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It sounds like some sort of cheap sex farce, but this wonderful gem from MGM
is actually a very sophisticated work. At its heart are the brilliant
performances of five shining stars. Myrna Loy, her miraculously beautiful
face subtlely registering her consumption by the green eyed monster. Clark
Gable, exhaustingly energetic and effortlessly charming. May Robson,
worldly wise and utterly compassionate. James Stewart, in an early
supporting role displays the sincere simplicity that was to become his
trademark. And Jean Harlow, luminous and intelligent - with a practical
notion of love - but playing temptation better than any actor I've ever
seen. Watch that scene where she takes off Gable's shoes. So sad that she
died only a year after this film was made.
At the helm of this under-rated film is the great Clarence Brown, one of the great stylists of the cinema, who was able to take a simple story and give it depth - watch the gossip and the prejudice of the observers that slowly manipulate Loy, Gable and Harlow into distrusting themselves. Magnificent production and costume designs and great music flesh out the film, and make it a memorable experience. And it's very sexy for its time too! If it weren't for the slightly forced happy ending this film would be perfection itself.
It goes without saying that the best Myrna Loy movies have William Powell -
but this movie has enough cast that it can virtually throw away Jimmy
Stewart and still carry you along with the strength of the character
performances. Clark "Big Ears" Gable is not my favorite star, but he plays
the role of the loving but thoughtless husband perfectly. He believably
pulls off being shrewd in business, but naive enough of his personal life to
be almost innocent while looking completely guilty.
Actually, it is the pair of leading ladies that makes this movie so great - Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow. Myrna is great in everything she does - and so is Harlow. Harlow is proof that the original is nearly always the best. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Marilyn Monroe movie is simply watching second best - Harlow was the original "blonde bombshell" - and is still the best. Her usual forte is comedy, but she nails this light dramatic role perfectly. There are times when you don't know who to cheer for - the Wife or the Secretary - and that's the movie. The whole tension rides on which of these two ladies Gable chooses - or, rather, which one the audience wants him to choose. Myrna may have been the only actress who could have given Harlow a run for her money - and Harlow may have been the only one who could challenge Myrna Loy.
Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow teamed up in another movie - "Libeled Lady" - another tour de force of casting with William Powell and Spencer Tracy along for the ride. "Lady" is a very good movie; a comedy with both drawing room and slapstick elements. This type of comedy is usually more my cup of tea, but as good as "Lady" is, "Wife vs. Secretary" is better - mainly because "Lady" doesn't let Harlow bust loose until the end of the movie.
The light touch that these two great actresses bring to "Wife vs. Secretary" offsets one of the fundamental conflicts and tragedies of life - that though we are often presented with two paths in life, we can only choose one - knowing that we will always wonder about the other....
Jean Harlow is the secretary no wife wants her husband to have in "Wife
vs. Secretary" starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Harlow, with an
early appearance by James Stewart. It's hard to believe, looking at
this film, that Jean Harlow would be dead a year later. Less blonde
than in some earlier films, and far more subdued, she plays the
indispensable, smart, and efficient secretary of Clark Gable. Gable is
a high-pressured businessman happily married to Myrna Loy. All is well
until her mother-in-law advises her to make Gable get rid of that
good-looking assistant. Slowly, Loy begins to realize that everyone in
their circle is assuming an affair, which up to that point hadn't
crossed her mind. It does now.
Harlow is involved with James Stewart, and he doesn't want her to work after they get married. Her job, he feels, is too exciting and important and will threaten their marriage. Harlow is half in love with Gable and refuses to quit. Stewart is adorable and gives a hint of what will be truly be one of the great screen personas.
The cast is splendid. Gable is his usual charming self; Loy and Harlow are perfect casting as unique women who are complete opposites. Their final scene together consists of only a long look. It's very effective, as is the acting of both women throughout. Loy's scene with her mother-in-law is heartbreaking.
This is a dated film but very satisfying. Although it's wonderful to see these stars together, it's sad to realize they're all gone now, and that young Harlow has been gone for 68 years. Quite a loss.
