powered by AFI
Clark Gable and Jean Harlow team up for the fifth time for the MGM vehicle, Wife vs. Secretary (1936), which also features Myrna Loy and James Stewart in a small role as Harlow's character's boyfriend. With its all-star cast and shrewd observance of the Hayes Production Code, Wife vs. Secretary tells the story of a happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope (Gable and Loy) and a meddling mother-in-law who creates turmoil in their marriage by intimating that Mr. Stanhope is having an affair with his secretary, 'Whitey' (Jean Harlow).
In her autobiography, Being and Becoming, Myrna Loy recalls working with Jean Harlow and the rest of the cast on Wife vs. Secretary: "Jean was beautiful, but far from the raucous sexpot of her films. As a matter of fact, she began to shake that image in Wife vs. Secretary....She'd begged for a role that didn't require spouting slang and modeling lingerie. She even convinced them to darken her hair a shade, in hopes of toning down that brash image. It worked. She's really wonderful in the picture and her popularity wasn't diminished one bit. Actually we did kind of a reversal in that picture. Jean, supposedly the other woman, stayed very proper, while I had one foot in bed throughout. That's the sexiest wife I've ever played. In one scene, Clark stands outside my bedroom door and we banter, nothing more, but there's just no question about what they've done the night before. Clarence Brown, our director, made it all so subtle, yet, oh, so wonderfully suggestive. (In fact, the only vulgarity in the picture is in the breakfast scene, where I discover a diamond bracelet that Clark has hidden in the brook trout I'm about to eat. It didn't seem chic or funny to me - merely messy, typical of Hollywood's misguided notion of upper-class sophistication. I tried to get them to take it out, but they wouldn't. Needless to say, it's the scene everyone remembers, so what do I know?). Where sex is concerned, the double entendre, the ambiguity, it seems to me, is much more effective than being too explicit. This is something the moviemakers don't seem to understand today."
And speaking of sex, here's what co-star James Stewart had to say about his love scenes with the "blonde bombshell" in the biography, Everybody's Man by Jhan Robbins: "Clarence Brown, the director, wasn't too pleased by the way I did the smooching. He made us repeat the scene about half a dozen times...I botched it up on purpose. That Jean Harlow sure was a good kisser. I realized that until then I had never been really kissed."
Director: Clarence Brown
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Alice Duer Miller, John Lee Mahin (based on a story by Faith Baldwin)
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: Frank E. Hull
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, William A. Horning, Edwin B. Willis
Music: Herbert Stothart, Edward Ward
Cast: Clark Gable (Van Stanhope), Jean Harlow (Helen 'Whitey' Wilson), Myrna Loy (Linda Stanhope), May Robson (Mimi), Hobart Cavanaugh (Joe), James Stewart (Dave).
BW-88m. Closed captioning.
by Kerryn Sherrod