Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on February 28, 1936
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, and Alice Duer Miller
Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, May Robson, James Stewart, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, Tom Dugan, Gilbert Emery, Marjorie Gateson, Gloria Holden, John Qualen, Beatrice Roberts, Paul Rowan
It struck me recently that I’d never before seen a Jean Harlow film, even though I’ve owned the TCM four-disc set of Harlow movies for about three years now, so with about ninety minutes left before bedtime a few nights ago, I pulled the set off the shelf and chose Wife vs Secretary as a way of introduction. And since I knew nothing about her except that she’d been popular in the 1930s, was known as the ‘Platinum Blonde’, and had died at a young age, I was eager to see how I felt about her as an actress.
Well, I’m happy to say that I was very much impressed. In fact, seeing her on-screen this first time, I was surprised at just how bright and bubbly she seemed to be, and how fun, sharp, and likeable her character came across. I was only a few minutes into the film, and already I was eager to check out her other roles, and was looking forward to checking out the other three options from the set I owned—Dinner at Eight, China Seas, and Libeled Lady—as well as her co-starring turn with James Cagney in the crime drama The Public Enemy.
Clark Gable and Myrna Loy play a happily married couple, unabashedly crazy about each other, who not only have a sweet and loving relationship, but a trusting one as well. By day he’s the head of a publishing company, and is well-liked and respected by everyone who works for him, including his secretary, played by Harlow, who’s smart, efficient, and quite attractive. They make for a great workplace team, and when they hit upon an idea to purchase a rival publishing house, they keep the plan a secret…a secret which, through circumstance, sparks rumors of a love affair.
The title, the three stars, and even the one-sheet poster seemed to promote the idea of a fun romance romp, a ‘battle of the sexes’ type of screwball comedy that was typical of the 1930s. But it didn’t take long for the antics and banter to give way to a very serious-minded story, where sobering issues of trust were brought to the forefront when Loy’s hag of a mother-in-law suggests that Gable is cheating on her. Loy doesn’t believe it, but soon friends, socialites, and Gable’s co-workers are sharing their misguided thoughts and accusations, and sadly, the seeds of doubt are soon planted.
I won’t spoil the rest, but I will say this: Gable was charming, Loy was endearing, and Harlow was nothing short of captivating, in about a hundred different ways. They all worked so wonderfully well together (and that includes Jimmy Stewart as Harlow’s patient but doubting boyfriend), I couldn’t help but be hopelessly dazzled by them all. But I must say, the truth and reality of the subject matter—scandal-happy morons jumping to conclusions—really got my goat, and if I wasn’t having such a good time with the rest of it, I might’ve found myself pissed off by the whole thing. (8/10)