harris
Harry M. Lindgren
She Done Him Wrong
Mae West in She Done Him Wrong
Mae West played at sex like a man. She used her partners for pleasure and, with most of them, discarded them as soon as she got bored. Though there was usually one leading man who was given exclusive rights to her by the film's conclusion, she was the one doing the giving, with the veiled suggestion that she could always withdraw her approval if things didn't work out. More than any innuendo, more than the tightly corseted gowns she generously overflowed, this was what excited the censors' ire. Not only did she treat sex as an act of pleasure without any undue consequences, but also her attitude exposed the unwritten code by which many men operated, even after they were married. Little wonder she was often credited as the woman who brought stricter censorship to Hollywood. She wasn't, but as Pauline Kael once said, if she was, the delights she offered on screen more than made for the later depredations of censorship.
In the early '30s, the major Hollywood studios gave lip service to the Production Code, a set of rules for what could and could not be done on screen enforced by Will Hays of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). Originally, Paramount Pictures was very good about following the Code. They hadn't done much to follow the trend toward gangster films spearheaded by Little Caesar in 1931. But by 1932 the studio was running $21 million in the hole. By that time, there was a new genre challenging the censors, the sex film (also called "women's pictures"), which dealt with women who stray from the straight and narrow and pay for it tearfully by the film's end. Paramount had flirted with the genre with its early Marlene Dietrich films like Morocco (1930) and Blonde Venus (1932), but they mostly let the other studios blaze new sexual trails and reap the box office rewards, at least until Mae West showed up.
West had been developing her act since the early days of the 20th century, when she sang bawdy songs in vaudeville, creating a delivery copied from the female impersonators of the day and night-club queen Texas Guinan. She'd scored some huge hits on Broadway, particularly with the controversial Diamond Lil, in which she played a saloon singer on The Bowery in the 1890s who sets out to seduce a Salvation Army officer. Universal Pictures had proposed bringing the play to the screen in 1930, when she toured it to Los Angeles. Hays issued a firm edict, however. The play was off limits, and when Universal suggested hiring West to write something new for them, he talked them out of it. Meanwhile, West fell on hard times when her follow-up play, The Constant Sinner, closed after only eight weeks. The 39-year-old sex star began to wonder if she wasn't over the hill.
Then old friend George Raft came to the rescue. There was a juicy part for an older woman playing his ex-girlfriend in Night After Night (1932) at Paramount. The studio wanted to cast Texas Guinan, but he talked them into giving West a chance. She almost turned the role down when she saw how poorly it was written. Instead, however, she got producer Harry Le Baron, another old friend, to agree to let her re-write her lines. Loading the script with comic innuendo, she, in Raft's words, "stole everything but the cameras." Exhibitors were clamoring for another film with West, and Paramount decided to take a chance on bucking the censors.
When the studio approached her about making another film, she considered her options, then insisted on adapting Diamond Lil. Rather than buck Will Hays outright, they suggested changing the title and enough details to make it seem like a new story. But when Hays found out, he tried to shut the film down. Studio head Adolph Zukor made his case to Hays' New York board of directors, and won the concession that they could redo the script with a new title and new character names (Diamond Lil became Lady Lou). Other demands made by the Hays Office included making the leading man (Cary Grant) a mission worker with no specific affiliation to the Salvation Army and cutting overt references to prostitution. They also changed the nationality of West's female nemesis from Brazilian to Russian, since there was little market for U.S. films in the Soviet Union.
In some ways, Hays' demands actually improved the film. Screenwriter John Bright, who had scored a hit with The Public Enemy (1931), was assigned to collaborate on the screenplay, but he didn't click with West, and her script didn't impress him either. He thought it was a creaky old melodrama filled with cheap jokes and tried to make it more of a straight crime film. West hated his ideas, but had a battle getting the studio to side with her. Then one of Hays' associates suggested that the film might be more palatable if played for comedy. That was the excuse she needed to cut Bright's additions and return many of her laugh lines (eventually she had him replaced by Harvey Thew). When Hays suggested toning down references to Lou's past affairs, West added a maid character (played by Louise Beavers) who knew of her past so the two could discuss it in a series of veiled references.
Those references -- and West's ability to make even the most innocent lines sound risque - made the film a hit and made her one of the world's most quoted writers. Early in the film she describes herself as "one of the finest women ever walked the streets." When a young woman complains about losing her virtue, West quips, "When women go wrong, men go after them." One of the play's most controversial lines was part of her come on to the Salvation Army officer, "You can be had," which West repeated at the end when the two hooked up. Hays thought it was too raw, so West replaced the line's second appearance with a comic exchange. Grant chastises her with "You bad girl," to which she coyly replies, "You'll find out." Another line, however, only sounded racy in West's patented delivery - the line where she tells Grant, "Why don't you come up some time, see me?"
She Done Him Wrong was a huge hit. Made for just $200,000, half of which went to West for writing and starring, it returned $2 million domestically on its initial release and another $1 million in international markets. That wasn't enough to pull Paramount out of the hole, but it raised studio morale and their image enough to help them edge back toward profitability. The film made West a household name and boosted the career of co-star Grant, who was just starting in films. He would later claim that he learned most of what he knew about playing comedy from watching West at work.
She Done Him Wrong also changed fashions, bringing back the hourglass figure, and encouraged a run of films set in the 1890s. But there was also the inevitable backlash. West's suggestive song "I Like a Man That Takes his Time" was so heavily cut by censors that Paramount called back all release prints to cut the middle stanzas. Other lines were cut by local censors, and the film was banned outright in Java, Latvia, Australia and Vienna. It also triggered renewed cries for national film censorship that led to the strengthening of the Production Code in 1934. That, in turn, would create even more battles for West and the censors, though they could do nothing to diminish the sexual independence of her characters. Even in the more liberated era of the '70s, West amazed audiences with her sexual forthrightness when she returned to filmmaking after decades off-screen for a small role as a predatory agent in Myra Breckinridge (1970).
Producer: William LeBaron
Director: Lowell Sherman
Screenplay: Mae West, Harvey Thew, John Bright
Based on the play Diamond Lil by Mae West
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Art Direction: Robert Usher
Music: Ralph Rainger
Principal Cast: Mae West (Lady Lou), Cary Grant (Capt. Cummings), Owen Moore (Chick Clark), Gilbert Roland (Serge Stanieff), Noah Beery, Sr. (Gus Jordan), Rafaela Ottiano (Russian Rita), Rochelle Hudson (Sally Glynn), Fuzzy Knight (Ragtime Kelly), Louise Beavers (Pearl).
BW-65m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
She Done Him Wrong
Hello there, warm, dark and handsome.- Lady Lou
Why don't you come up some time and see me?- Lady Lou
Diamonds is my career.- Lady Lou
It was a toss up between whether I go in for diamonds or sing in the choir. The choir lost.- Lady Lou
When a woman goes wrong, the men go right after her.- Lady Lou
Haven't you ever had a man who made you happy?- Captain Cummings
Sure, lots of times.- Lady Lou
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1996.
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."
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States March 1987 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (UCLA Movie Marathon: A Tribute to Cary Grant) March 11-26, 1987.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival as part of program "The Queen of Camp: A Mae West Retrospective" March 21 - April 4, 1996. 4, 1996.)
Released in United States March 1987
Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival as part of program "The Queen of Camp: A Mae West Retrospective" March 21 - April 4, 1996. 4, 1996.