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In her first starring film vehicle, She Done Him Wrong, Mae West is Lady Lou, a saloon singer and "slick article" who drives every man who sees her mad with desire. She positively oozes sex, but always with sly, self-mocking humor. Lady Lou remarking on the nude painting of her hanging over the bar: "I gotta admit that is a flash, but I do wish Gus hadn't hung it over the free lunch." West warbles several numbers in her Brooklyn-accented, sweetly nasal voice, accompanied by her famous suggestive roll of the eye and flip of the hip: "Frankie and Johnny," "Easy Rider," and "A Guy What Takes His Time."
Based on West's Broadway play Diamond Lil, the film is set in the Gay '90s, "a lusty, brawling, florid decade, when there were handlebars on lip and wheel and legs were confidential." The corny plot involves the eternal male rivalry for Mae's favors, as well as a white slavery ring that is shipping unsuspecting girls to the Barbary Coast. But the movie's real treat is the cat-and-mouse game between West's Lady Lou and the Hawk, a detective disguised as a missionary, played by a devastatingly handsome young Cary Grant. West: "Why don't you come up some time, see me? I'm here every night." Grant: "Yeah, but I'm busy every night." West: "What're you tryin' to do, insult me?... You can be had."
In She Done Him Wrong, Mae West is absolutely in her prime. Her one-of-a-kind intermarriage of eroticism and humor, worldly wisdom and scalding wit are presented with perfect panache. --Laura Mirsky
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