Monday, January 30, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Wife vs. Secretary (1936) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The great trio of Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow star in WIFE VS. SECRETARY (1936), released on Blu-ray last week by the Warner Archive.

WIFE VS. SECRETARY is an old favorite I've seen many times. It was one of relatively few films I bought on VHS, when I had small children and a limited movie budget.

Later I acquired it on DVD in the Clark Gable Signature Collection, and now it's out on Blu-ray, which I'm pleased to say looks absolutely lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the film for the first time in several years.

Gable worked with both actresses several times in the '30s, and he has excellent chemistry with each. He plays magazine publisher Van Stanhope, with Loy playing his wife Linda and Harlow as his secretary "Whitey."

Van and Linda are deliriously happy, but then Van's well-meaning mother (May Robson) imprudently plants a seed of worry in Linda's mind about Van spending time with his beautiful secretary. Van's father was a ladies' man, you see...

It's all perfectly innocent between Van and Whitey, but they do spend a lot of time together and the newly alerted Linda becomes sensitive to appearances, then downright suspicious about some awkward situations. Can this marriage be saved?

It's a plot that could be annoying, with misunderstandings and a lack of trust at the core, yet the players, who also include James Stewart as Whitey's fiance, are so good that they carry the story along effortlessly.

In addition to the actors' star power and ability, they have a pretty good script to work with, by Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, and Alice Duer Miller, based on a story by Faith Baldwin. It fleshes out what might be pat situations, keeping all three characters likeable even when they're arguing, and the screenplay gives Harlow a particularly good confrontation scene with Loy near movie's end.

They're all well directed by Clarence Brown, a sensitive craftsman with many excellent films to his name. The beautiful black and white cinematography was by Ray June. The lovely gowns were by Dolly Tree, who I think dressed Loy better than anyone else in the '30s.

The supporting cast also includes Tom Dugan, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, Marjorie Gateson, and Gloria Holden.

Disc extras consist of the trailer and the short THE PUBLIC PAYS (1936), part of MGM's "Crime Doesn't Pay" series.

WIFE VS. SECRETARY is a film I've seen at least half a dozen times over the years, and I always enjoy it. How could one not enjoy this cast?! The new Blu-ray release is a recommended acquisition sure to provide a great deal of viewing pleasure in the years ahead.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I haven't seen this film for a long time. The top three belong there, and although the wind-up doesn't work as well as the first two acts, you may feel as I did at the wrap-up, just fine.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I did a re-watch after many years of this film just recently and thought it superb. Finely crafted and acted drama for grown-ups. The three leads all showed just why they were some of the biggest stars of that era.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I always felt this was the beginning of a change in Jean Harlow’s image - more mature and measured and leading to a whole new part of her career if she had lived.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

A thought about Clarence Brown: Nearly all of his films have significant entertainment value with the possible exception of Plymouth Adventure, and that turned out to be the finish for him, even though he lived until 1987. A long time.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Really enjoyed everyone's comments on this favorite film, thank you! It really is finely crafted, as Jerry notes.

Vienna, that's a nice insight on Harlow's character. The movies really lost a special personality with her too-early passing.

Barry, that's a great comment on Clarence Brown. (Including PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE, which I periodically go back to thinking it will be better than I rmemembered, yet it never is...) He made some really beautiful films including THE HUMAN COMEDY and NATIONAL VELVET. I hadn't realized he was so long-lived! I see he was 97 when he passed.

Best wishes,

1:52 PM  

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