Sunday, September 01, 2013

Tonight's Movie: My Dear Secretary (1948)

MY DEAR SECRETARY is a moderately amusing romantic comedy about a best-selling author with writer's block who marries his secretary.

The writer is Owen Waterbury (Kirk Douglas), a womanizer with a history of romancing his past secretaries; the secretary he pops the question to is Stephanie "Steve" Gaylord (Laraine Day), who is also an aspiring writer.

I'm a fan of Laraine Day, who's cute in this, but the movie does start out behind the eight ball for me with Kirk Douglas as the leading man. Despite the presence of Day and an excellent supporting cast, when my viewing of the film was interrupted I had a little trouble motivating myself to get back to it due to Douglas's leaden presence.

I've seen Douglas in a couple of films since I first admitted he does nothing for me as an actor, and I'm sorry to say I haven't seen anything from him yet to change my mind. I felt that while the other cast members were very entertaining and had good chemistry with one another, Douglas was acting in his own little bubble. I simply wasn't feeling any sparks with his castmates, and in fact at one point I mused that it would be a better story if Day fell in love with his best friend, played by Keenan Wynn! Day and Wynn have some marvelous moments, including a scene where they team up to hire Douglas a new secretary (Jody Gilbert).

It didn't help that, as is so often the case with Douglas's characters, Owen is frequently surly. The part of a debonair playboy who hasn't yet quite grown up needs to be handled by a lighter-than-air, likeable actor with charm, along the lines of a Robert Montgomery or Franchot Tone. Douglas simply comes off as an irrationally angry, irresponsible cad for much of the film, a state which continues pretty much up till the last scene. It's a shame the casting of the leading man wasn't more on target, because there's a lot of funny stuff in the film and it would have been quite good with someone top-billed who could play romantic comedy.

All that said, the movie is still worth seeing due to Day and its marvelous supporting cast, including Wynn, Helen Walker, Rudy Vallee, and Alan Mowbray, not to mention Florence Bates, Gail Robbins, and Grady Sutton. These cast members all have their moments to shine and are what drew me back to the film to wrap up watching it. Wynn is particularly good as the best friend/righthand man, although I wasn't satisfied with the end to his character's story arc. The other actors are memorable as well; with the noted exception, it's a really well-cast film.

Virginia Hewitt, an actress previously unknown to me, is amusing as a would-be actress with a Veronica Lake hairstyle.

During the nightclub scene, take a look at who's sitting at the elevated table in the "picture frame" above where Vallee and Day are sitting -- it's Bess Flowers, the best-known dress extra in movie history. She can be found sitting in nightclubs and attending parties in over 800 movies!

MY DEAR SECRETARY was written and directed by Charles Martin. It was filmed in black and white by filmed by Joseph Biroc. The running time is 94 minutes.

The film is in the public domain and available on DVD from several different companies. The DVD I saw put out by Image Entertainment had a surprisingly crisp, clear picture for a public domain film.

The movie is available for rental from ClassicFlix and Netflix. Amazon Prime members can stream the film at no additional charge.


Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Bess Flowers alert! I really think she needs her own day on TCM.

5:10 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

As a fellow member of the Bess Flowers Fan Club, I agree! :)

It's so much fun to be watching actors in a scene and then notice she's sitting right there next to them...again! She's almost the "stalker of the movies," LOL.

Best wishes,

9:20 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

That's a shame! Kirk Douglas is one of my favorite actors. I would definitely watch this film. Sounds right up my alley.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

The movie had a lot going for it, so if you're a Douglas fan I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy it, Raquel.

I keep hoping the next Douglas film I see will make me a fan -- since I once loathed Joan Crawford and now enjoy watching lots of her movies, I know never to completely give up on an actor, LOL.

Best wishes,

1:33 PM  

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