Thursday, April 18, 2013

She Done Him Wrong ★★★

Mae West's raw sexuality was the essence of irresistibility in pre-code Hollywood. A writer first, actress second, West saunters through every scene more as caricature than in character.
A sly smile from the corner of her mouth, her head slightly tilted upward, and her cocked, curvy waist where her hand rests paint a lurid picture of a come-hither essence.

West plays Lady Lou, a nightclub singer New York during the Gay 90's. She is a woman's woman; a vivid female character who takes no prisoners while conquering the lusts of men.

A lover of diamonds and attention, she not only demands the salacious glances of her male patrons, but is a business-savvy woman above all else. When Lady Lou finds out her jailed boyfriend Chick Clark, convicted of robbery, is skeptical of her fidelity, she visits the jail to quell his doubts. Her hips swing as she walks past each cell, encountering familiar men who have all enjoyed her company. Lady Lou lies to Chick's face--of course she hasn't been with any other men! It's a lie that may risk her safety.

Meanwhile, Lady Lou is falling for Captain Cummings (a young, debonair Cary Grant), who works at the Salvation Army-esque city mission next door to her night club. She doesn't know he is an FBI agent working to take down her nightclub, owned by her diamond-giving boss Gus, a prostitution trafficker, among other disreputable business endeavors. But without Lady Lou's naiveté, we would suffer film history without hearing the timeless line, "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"

She Done Him Wrong is enjoyable, incredibly sexy, and nearly silly given West's over-the-top portrayal of her nightclub performer, something so obviously parodied by Blazing Saddles' Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Strupp--a delicious, hilarious cross between Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. However, its short running time of 66 minutes are either a result of a thin, operatic plot, or the reason for it. What most strongly exudes from the film is its sexuality, undeniable to this day. It was no coincidence that six months after the release of the film pre-code became a thing of the past, making way for strict stipulations set for Hollywood by the National Legion of Decency.

She Done Him Wrong has its place in the canon of film history as one of the most sexual--a feat for its time, and certainly a sensual gem for ours.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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