All of the MGM machinery is in place to make this slight little story into an enjoyable bit of entertainment. Three of the studio's biggest and most endearing stars headline the film. Gable plays a hotshot businessman who has a beautiful, affectionate wife (Loy) at home and a beautiful, dutiful secretary (Harlow) at the office. Loy has no reason to feel threatened by the curvy, good-natured Harlow until Gable's mother (Robson) plants the seeds of doubt in her mind. Once her friends chime in as well and Gable and Harlow are in the midst of a major, hush-hush deal, she begins to think that perhaps she is the odd man out. Meanwhile, (a very young) Stewart waits patiently for Harlow to give up her career and marry him. The title comes true in one, fairly-considerate, verbal sparring match near the end. Gable is extremely charming and offhanded in this film. He does as he pleases and doesn't care to answer to anyone or explain his behavior. Loy is also very witty and refreshingly forward-thinking for most of the movie. The couple shares a delightful on screen relationship in which a healthy sex life is clearly implied. Harlow (sporting hair a shade or two darker than when she's playing an outwardly sexual character) does an admirable job of portraying the dedicated, indispensable assistant who may really have some unexplored feelings for her boss. Though the plot is contrived and simplistic in the extreme, the stars do manage to put it over and hold interest. It's not a very realistic film, but who wanted that anyway during The Depression? It's a frothy, fun, occasionally dramatic piece of old Hollywood candy.
This is a perfect little film, absolutely well-rounded and exquisite.
Beautifully scripted, intelligently directed, ebulliently acted.
Clark Gable is the successful publisher, newly married to society lady Myrna Loy who, although very modern and not jealously disposed, begins to suspect that he is carrying on an affair with his bleach-blonde secretary, Jean Harlow. As Gable's mother states, laconically of her son, "You wouldn't blame a boy for stealing a piece of candy".
All fluff, right? Light as air, unsubstantial? Of course it is, it takes masters of their craft to make this plot stick, to make the movie plain unforgettable. Gable was never better, he seems to relish every second he is on screen, and there is none of the masculine stiffness about him that his worst performances have. He is a joy to watch with the always delightful Loy, their scenes together bristle and self-combust, and they are a really sweet, engaging couple. Loy has to be the most sophisticated creature ever to be filmed, she is SO cool and contemporary ("I'm the best, aren't I?", she says with just the slightest sardonic hint.) Harlow isn't given as much to work with, and she has to downplay her sassy sexiness in order not to tip the scales. But she is still almost all Harlow, and they go as far as they possibly could under the Production Code. The scene with Harlow and Gable in the Havana hotel room is all about sex, as we are left in no doubt.
So, watch it and love it. It is as perfect a piece of 30's film-making as you are likely to see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Considered ultra-modern in its day, WIFE VS. SECRETARY is the story of a misunderstanding that leads the wife of a businessman to believe he is having an affair with his secretary. Nothing else really happens in this light comedy, but there is a slight suggestion that the secretary, played by Jean Harlow, may have had something a little closer than just a work relationship with her employer, here played by Clark Gable. That this notion is reinforced once Myrna Loy's character ponders leaving Gable makes Harlow's character only a little more willing to let loose, but the story never quite takes the risk of leaping into that direction and opts for the classic happy ending. Note for a small appearance by Janes Stewart playing Harlow's boyfriend; even in such an early point in his career he seems already showing a little hint of darker performances in the future.
I treasure this film for Jean Harlow's performance, capped by a
magnificent, simple line reading: "You are a fool. For which I am
She had amazing range for an actress who died at 26. Howard Hughes presented her in "Hell's Angels" (1930) as an amoral menace to civilization. (When she slips into "something comfortable" she actually puts on clothes.) It would be charitable to call her appearance in that picture acting. Yet within a couple of years she could dominate the screen by the force of genuine talent.
Her starring career blazed briefly, but with almost no wasted roles. Here she gets to behave like a normal working class woman--not a débutante, nor a tenement dweller, nor a criminal's moll, nor a voracious mantrap, nor a comic banshee, nor an adventuress working the China Seas or Malay docksides.
Clark Gable and Myrna Loy have more customary roles. A part this quiet remains a rarity for the winsome, brilliant, and doomed Harlow.
