Wife Versus Secretary is one of those films in which there is a very basic, overused storyline and honestly, not a whole lot really happens and yet it's inexplicably and totally awesome. Maybe not inexplicably because it does star Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy, a trifecta of 1930s who's who amazingness.
Let's break it down.
Gable is Van ("V.S.") Stanhope, a magazine publisher who is hardworking, focused and, as it turns out, quite creative and adept at what the public wants. He's married to the lovely Linda, played by Loy, whom he is mad about. The two have a healthy relationship based on mutual trust. He has just returned from some time away from the office to find that his secretary, Whitey (Harlow) has redecorated his office. Van and Whitey have a perfect boss-assistant relationship; he treats her with a great deal of respect and trusts her to handle things for him - - she's basically his work wife - - while she assists him perfectly. Of course since Whitey looks like Jean Harlow, and people are people, there is gossip and talk about the true nature of their relationship. The gossip filters back to Linda, who begins to worry that the sexy Whitey may be performing more than typing duties for her husband. While away on a business trip to Havana, Van has a bit too much to drink and Whitey answers his phone for him. It's Linda (oh nos!) and she jumps to the same conclusion that any woman would when it's 2 a.m. and another woman answers the phone in your husband's hotel room. Van returns home to find himself locked out of Linda's bed and bath and she soon packs herself up and leaves, planning to file for divorce. Van is heartbroken and Whitey, having just broken up with her longtime boyfriend David (played by Jimmy Stewart in an early role for MGM), realizes that her not quite so secret unrequited feelings for Van might be reciprocated. Will Linda and Van divorce? Will he end up with Whitey? Is Clark Gable ever not the hottest thing on screen? So many questions.
As fair warning, spoilers lay ahead!
I love this movie. It's the kind of film that MGM really excelled at during the Thirties, when everything came together. The studio had its share of stinkers and ones that were "ehhhhhh" and fortunately Wife Versus Secretary rises above that and really just works. Why? Mainly because the stars attached to it. Gable and Harlow had four previous film outings together (and would have one more after this one) and Gable and Loy had been paired up in three. While this was the first film that Harlow and Loy co-starred in, they worked well together (as evidenced by their rematching in Libeled Lady.)
As a die-hard Jimmy Stewart fan, I was thrilled to see him in the film, even though his part is small and very much supporting. He does what little he can with it and he does deliver the closing line of the film (see below.)
|Seriously, the cutest|
I love that the Loy-Gable marriage is portrayed as one of not only equals but two people who are very clearly into each other. They are tactile, they hug and kiss and you just know, neither are a slouch in the bedroom.
Are there any faults with the film? One issue I have is relatively minor and that's the very little use that Stewart gets. Of course he was new to the studio then and he was paying his dues, while they assessed whether he had what it took to make it (he did.) The other two issues are a bit larger.
|Whitey doesn't look forty, Mimi|
|You're a fool|
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Dave. (He is played by Jimmy Stewart after all.) He seems like a nice, kind guy although we are told very little about him. Whitey had been wearing a ring before they broke up and he seemed fairly tolerant about her being at Van's beck and call, at least until she left him to go to the theater solo while she cut out of dinner to head to the office to retrieve something for Van to then hand deliver to his home. Totally Team Dave on that one.
I think the film dropped the ball on having Dave say not just that he missed Whitey, when she leaves the office sans Van at the end, but suggest why they belong together. Maybe remind her that he misses his dance partner, his Coney Island partner, his Scrabble buddy, whatever. Maybe suggest that he's taken ice skating lessons so he can join her on the ice (an earlier point in the movie that puts Harlow and Gable on the ice together while Loy and Stewart sit it out, allowing Loy to hear gossip.) Anything to underscore that Whitey belongs with Dave and she will be happy with him; because Whitey doesn't seem exactly relieved or happy to be back with David, maybe Harlow was playing it close to the vest but she seemed extremely understated.
In any event, Dave gives the closing line of the film and it's a doozy. "Don't look for trouble where there isn't any because if you don't find it, you'll make it."
Overall, I adore this film. It's fun, it's sweet, it's affectionate and who knew that trout for breakfast was apparently a thing?
Wife Versus Secretary could have been chock full of the tropiest of tropes but, happily, it managed to avoid those pitfalls.
If you haven't seen Wife Versus Secretary, what are you waiting for? It's available on DVD and turns up on TCM's rotation on occasion. It may not be one of Gable's better known films but he shines in it and it's very much worth the time. Go, go, go!
Disclosure: I watched this movie via a DVD from my own personal collection. This DVD was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review. I am not too proud to take a donation though. (Just a little touch of humor.)
|If Myrna isn't into it, call me, Clark.|