“My dear, men are like that. So honorable and wise in some things and just like naughty children in others. You wouldn't blame a little boy for stealing a piece of candy if left alone with a whole boxful, will you?”
So the title of Wife versus Secretary does not leave much imagination or surprise to the plot. I am sure you can probably guess who the wife is and who the secretary is. Today, if there is a plot like this, we are used insane sexual antics and actions that give the term “Screwball comedy” as we know it today a bad name. Usually we can count on a massive bitch fight happening between the cheated wife and the beautiful secretary. But this wife versus secretary plot was made in 1936 and only a mix of adorable, dramatic and moral things happens.
Van Stanhope (Clark Gable) is a successful magazine publisher with a beautiful and loving wife named Linda (Myrna Loy). The film opens on the couple’s third wedding anniversary (*side note: is it only me or does it seem that every film that has an anniversary celebration the anniversary is always for the third year?*) and they cannot be any happier than the first day they were married.
At work Van has a very helpful and very sweet secretary nicknamed Whitey (Jean Harlow). The first time we are introduced to Whitey we see her from behind as she us hanging up a caricature drawing (way to go MGM) of Van or “VS” as she and everyone else calls their boss. She is happy to see her boss since he had been on vacation for a few days. Right away we can see that the boss and the secretary are just really good friends neither one of them has any real feelings for the other except for being good friends. Van has been working with Whitey for a few years and Linda trusts that nothing is going on between the two she knows that Van really loves her. But suspicion begins to come into Linda’s mind when she and Van’s mother come to visit him and they see him and Whitey in a phone booth together. The only reason they are in the phone booth together is because Van wanted to call a competitor of his but he did not want the operator to say where the call was coming from. Linda becomes suspicious only because her mother-in-law had said that Van needs Whitey downtown at the office just as much and he needs her (Linda) uptown.
A few days later Van takes Whitey on a secret business call. He wants to buy out a competitor’s magazine but he does not want anyone, including Linda, to know about the deal. This secret forces Van to lie to Linda about where he has been and doing and making her more suspicious of him. He calls on Whitey for business that has come up while he and Linda are hosting a party. Whitely leaves her house and her faithful and loving boyfriend Dave (James Stewart) who is starting to get upset with the way her boss take advantage of her. At the party Linda is nothing but sweet to Whitey as always and is even happy to see her. The guests begin to talk about the secretary and the boss after he takes her upstairs for business (and you can bet it is because remember this was 1936) and he even dances with her.
The happiness begins to fade for Linda as suspicion creeps through her mind ever so faster. Everything comes to head after Van had promised to take her on a trip but he goes without her. Rumors she has been hearing are beginning to seem like reality.
Now I cannot tell you the rest you will have to see for yourself but I am sure you can guess if you have a good imagination… or you have seen countless of classic love stories.
Ok I need to gush over how unbelievably freaking adorable Myrna Loy and Clark Gable were together. Yes, I am saying that Clark Gable one of the great macho actors of Hollywood was adorable! The two of them had such fantastic chemistry that just explodes in the first half of the film. There is one scene that was so sweet it makes your teeth hurt: Linda is talking to Van (about what I forget) but is not being really straight forward with her. He finishes washing his face and he starts kissing her nose and being nice as she is trying to talk. Clark Gable kissing Myrna Loy’s famous nose makes my list for one of the cutest scenes from a movie ever. So Gable and Loy are fabulous together even in the serious scenes of the film. What made their chemistry so great was that Loy always knew how to be in sync with her costars especially Gable she knew to play tough with him and kind of not take his crap. Gable was really bubbly, jumping all around like a love sick little boy. I was a little leery with Jean Harlow because I could not take her in Libeled Lady I thought she was so annoying so I can kind of prepared myself for that. I was very surprised with Harlow she was really good. It seemed like she was trying to be taken more seriously as an actress she was not playing a smoking hot blonde like her usual. Her best scene of the film was when she and Loy had a heavy scene together. That in itself was a great scene very very well played by both actresses. Whitey was a really good character and Harlow played it so well. Now I am just hoping that she is like this in her other films because I have a bunch of them downloaded. James Stewart was his normal “aw shucks”, love sick little boy he played earlier in his career. I do not normally care for Stewart so I did not really think anything of him here.
Clarence Brown directed the film. I liked the way he directed the cast. He got some great close up shots of the characters either together or individually.
The Art Deco sets throughout the film are so awesome. Art Deco is one of my favorite art styles and MGM to me always had the best Deco sets… well it did not hurt that they had Cedric Gibbons as their main set designer.
Wife versus Secretary is a very good film. The acting by Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow is excellent. You can really see that the three of them were good friends in real life and their friendship really adds a lot to the film. The story is nothing new and not that exciting but do not let that deter you from seeing it. Wife versus Secretary is definitely a classic film to see. It is neither too silly nor too dramatic it is just right.