Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.
This movie simply doesn’t age. When I first saw it, as a college student, it was already 50 years old. Now it’s another 30 on top of that, and it’s just as bawdy, just as delightful as ever.
The main attraction, of course, is Mae West, whose overt sexuality would be comical if she didn’t back it up. But back it up she does. As Lady Lou, a singer in a Gay Nineties saloon and dance hall, West is intelligent, witty, poised, and possessed of enough self-confidence to power ten self-esteem symposiums. She’s the ultimate bad girl, and it’s no wonder every man who meets her is desperate to have her.
A very young Cary Grant plays Captain Cummings, who runs the church mission next door. He wants to save Lou’s soul; she wants to corrupt his. Meanwhile, a girl tries to commit suicide, a counterfeiting ring kicks into operation, a criminal escapes, and a woman is stabbed to death. All in just 66 minutes.
It’s tempting to call the plot a throwaway, nothing more than a vehicle for West’s double entendres and one-liners. That, however, would be like dissing the straight man in a comedy routine. The movie works as well as it does because the two are so perfectly matched. You’d think, given all that happens, that the movie is fast-paced, but it isn’t really until the very end. On the other hand, it doesn’t need to be: West is racy enough on her own.
She Done Him Wrong is the shortest movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture. It was right up there with Little Women, the good one, starring Katharine Hepburn. But that’s the way of it, isn’t it? Sentimentality is fine, but sometimes you just need to laugh.