Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Wife vs Secretary

Cinema Monolith: 8/10 The Monolith
IMDb: 7.1/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: **½ out of 4

Released on February 28, 1936
Not rated
88 minutes

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)

15 comments on “Wife vs Secretary

  1. I too will confess to haven’t seen a Jean Harlow film. I had a similar reaction to Joan Blondell whilst watching Three On A Match (1932) last month. I see they both star alongside each with Cagney in The Public Enemy. I think I will jump in on that soon. Get to see both of them at work. Such a shame Jean died so young! Very tragic. Will keep an eye for Wife vs Secretary, it does sound like a nice chilled watch even with the scandal-happy morons jumping to conclusions 🙂

    • Todd B
      3/2/19

      I have a friend at another movie blogging site who also speaks highly of Joan Blondell, so I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for her movies, including Three on a Match…and I wasn’t aware she was in The Public Enemy, which I own, so I’ll definitely give that one a look soon. And please, let me know what you think of those scandal-happy morons…and the rotten POS mother-in-law while you’re at it.

      • Oh that great news Todd. If you get some info on what Joan Blondell to see then please let me know. …. If you get the chance to see Three on a Match I highly recommend it. … Sounds like we will both be watching Public Enemy soon. Sure we gonna enjoy that.

      • Todd B
        3/7/19

        I was doing a little research on-line last night and happened upon someone discussing Three on a Match, and he mentioned it co-starred Humphrey Bogart! Now I REALLY have to watch it, so I an add it to my Bogie index! As for Miss Blondell, this may sound ridiculous, but the only film I remember her from is Grease; after looking through her library of films, I can say that Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was a fun one, even though I don’t recall what part she played in it. Yes, I’m lame.

      • Bogie is excellent in it. You can see his star power even in the little scenes he has. It’s wonderful seeing these big stars in early films and it all becomes obvious why they become the legends they become.

        Funny as I was eyeing up Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? the other day. I was looking at John Williams films and then I noticed Blondell and Mansfield. Sounds like a really fun film. Another added to the list. No way would you Adam and Eve it! Miss Blondell was in Grease! Well I never knew!

      • Todd B
        3/8/19

        My earliest unknown ‘early Bogart’ that I’ve seen is Black Legion, from 1937, so Three on a Match would break that mark. And yeah, Bogart really had a presence in those early ones, even when he’s second- or third-billed. Oh, and look at this: Bullets or Ballots, starring Joan Blondell and Humphrey Bogart, and some unknown named Edward G. Robinson! Damn, I thought I had it in one of my TCM collections…nope!

      • My earliest bogie up to Three On A Match was 1936 The Petrified Forest and I very much recommend that. I have not heard of Black Legion before, that sounds a tough and dark watch. And it’s got Ann Sheridan as well. A double hitter. Sounds like I’m going to like that very much. It’s amazing how all these actors connect up, Bullets or Ballots sounds like a must see too. Shit! You know you saying 25 years to watch all your films! Jeez it starts to dawn on you that you never get through the ever growing “too watch” list. Need to retire, right now dangnamit!

      • Todd B
        3/10/19

        I seriously could watch 1-2 films a day if I had the time…I’d blaze through that Monolith tower in no time! And I know what you mean about actors ‘connecting up’…everybody talks about Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, but Bogart and Sheridan both starred in a bunch, and as I found out while typing this review, Gable and Harlow did six together, while Gable and Loy did seven.

        And don’t get me started on the movies I have to get through besides the ones on the Monolith: I think I have around 40 noir films on home-burned disc that I’ve recorded off TCM, plus exactly 269 digital downloads off YT (including one I just added last night that looks interesting, a UK crime thriller called The Man Who Watched Trains Go By) that I’m guessing I’ll get to in the afterlife.

      • Dude me too! I could get myself in a real sweet routine watching 1-2 films a day if it wasn’t for this darn work thing!

        Wow that’s incredible how many times they all worked together!

        Dude that’s a superb collection of noirs ready to drop into when you can.

        Never heard of The Man Who Watched Trains Go By that sounds very interesting indeed. I’ve added it too the BIG list. Haha yeah hopefully we can just sit back in the fluffy cloud armchair and transfer the movies into the sky in the afterlife! 🙂

      • Todd B
        3/12/19

        I went back and counted all the noirs I own (including those on the Monolith, the ones I’ve homeburned off TCM, and the digital ones I’ve downloaded), and not including doubles (some of the homeburned ones I now own on DVD), the total noir films in my collection comes to 216!

        And I think I’m intrigued by The Man Who Watched Trains Go By simply because of its title, and the fact it’s a crime thriller…and the guy in it who I thought looked like Claude Rains actually is Claude Rains!

      • That’s a superb collection of noir bro. The mighty Monolith gonna be going for many years into the future, that’s a guarantee.

        That Claude Rains geezah looked like a bundle of bandages to me! and then the little blighter just disappeared! WTF! right in front of my eyes governor!

      • Todd B
        3/13/19

        If I only owned those noir films, it would no doubt still take me 25 years to get through them all! And was that a quote from the Claude Rains UK thriller, The Invisible Bloke?

      • Hehe The Invisible Bloke 🙂

  2. geelw
    3/2/19

    This one’s been a fave since I took a chance on watching it on TCM and was knocked for a loop on a few fronts. Amusingly enough, I felt the same as you at the end and also realized that a modern version would really piss me off because none of the characters would be likable at all given today’s Hollywood take on these sorts of relationships (and I don’t even want to imagine the casting in that update, lol).

    • Todd B
      3/2/19

      Greg, I was thinking the same thing: how would a remake of this be handled today, and who would star in it? My guess is they’d make it a straight comedy, and go for comical yet unrealistic situations. I was surprised (and happy) that the story with this one stayed grounded, and didn’t succumb to silliness. And considering today’s PC climate, I’m guessing a remake would have to be called Spouse vs Workplace Associate.

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Review Totals

Movies Reviewed: 210

From the Monolith: 117

Movies by Decade

1920s – 0
1930s – 5
1940s – 19
1950s – 31
1960s – 32
1970s – 34
1980s – 32
1990s – 5
2000s – 13
2010s – 39

Movies by Genre

Action/Adventure – 38
Comedy – 34
Crime – 19
Documentary – 4
Drama – 22
Horror – 37
Musical – 1
Mystery/Thriller – 19
Romance – 3
Sci-Fi/Fantasy – 25
Western – 7

Movies by CM Rating

10 star – 10
9 star – 25
8 star – 34
7 star – 29
6 star – 22
5 star – 20
4 star – 22
3 star – 16
2 star – 17
1 star – 12
0 star – 3

Movies by MPAA Rating

Pre-1968 – 83
G – 1
PG – 30
PG-13 – 34
R – 55
NC-17 – 0
TV and Unrated – 7

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