She done him wrong (Lady Lou) –  USA 1933

Directed by: Lowell Sherman.

Starring: Mae West; Cary Grant; Louise Beavers.

Lou knows best: when a woman goes wrong, men go right after her…

I warn you: this film ain’t a masterpiece. Though “She done him wrong” was a box office success in 1933 and won an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in 1934 (the shortest film ever nominated in this category, only 66 minutes), there’s only one reason to watch it again: Mae West.

English: News photo of Mae West, likely candid...

News photo of Mae West in 1930’s, from L.A Times. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She was an actress, a singer, a playwright, a screenwriter, a sex symbol and her specialities were spicy remarks, sexual innuendoes and troubles with censors. She started her career in Vaudeville (like Buster Keaton and Marx brothers) when she was just a teenager and then she starred in Broadway writing (and producing) her own plays. Critics hated her, audiences loved her and censorship noticed her. In  1927 her play called “Sex” earned her 10 days in jail (after 375 performances!); she was “corrupting the morals of youth”! She went to Hollywood in 1932, aged thirty eight, after signing a contract with Paramount. Her first film was  “Night after night” starring George Raft who told about her habit to “enlarge” her small role rewriting her scenes: “she stole everything but the cameras” (and he was right, watch HERE).

“She done him wrong” is the first film in which she could be the absolute star. Her straight man is a young Cary Grant, who was not yet “Cary Grant, the coolest man ever”, just Archibald Leach using Cary Grant as his professional name, but nonetheless not a Mae West’s creature as she pretended : he had already played in 7 or 8 films and in 1932 “Blonde Venus” credits his name comes just after Marlene Dietrich and Herbert Marshal (you can go to the Knitted Notes Facebook Page to watch a  interview with Mae telling her story on how she met Grant).

She Done Him Wrong

She Done Him Wrong- poster.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film is based on the 1928 play “Diamond Lil” a Broadway success written by Mae west herself and the story is just a pretext that allows her to shine at her best acting, singing and using all those double entendres that made her a star. We are in New York in the 1890s and Mae West is Lou, a singer performing in Gus Jordan’s Saloon. She loves shining rocks (“Diamonds is my career”) and dangerous guys: her ex-boyfriend who’s now in jail, her current boyfriend Gus, whose businesses also embrace forgery and prostitution (but she knows nothing about it, only loves the expensive jewels he gives her), and Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) the young “dark and handsome” director of a local mission who seems only interested in reforming her… Lou is not the sort of a femme fatale that can make a man miserable destroying his life (like Lola in “The blue Angel“, remember?),  she’s sexy but in a funny way, like a blonde haired and curvy female version of Groucho Marx ( sorry for the awful image you’re probably visualizing!). Lou is a charmer, a bawdy one who likes playing with men the same way they usually do with women, she’s the one who rule that game and this attracted censorship’s attentions.

It is told that Mae West and her films, in particular this one and the following “I’m no Angel” (also starring Cary Grant) were among the major reasons for the birth of the National Legion of Decency in 1933 and the enforcement of the Hays Code (the Motion Picture Production Code, the set of industry moral censorship guidelines that ruled productions in United States) in 1934. Surely watching “She done him wrong” you’ll have the occasion to rediscover a woman who has been able to gain a reputation in entertaiment beating men at their own game.

If you want to know more you can watch the BBC documentary “Mae West on Mae West”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itln5W68-NA.

A few (almost)related film you may like (watch the trailer or a clip using the title as a link):

Monkey Business – USA 1931 Directed by: Norman Z. McLeod Starring: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx; Thelma Todd.

Blonde Venus – USA 1932 Directed by: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Marlene Dietrich; Herbert Marshall; Cary Grant.

I’m no Angel – USA 1933 Directed by: Wesley Ruggles. Starring: Mae West; Cary Grant.

Barbary Coast – USA 1935 Directed by: Howard Hawks. Starring: Miriam Hopkins; Joel McCrea; Edward G. Robinson.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – USA 1954 directed by: Howard Hawks. Starring: Marilyn Monroe; Jane Russell.

Lou lo sa bene: quando una donna è “perduta”,  gli uomini la cercano…

Mae West

Mae West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vi avverto: questo film non è un capolavoro. Anche se “Lady Lou” è stato un campione d’incassi nel 1933 e si è guadagnato una nomination all’Oscar come Miglior Film nel 1934  (il film più corto mai nominato in questa categoria, solo 66 minuti), c’è una sola ragione per rivederlo: Mae West. Era un’attrice, una cantante, una commediografa e sceneggiatrice e un sex symbol e le sue specialità erano le battute piccanti, le allusioni al sesso e i problemi con la censura. Quando era solo una ragazzina aveva iniziato la carriera nel Vaudeville (una specie di avanspettacolo nel quale avevano iniziato a lavorare tra gli altri anche Buster Keaton e i Fratelli Marx), era passata poi ai teatri di Broadway recitando in commedie da lei scritte e prodotte. I critici la disprezzavano, il pubblico l’amava e la censura la teneva d’occhio. Nel 1927 finì in prigione per 10 giorni a causa del suo spettacolo intitolato “Sex” (che nel frattempo aveva avuto già 375 repliche): corrompeva la morale della gioventù! Nel 1932  era infine approdata al cinema, a trentotto anni, quando la Paramount le aveva offerto un contratto; il suo primo film era stato “Night after night” con George Raft che disse a proposito della sua abitudine di “espandere” la sua parte riscrivendo le scene: “Ha rubato tutto, tranne le cineprese” (e aveva ragione, potete vederlo QUI).

