Paramount production and release. Mae West starred. Directed by Lowell Sherman. Adapted by Harvey Thew and John Bright from Miss West's own play, "Diamond Lil." Music and lyrics by Ralph Rainger. Charles Lang, photog. At Paramount, New York, week Feb., 9. Running time, 65 mins.
Only one previous picture part -- a small one in "Night After Night" -- and now Mae West is starring! It looks as though Paramount brought Miss West along too fast. In New York she rates the billing but elsewhere, where they may not know Mae from Joan of Arc, the name over the title of this picture probably won't attract much attention the first time. Besides, there's not a box office moniker in the rest of the cast.
Only alternative to a strong drawing cast nowadays if a picture wants business, is strong entertainment. This one has neither.
Folks in the sticks seeing Mae West for the first time in this flicker, without having heard of or about her before, are likely to inquire as to what reform school Mae was brought up in. They may not know it, but they'll be seeing Mae in "Diamond Lil." Nothing much changed except the title, but don't tell that to Will Hays.
Atmospherically, "She Done Him Wrong" is interesting since it takes the customers back to the '90's and inside a Bowery free-and-easy, but mostly following a few highlights in the career of Diamond Lou, nee Lil. Its story is pretty feeble and stories are pretty important in pictures because personality is less of a factor on celluloid than in person in the talkers it seems.
With the material Lowell Sherman, director this time instead of actor, turned in a commendable job. He tackled the script with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that takes nothing too seriously, and he restrained Miss West from going too far, something Mae has never been able to do on her own.
The locale, the clothes and the types are interesting, and so is Miss West in her picture hats, straight jacket gowns and with so much jewelry that she looks like a Knickerbocker ice plant. But Miss West is chiefly interesting because she looks nice and youthful, and nice and thin.
Deletions in the script from its original 1928 legit form were few, with only the roughest of the rough stuff out. White slavery angle is thinly disguised, with the girls instead shipped to Frisco to pick pockets. Character titles are changed only slightly, such as from Lil to Lou, etc. The swan bed is in, but for a flash only, with Mae doing her stuff on the chaise lounge in this version. The closing boy friend, a Salvation Army fellow in the play, is just a Bowery missionary as rewritten. When Lou bumps off the villainous Rita (it's Rosie now) she still says, "I'm doing a job that I never did before."
Caster delivered some excellent types for the colorful support parts and the whole troupe is first rate as a whole. Numerous ex-vaudevillians besides Miss West in the cast, including Cary Grant, the soul-saver; Fuzzy Knight, who whips a piano, and Grace La Rue. The latter, who headlined when Miss West was chasing acrobats in the No. 2 spot, has a bit. Rafaella Ottiano, who does Rita, is a carry-over from the original legit cast.
With this strong line-up and others, including Gilbert Roland, Noah Beery, David Landau and Owen Moore as background, they're never permitted to be anything more than just background. Miss West gets all the lens gravy and full figure most of the time. When not flashing the ice and steaming up the bows, she sings "Easy Rider," "I Like a Man Who Takes His Time," or "Frankie and Johnnie." All somewhat cleaned up lyrically, but Mae couldn't sing a lullaby without making it sexy.
A Bowery street set and a heavy interior of "Gus Jordan's joint" are exceptionally good in appearance, and probably won't get many arguments about accuracy or lack of it. But the nifty looking chorus gals in the Bowery joint's show don't seem to fit the location.
Mae West in pictures should stand out just as she did in legit -- as a distinct personality. There's no one just like her and she can be built up to mean something for film box offices. But she needs extreme care in the literary department. Also some nursing. This premature shove to the foreground could retard her progress. Obviously due to studio hunger for a new attraction, with Miss West expected to attract before she is known. If not rushed she should be able to build all by herself.
- Bige, Variety, Originally published February 14, 1933