This month, fittingly our one year anniversary, I am starting a new blog feature. I am going to be featuring one of Clark’s films every month, as the “Movie of the Month”. In no particular order really. Hopefully it will showcase some movies that Clark fans have yet to see and will pique their interest.
So, for the inaugural month, I am selecting one of my very favorites: Wife vs. Secretary, from 1936.
This film is pretty much everything you would want from a fluffy 1930’s comedy/drama. The cast is stellar: Clark, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, May Robson and a young Jimmy Stewart in a supporting role. 1936 begins what I personally believe to be the “golden years” of Clark’s life and career, ending of course, in 1941, after Carole died in early 1942. This is the time when Clark was at his happiest in his personal life—separated from Ria and romping around with Carole—and professionally, churning out hit after hit playing the same rogue characters that his fans yearned for more and more of.
Clark is the dashing editor-in-chief of a magazine in this one. Myrna is his delightful wife, who seems to spend her days lounging around their spacious two-story New York apartment in glamorous gowns, throwing lavish parties, assisted by a full-time cook, maid, driver and butler. Ah, to be a rich 1930’s housewife! Jean is Clark’s loyal secretary, who says how high when he says jump. Jimmy is Jean’s neglected fiancé, who is constantly snubbed by Jean’s work commitments and is growing quite tired of it. Despite the fact that Clark showers her with affection, Myrna begins to grow suspicious of Jean and Clark’s relationship after his mother (Robson) puts a bug in her ear about “attractive secretaries”. As is typical in these types of movies, Myrna requires no real proof to kick Clark to the curb! Sure, the plot is a bit predictable but the lavish Art Deco sets, beautiful clothes and perfect cast make this one a real treat. Some favorite scenes of mine are Clark dashing home from his poker game once Myrna has forgiven him, Clark arriving home, rushing up the stairs and sweeping a waiting Myrna into his arms, and Clark and Jean having a hard time staying upright while playing “whip” on the ice skating rink.
Myrna and Jean both had excellent chemistry with Clark no matter what the film, so to have them both in the same one is a double treat. Myrna later recalled that the set was a lot of fun and how sweet Jean was. Her and Jean spent a lot of time together around then, as Jean was dating Myrna’s Thin Man costar, William Powell, and had been around the set of After the Thin Man. And while Jimmy and Clark don’t share the screen for long, it’s still a delight to have the two legends in one picture. Later in his life, on a talk show, Jimmy recalled that he kept messing up his lines on purpose during a romantic scene with Jean so that he could keep kissing her! Who could blame him!
This film also marks a switch in Jean’s career. She had begun to break away from the saucy platinum blonde parts into more “respectable lady” parts. Her hair is a honey blonde and her wardrobe is quite modest. She shows some dramatic chops too, especially in a scene towards the end where she tells Myrna what a fool she is for leaving Clark. Unfortunately for us all, she didn’t have a lot of time left to broaden her career, as she died at age 26 the following year.
Wife vs. Secretary is available on DVD in The Clark Gable Signature Collection.