Wife Vs. Secretary

1936, Movie, NR, 88 mins

Review

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In lesser hands this might have been a mediocre soap opera, but with Clarence Brown's skilled direction and a talented cast, WIFE VS. SECRETARY is an entertaining, intelligent drama. Clark Gable plays a magazine publisher married to Myrna Loy, whom he dearly loves. Jean Harlow is Gable's secretary, and, although she has a close working relationship with her boss, there is not an iota of romantic interest between them. Nonetheless, Gable's mother, May Robson, finds something suspicious about the arrangement and makes this very clear to Loy. Harlow's boy friend James Stewart tries to push her into marriage, but her career comes first. The two argue and they break up. Gable must go on a business trip to Havana, and explains to Loy that he simply cannot bring her along. The seed planted in her head by Robson grows into full-blown anger when she learns that Harlow has accompanied him. After making a successful deal, Harlow and Gable celebrate. Loy places a call to her husband when he does not telephone as promised, and, when Harlow answers, Loy is convinced the two are involved, so she decides to legally separate from Gable. She embarks on a European cruise to forget her sorrows, but she is confronted by an angry Harlow just before the ship leaves port. Harlow tells her how foolish she is being, that if she is not careful she will lose Gable forever. Loy rushes to Gable's office and falls into his forgiving arms. Harlow leaves, but discovers that Stewart is still waiting for her.

The casting in this couldn't be better. This fifth pairing of Gable and Harlow works well, in part, at least, because of the lack of sexual chemistry between them. The scene in which Harlow puts an inebriated Gable to bed, for example, played without a hint of sexual play, is marvelous because it deliberately works against the images of the two stars. Loy made some intelligent acting choices in creating her character, allowing herself a range of complex emotions. This was Stewart's fourth film, but he makes the most of his lesser role. The script is packed with witty and realistic dialog. Brown's direction is straightforward, moving the story along nicely with an intelligent, respectful feeling for the material and the cast. This clearly was designed by MGM to be a moneymaker, and it was. leave a comment

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