In this wonderful comedy/drama, all three major stars go against their
stereotyped roles. Clark Gable, for example, plays devoted husband and
businessman instead of a tough guy like he usually does. Jean Harlow
plays a hard working, good natured secretary, who doesn't seem to know
just how damn sexy and gorgeous she is, and no wise cracks! Then there
is the lovely Myrna Loy, who plays an extremely sexy wife (in contrast
to her other wife roles). This could have been another formulaic,
predictable film but the stars Loy, Harlow and Gable shine in their
roles and make this a truly funny, magical film.
The conflict starts when Linda Stanhope's (a gorgeous Myrna Loy) mother in law makes a careless comment about how nice her son's (a dashing Clark Gable) Linda's Husband - secretary (played by Jean Harlow) is. From there, a usually non-jealous Linda becomes increasingly suspicious to her husbands actions. Many things seem to point to the conclusion that Van is having an affair. Hm!
It's rather tragic that this brilliant piece of comedy is not that well known, as it should be. All three stars are exquisite and really entertaining to watch and raises above the boring, run of the mill comedy/dramas. Wife Vs. Secretary is a great movie - I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In New York, the magazine publisher Van "V.S." Stanhope (Clark Gable)
and his beloved wife Linda (Myrna Loy) have been happily married for
three years and are in love with each other. Van is a dynamic executive
of the Stanhope Publications and works very close to his dedicated and
efficient secretary Helen "Whitney" Wilson (Jean Harlow), who is a
beautiful young woman engaged with Dave (James Stewart).
When Van's mother Mimi (May Robson) poisons Linda about the relationship of her son with his secretary, Linda becomes jealous of her. Whitney and Dave have an argument and she breaks with him. Meanwhile Van is secretly planning to buy a magazine owned by Underwood (George Barbier) and Whitney helps him with the strategy. When Whitney discovers that the competitor Hanson House is also disputing the magazine, she travels to Havana to help Van to close the business with Underwood. They are well- succeeded in their intent and celebrate until late night. When Linda calls Van at 2:00 PM, Whitney answers the phone call and Linda believes that Van is really having an affair with Whitney. In the end, don't look for trouble where there isn't any because if you don't find it, you'll make it.
"Wife vs. Secretary" is an adorable romantic comedy by Clarence Brown with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy in the lead roles. The intelligent screenplay is very well written, with funny situations. James Stewart in a supporting role in the beginning of his career has the final and most important line of this movie. The talented Jean Harlow passed away on the next year of cerebral edema caused by uremic poisoning, in a great loss for the cinema industry. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Ciúmes" ("Jealousy")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a neglected film -- it's not even listed in many cinema
reference books, which is surprising considering its all star cast --
which will appeal to certain of today's viewers.
Clark Gable is a wealthy, hard working magazine publisher who has just celebrated the first anniversary of his ecstatically happy marriage to Myrna Loy; Jean Harlow, his secretary and general Girl Friday, who has made herself indispensable at the office and works closely with him, is an eminently respectable young woman and engaged to lowly office worker James Stewart, but her all too obvious attractiveness leads some of Gable and Loy's high society associates, including Gable's own mother, to believe that their relationship is the stereotypical one between a powerful executive and his gorgeous young assistant. Loy at first dismisses such rumors, but an increasing web of circumstantial evidence, culminating in what seems to be a shameless lover's romp off to Havana, finally convinces her that Gable is indeed being unfaithful, and she files for divorce. Meanwhile Harlow's engagement has also gone on the rocks, due to Stewart's fear that her career associating with the rich and powerful will lead her to believe he's not good enough for her. The situation is resolved by an interesting variation on the obligatory Wife/Other-Woman confrontation scene, resulting in the inevitable happy ending for all.
As the plot summary indicates, this film is solidly within the 1930's "women's picture" genre, and though it's a superior example of the form, few viewers today are likely to find its stock situations and predictable plot very engaging. Yet it's not at all a bad film: the 1930's fashions and decor are lovely, and the acting is creditable all around, with Gable in typically vigorous form and Harlow wisely underplaying her role -- she's become such a legendary erotic icon that it's somewhat surprising to be reminded that she was actually a very good actress. The film will be worthwhile viewing for those interested in the "women's picture" genre or in 1930's style, or who are fans of the starring actors, and especially for those who, like me, could happily spend an hour watching Jean Harlow read a magazine.
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