Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wife vs. Secretary or Harlow vs. Loy

What a pleasure it was to see Wife vs. Secretary (1936) on my DVR.  Once again, THANK YOU to Turner Classic Movies for a great March full of Jean Harlow (1911 - 1937) movies, during Jean's 100th birthday month.

I must admit, up until this month, I had only seen her in the two Laurel and Hardy films she made in 1929, Double Whoopee and Bacon Grabbers.  She was also in City Lights (1931) the Chaplin classic, but was only an extra so I didn't notice her.

We started out by watching Bombshell (1933), an early starring feature with a very platinum blonde Harlow.  I believe it was typical of some early talkies to have too much dialog in a movie populated by a cast of former stage actors who project all the way to the back row of the theater.  Someone needed to tell them that the microphone was closer.  As a result, the movie is difficult to watch.  The talking is too fast, and combined with the colloquial way of speaking in the thirties, I couldn't easily follow the story.  To really understand this movie would take three viewings.

Then we watched Reckless (1935).  I figured two more years of sound experience, plus William Powell (1892 - 1984) would make this a better experience.  Harlow and Powell were lovers and I hoped there would be on screen chemistry.  It was another disappointment.  The script was beneath them both, and it became boring, but Harlow was beautiful and quite accomplished for only 24 years old.

We struck cinematic gold with Wife vs. Secretary.  The pairing of good friends Myrna Loy (1905 - 1993) and Jean Harlow (now with toned down, more natural blonde color), was perfect.  Clark Gable (1901 - 1960) got top billing because he was the King of the Movies, but his part could have been played by any leading man of the time.  All eyes were on Harlow and Loy.

In a Bit Part, we have James Stewart (1908 - 1997) as Harlow's boyfriend.  This was only Stewart's fifth film, but you could see his bright future in every scene he had.

I can't say enough about this film.  The story took you through all the emotions of the head of a publishing empire and his desire to succeed, his secretary who knows her help is needed by him, and his wife who only wants to give her love as he gives his to her.  Plus, the frustration of Harlow's boyfriend who thinks he may be losing her.  The fact is, everybody loves everybody else, but is Harlow just too much of a temptation for Gable?

There is no sex, because this was after the Hays Code.  Loy and Gable even have separate bedrooms.  But listen closely and you can hear the innuendos.  These were all sexy stars and they could deliver the message in body language plus a few words.

I was going to commit Wife vs. Secretary to VHS tape, but I think I'll order the DVD set instead.  (I really need to get that home theater PC I've been thinking about!)  Harlow was a star for a very short time.  I wonder what her future would have brought.  Would it have been filled with success in a long life like Bette Davis, or end in tragedy like Marilyn Monroe?  Kidney disease took Jean Harlow at just age 26, so we'll never know.


  1. The DVD set also features "Libeled Lady," which features a superlative performance from Harlow (as well as Powell, Loy and Spencer Tracy, not to mention the always-engaging Walter Connolly). One of the best newspaper comedies ever made, up there with "His Girl Friday" and "Nothing Sacred."

  2. I chose that set to advertise because it looks so interesting! I will order it shortly. I wish my condo was bigger! More room for DVD shelves.

    Thanks, Carole!

  3. I really like "Wife vs. Secretary"." Of course, 9 times out of 10, you can't go wrong with Myrna Loy. This is one of those times. I really liked Clark and Myrna as the couple, and Harlow was great as the smitten secretary with a conscience...everyone and everything just clicked.

  4. You are so right about Myrna Loy, Eve. I enjoy her in everything. I was blown away by the depth of every character in this film. Much more complex than you would expect for 1936. And the cast was up to the task of portraying it all.

    This movie also afforded me the opportunity to list James Stewart as a bit actor! My choice of blog topics is simply endless.

  5. I really liked Harlow in "Dinner at Eight", "The Public Enemy" and "Reckless" but I agree that seeing Harlow and Loy together is an hour of great fun!
    I really can't think of one Harlow film I don't care for because she just had this energy and appeal on screen thats it's hard to dislike her in anything. Then theres the fact that she had the good luck of starring with such great actors like Gable, Grant, Tracy, Powell, Cagney and Morris to name just a few.

  6. Absolutely, Page. And thanks for the comment. I admit that I am less than familiar with most of her work...a fact that I will remedy.

    Harlow was a very bright star for a few short years. It may be said that in her later career (which were her better movies) she was only eclipsed by Shirley Temple.


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