“Lady Lou” è il primo film in cui Mae West ebbe l’occasione di recitare come protagonista assoluta. A farle da spalla c’è un giovane Cary Grant, che  nonostante non fosse ancora “Cary Grant, l’uomo più affascinante di sempre” ma semplicemente Archibald Leach che recitava con il nome d’arte Cary Grant, non era comunque una sua “creatura” come lei raccontava : Grant aveva già recitato in almeno 7 o 8 film e nei titoli di testa di “Venere Bionda” del 1932 il suo nome veniva subito dopo quelli di Marlene Dietrich e di Herbert Marshall (potete vedere sulla Pagina Facebook di Knitted Notes un’intervista nella quale Mae racconta come, secondo lei, era avvenuto il loro primo incontro).

Cary Grant Mae West She Done Him Wrong

Cary Grant Mae West She Done Him Wrong (Photo credit: Nesster)

Il film è la trasposizione cinematografica della commedia  teatrale del 1928 “Diamond Lil”scritta dalla stessa Mae West, che fu anche un grande successo a Broadway, e la storia è quasi un semplice pretesto per permetterle di mostrarsi al suo meglio recitando, cantando e, soprattutto, provocando con quei doppi sensi che l’avevano resa famosa. Siamo a New York intorno al 1890 e Mae West è Lou,  una cantante che si esibisce nel Saloon di Gus Jordan. Lei ama le pietre luccicanti (“i diamanti sono la mia carriera” dice) e gli uomini pericolosi: il suo ex che ora è in galera, il suo attuale compagno Gus i cui affari abbracciano anche (all’insaputa di Lou che ama soprattutto i costosi gioielli che lui le regala) lo spaccio di denaro falso e la prostituzione, e anche il capitano Cummings (Cary Grant) “bruno e affascinante” e giovane direttore di una Missione religiosa che sembra però solo interessato a redimerla… Lou non è quel genere di femme fatale capace di distruggere la vita degli uomini rendendoli miserabili (come faceva Lola ne “L’Angelo Azzurro”, ricordate?),  la vita i suoi uomini se la rovinano da soli. Lou è sexy ma in maniera divertente, come una versione bionda e tutta curve di Groucho Marx (vi chiedo scusa per la terribile visione che sicuramente ha invaso la vostra mente!). Lou è una seduttrice, sfacciata  e “piccante”, una donna che ama giocare con gli uomini come loro fanno di solito con le donne, soprattutto è lei a guidare il gioco e potete scommetterci che fu proprio questo ad attirare le attenzioni della censura.

Cropped screenshot of Mae West from the traile...

Mae West in “I’m No Angel” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Si dice che Mae West e i suoi film, in particolare questo ed il seguente “Non sono un angelo” (sempre con Cary Grant) siano state le principali ragioni per la nascita nel 1933 della National Legion of Decency (un’associazione cattolica che si prefiggeva di moralizzare la società americana ed in particolare l’industria dell’intrattenimento) e per un’ applicazione più stretta del Codice Hays (il Codice di Produzione che regolamentava la censura dei film prodotti negli Sati Uniti) a partire dal 1934. Sicuramente guardando questo film potrete riscoprire una donna che è riuscita ad affermarsi nel mondo dello spettacolo battendo gli uomini nel loro stesso gioco.

Se volete sapere qualcosa di più su questo argomento potete vedere anche questo breve documentario della BBC “Mae West on MaeWest”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itln5W68-NA

Alcuni film (poco)collegati che potrebbero piacervi (guardate il trailer o una clip usando il titolo come link):

Monkey Business-Quattro folli in alto mare – USA 1931 Diretto da: Norman Z. McLeod Con: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx; Thelma Todd.

Venere Bionda – USA 1932 Diretto da: Josef von Sternberg. Con: Marlene Dietrich; Herbert Marshall; Cary Grant.

Non sono un angelo – USA 1933 Directed by: Wesley Ruggles. Starring: Mae West; Cary Grant.

La Costa dei Barbari – USA 1935 Directed by: Howard Hawks. Starring: Miriam Hopkins; Joel McCrea; Edward G. Robinson.

Gli uomini preferiscono le bionde– USA 1954 directed by: Howard Hawks. Starring: Marilyn Monroe; Jane Russell.

About Ella V

I love old movies, rock music, books, art... I'm intrested in politics. I adore cats. I knit...

5 responses »

  1. Anushka says:

    Haha I adore Mae West, and this film is great. Personally I prefer the circus costuming of I’m No Angel though!

  2. CurlsnSkirls says:

    Love all her movies – so grateful to know other women around the world recognize her abilities.

  3. ambradambra says:

    What a great dame!

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