Marvelously crude melodrama dished up with generous portions of undiluted West in her first starring vehicle. Re-creating her bediamonded demimonde, Diamond Lil, for the screen, she wriggles her way through some lowdown dirty blues ditties, seduces young Cary Grant's righteous Salvation
Army crusader, kicks asses and takes names. Little-known director Lowell Sherman ably evokes the gaudy squalor of the Bowery at the turn of the century, and West establishes herself as a persona happiest squabbling among the chiselers and moneylenders.
West already reigned supreme on Broadway when Hollywood beckoned her at around age 40 (West was hazy about age) to support George Raft in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT. With SHE DONE HIM WRONG, West became an enormous star. She made 12 movies altogether, 10 of which she wrote either alone or with
collaborators. Amazingly, SHE DONE HIM WRONG was shot in 18 days, plus one week of rehearsal, as West fiddled with the lines to mislead the censors.
West's Lou must rank as one of the first truly liberated women ever seen onscreen as she runs a Bowery saloon, fronting for owner Noah Beery, Sr. Cary Grant, a captain at the local mission, spends more than the usual amount of time in the bar in what seems to be an attempt to save her immortal
soul; before long the buxom West is in love with the youthful Grant. Having been the mistress of Beery, who plies her with diamonds, West knows she's in trouble when her heart begins to obscure the glow of the gems. But Beery is discovered to be running a counterfeiting ring and, as a sideline,
sending young women to San Francisco to be pickpockets. Gilbert Roland and Rafaela Ottiano have been passing the bogus money that Beery needs to pay for West's diamonds. Then, in a jealous battle with West, Ottiano gets herself killed.
Remember what we said about crude melodrama? Scenes like the latter obviously recall the touring shows West herself must have seen growing up as a tyke in turn of the century Brooklyn. West's original character of Lil was derived from her mother, a former French corset model whose husband (West's
Irish prizefighter father) referred to her affectionately as "Champagne Til". And some of Lil was undoubtedly West herself: as a child, West's mother spoiled her outrageously, always dressing her in minature versions of her own elaborate gowns. West never lost her taste for long skirts, fancy
fabrics, wasp waists and cornucopic picture hats.
She had spotted Grant on the Paramount lot and asked to have him in the picture, a request that pleased director Lowell Sherman, who liked Grant's work with Marlene Dietrich in BLONDE VENUS. But West, who never saw other women's movies, didn't know that. Eyeing Grant up and down, West said to
Sherman, "If he can talk, I'll take 'im." In the years to come, West always played variations on this "Diamond Lil" role in everything she did, tacking on other character names. "Why should I go good, when I'm packin' 'em in 'cause I'm bad?", West once asked.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Marvelously crude melodrama dished up with generous portions of undiluted West in her first starring vehicle. Re-creating her bediamonded demimonde, Diamond Lil, for the screen, she wriggles her way through some lowdown dirty blues ditties, seduces young C… (more)