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Wife vs. Secretary

Ring a Ding Ding

Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

     Based on the title, I was expecting a very different movie starring Clark Gable, a man whose characters are not particularly known for fidelity. I also expected a different battle in Wife vs. Secretary between such disparate actresses as Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow.

     I am sure you can guess who plays wife to Gable’s Van Stanhope: Myrna Loy as Linda. Van is a bigshot magazine executive who is super devoted and in love with his wife but has an awfully handy and attractive secretary in “Whitey” (Harlow). The latter relationship appears to be plutonic, although Whitey is certainly more devoted to her boss than her weasly boyfriend, played by Jimmy Stewart

     Linda does not think anything of her husband’s working relationship until she is warned by Van’s mother (May Robson) and a business visit by the secretary during a party sparks whispers among the guests. Now everything her husband does seems suspicious, especially a convention trip to Havana at which Whitey arrives the next day and answers Van’s phone at 2 a.m. 

     As toward as this might seem, everything between Van and Whitey is on the level. He had summoned her south to help write up a contract for a last-minute deal to buy a competing magazine. The two stayed up all one night finalizing the papers and partied the next after the sale. Both worse for the wear, we see a moment when the dull-faced boss and subordinate sit on the bed and potentially contemplate something more, but Whitey declares their drunkenness is reason enough for her to leave. Before she can exit, however, the phone rings. Being a secretary, White answers it and all parties soon know what Linda must think.

     Linda pursues a divorce and Whitey tells the woman she has every intention of landing Van once it is finalized. Her motives are not terribly sinister, however, as she essentially encourages a reconciliation.

     Gable was fantastic in Wife vs. Secretary. He displays such passion with Loy, scooping her into his arms and smootching her to death on numerous occasions. That was something I was not expecting from this movie, as the title seemed to suggest a cold wife and a more appealing secretary who perhaps truly battle for the man. Gable’s relationship with Harlow can be described as nothing but cute. He treats her with the respect of a man but does not deny her femininity.

     Harlow is also quite different in this picture compared to the others she made with Gable. Her hair is a duller blonde, which serves to tame her sex appeal/vixen tendencies. She plays the role as a totally fun-loving gal, leaving us no reason to hate her. Loy also is charming and only becomes unsavory after she leaves Van on incorrect presumptions.  Wife vs. Secretary was loads of fun, full of humor and good intentions.

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Lady by Choice

Gasser

Lady by Choice (1934)

     I find it hard to think of Carole Lombard as anything but sweet. She was gorgeous and at times sexy, but never convincingly conveyed the scandalously provocative women she is meant to embody in Lady by Choice. Even the poster for this movie makes Lombard look more like Jean Harlow than herself.

     Lombard is fan dancer Alabam Lee who at the film’s start is tickled pink by the sass an old woman gives Judge Daly (Walter Connolly) when asked about her drunk and disorderly charges. Alabam is in the courtroom waiting for her own sentence for the illegal dancing she does. Not long after, looking to boost her image, Alabam’s manager arranges for the woman to adopt a mother on mother’s day. When visiting a rest home, who should Alabam find, but that old woman, Patsy (May Robson). Once permanently settled in this young woman’s life, Patsy starts to look out for Alabam’s interests and that includes not only lying about some large gambling profits she will share (calling it an inheritance) but she reveals that the dancer’s manager  Front O’Malley (Raymond Walburn) has been cheating her out of the appropriate share of her dancer salary. Booting him to the curb, Patsy takes over as Alabam’s manager and tries to turn her into a legitimate singer/dancer.

     Along the way, Alabam gets friendly with Johnny Mills (Roger Pryor), who has always looked out for Patsy because his deceased father was in love with her. Finding she is about to be broke, Alabam thinks marrying this wealthy man might be a good plan, but her emotions get the best of her and money no longer sounds like the future she wants.

     It is hard to know to whom the title Lady by Choice refers. Both Patsy and Alabam are tramps of a sort at the film’s start and are transformed either by money or by affection. May Robson is almost unbelievable in her part only because she makes such a stark transition from a down-and-out drunkard looking out for her own best interests to a motherly figure who wants only to protect Alabam. Watching her, I always have the sneaking suspicion she has some ulterior motive or will abscond with Alabam’s jewelry or other valuable possession. The romance played by Lombard and Pryor is much easier to swallow. The sweet Lombard we all know comes shining through as she makes her beau promise to be penniless if they are to marry. Pryor also makes a nice romantic object for the Alabam character because he is not the most attractive man in Hollywood, which makes more genuine his girlfriend’s feelings.

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