Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wife Vs. Secretary Vs. Critics

I recently watched Wife Vs. Secretary on TV.  It's a 1936 film featuring the kind of star power only MGM could provide, with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and up-and-comer Jimmy Stewart.  It was a big hit in its day--almost everything Gable and Harlow made in the 30s were hits--but time hasn't been kind.

The story is about Van Stanhope (Gable), a successful businessman and a wonderful husband.  He's in love with wife Linda (Loy) and dependent on secretary Whitey (Harlow).  Linda trusts her husband, but when events conspire to make it appear Van and Whitey are having an affair, she plans to leave him.  Meanwhile, Whitey's fiancé Dave (Stewart) isn't too thrilled either and leaves Whitey.  By the end, all are wised up, with both couples back in each others' arms.

The performances are all fine, and it's got the usual first-class (if not always exciting) MGM gloss.  The problem is we're right in the middle of the screwball era, and we've got great comic performers (Loy and Harlow starred in a classic MGM screwball earlier that year, Libeled Lady), yet the film, directed by Clarence Brown, is muted.  It's often described as a comedy, but I'd call it a drama.

They should have gone one way or another.  There are plenty of farcical complications, and it could have been wild fun.  Or they could have gone the drama route, with Gable and Harlow not only attracted to each other--they've got the real chemistry in the film, not Gable and Loy--but actually having an affair.  But whether it was the Code, or Louis B. Mayer, everyone in this film is so decent that no one does anything wrong.

A missed opportunity.


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