Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wife Vs. Secretary (1936)

Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Jimmy Stewart ... and oh yeah, Clark Gable ... how could this movie go wrong? Well, it really doesn't. This is a very enjoyable drama with a lot of light moments thrown in for good measure.

With Jean Harlow on his right and Myrna Loy on his left, Clark Gable is a very lucky man

The basic plot is as follows: Gable, as Van Stanhope, is a millionaire magazine publisher. He is married to Linda (Myrna Loy) and the beginning of the movie portrays their loving and happy marriage. However, after a few suspicious incidents occur between Van and his beautiful secretary named Whitey (Jean Harlow) friends and family begin to plant seeds of doubt in Linda's mind where there never was any before. Even though Whitey has a boyfriend named Dave (Jimmy Stewart) it doesn't take long for the audience to wonder if she might harbor secret feelings for her boss as well.

I really enjoyed this film. I am not a big fan of Gable, but he didn't look as oily (or whatever it is) as he usually does to me. In fact, in this movie he actually looked handsome and came off as charming without the usual "roguish" adjective attached somewhere. Myrna was, as she always is, a breath of fresh air. In the early scenes of the film she is cute as a button teasing Gable. Harlow is breath taking, as always. I have to say it was a surprise to see Jimmy in such an early role. He looked like a baby! There is something so cute about how boyish and unsure of himself he seems.

I have a few favorite scenes from this film. I already mentioned the beginning of the movie with the interactions between Gable and Loy. They actually have great chemistry together and it is sweet to watch. I also loved the scene at the anniversary party where Harlow dances by with Gable and an older man quips, "Gentlemen, I fear that even I could give that little lady dictation". I was on the floor laughing over that line. Great, great line. I also loved the ice skating scene only because it was fun to watch Jimmy Stewart get completely eaten up with jealousy.

One of the scenes I totally didn't understand was towards the end when Whitey goes to Linda's stateroom on the cruise liner to tell her how she feels about Van. If Whitey really wanted him all for herself, why even talk to Linda when Linda is obviously out of the picture at that time? Only two scenarios would come from Whitey going to talk to Linda: 1) Hearing Whitey talk about what a great man Van is would make her want to run back to him. 2) Linda thinking Whitey is a liar and chooses to ignore her and continue down the path of leaving her husband. It appeared that Linda was going to leave Van anyway, so was there any real upside in Whitey talking to Linda? Was she trying to clear her conscious in some way so she wouldn't feel like she stole him from Linda? I will add that I was secretly hoping for a third scenario that would end up in a good old-fashioned cat fight, but really, I don't think it would have been a good fit for the movie. I just love the hilarity of a good cat fight. Call me crazy. :-)

I also found it ironic that Dave tells Whitey he is sorry for his jealousy and launches into this speech about how there wouldn't be any problems if couples just trusted each other. I thought it ironic because just hours before, Whitey was making it clear to Linda that if she gets the chance to be with Van, she will. In other words, she would have dumped Dave faster than you could say "bye-bye". Was it meant to be ironic or was there some other moralistic message there?

All in all, I definitely recommend watching this one too. The women will love watching how cute and in love Van and Linda are in the beginning of the movie. Of course, the men will enjoy watching Harlow swinging her hips around the office like it is a new Olympic sport.


kda0121 said...

Wife vs. Secretary is one of my favorites of the early Gable period. It has a great cast and directed by the very able Clarence Brown; long forgotten by most now, but in his day one of the big time directors. This was only James Stewart's fourth feature, but already, his ease before the camera is evident. Every one of the cast leads has that screen presence that makes one a star. Just a very fun movie.

Jennythenipper said...

I think the reason that Whitey goes to Linda is the movie needs to make doubly sure that she isn't a sneaky person trying to steal Van away from Linda. I came into this movie with a great prejudice against it because I hate seeing women are portrayed as slutty secretaries. Having spent years in the clerical field myself, I find it painful to watch this stereotype that still lingers (see Love Actually for a grotesque contemporary example). I was completely delighted to see that Harlow plays the character as competent and smart. Her looks would be a hindrance except that they are not because she doesn't let them be. She just is herself, which is drop dead sexy, funny and sweet. Wife vs. Secretary is quietly subversive because it shows that women who have no life outside of their marriage are really at a disadvantage. The problem isn't lack of trust between couples, it's couples who live their lives in completely separate spheres, a world where a wife must be pitted against a secretary. You can tell from my rant here that I actually work in the same building as my husband, can't you?