Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Wife vs. Secretary

Well, gosh, here's an oddity: One of those reviews where I can pinpoint right where and when I wrote it. 

I was living on Whidbey Island, which—at the time—had very little cable/internet service (I lived smack-dab in the middle of the island and "intermittent-net" only got to those residences on the North and South parts of the island closest to the mainland). I relied on a Hughes satellite dish system for the internet (and my first forays into the blogosphere), and I think the TV might have depended on rabbit-ears. But, I missed those old movies; I started a habit of renting DVD's from the library. But, here, I got to luxuriate in a cable experience.

Wife vs. Secretary (Clarence Brown, 1936) One of those forays off "The Rock" allowed me an evening of cable TV, and when I have a choice I head straight for Turner Classic Movies-easily the best channel for watching movies on the television dial. 

TCM treats the movies they show with respect--without commercial interruption, and in the proper theatrical aspect (widescreen if its a widescreen movie). They also show rare films, silent films, foreign films, things that any other channel with "movie" in its name wouldn't dare show in their efforts to cram as many commercials into each film as possible (Hello, AMC, you whore!)*

So, that night I had the chance to catch a movie I'd never heard of, called Wife vs. Secretary, which starred Clark Gable, Myrna Loy (as the "Wife") and Jean Harlow (as the "Secretary").
It was an M-G-M programmer, designed to exploit three of its biggest stars, and particularly Gable—the man is given so many loving close-ups, you actually begin to think he was being shot through gauze. Anyway, his V.S. Stanhope is a publishing tycoon, seeking to expand his properties—he's aggressive, a "man's man," and keeps terrible office-hours, seeing his loving, trusting wife only for an early breakfast and a late formal dinner party. 
His "Girl Friday" is Helen "Whitey" Wilson, a career-girl who keeps pace with Stanhope for the sheer exhilaration of seeing how fast the company can grow. That leaves her boy-friend a bit mopey, and considering he's played by a proto-
Jimmy Stewart, that's saying quite a bit. An extended business trip to Cuba that leaves the Stanhope and Wilson drunk and in the same hotel room almost sparks a romance, but both of them are just sober enough to think it's a dumb idea. But that doesn't keep the wife and boyfriend from suspecting the worse. It's interesting to see a pretty standard melodrama done with such snap—the timing of the stars crackles.
Now, I said this was a programmer,
Gable had been in three previous films with Loy and four with Harlow, so they were all old veterans, and the movie sails by with quick dialog, impossibly rich surroundings (it's M-G-M), quite a few sophisticated laughs, and a very old school lesson in morality and suspicions gone awry. But it all turns out right in the end, as long as the career-girl gives up her job and "settles down," that is. Retro-chauvinism aside, though, it's a fascinating look at a typical night at the movies from 1936, cranked out like an automobile, but with obvious care, a nice sheen, and only the best parts.
* My! Where did THAT come from? Well, a little history is in order for those of you showed up late. AMC started life—on October 1, 1984—as American Movie Classics, which had the innovative idea of running old movies commercial-free and unedited, and even (by the time I got around to it) in letter-boxed format for widescreen films (rather than using the widely available "pan-and-scan" versions that filled up a television screen but cut the amount of the movie's picture-image. When I first got addicted to AMC the host was broadcaster Nick Clooney, brother of Rosemary and father of George. But—and I did not know this at the time I wrote this—they faced severe competition when Ted Turner bought the M-G-M/Warner Brothers film library (AMC were showing quite a few of those movies, but not exclusively). By the time Turner Classic Movies started up, AMC was feeling the heat and, facing competition from TCM—as well as legal issues with TCM—the channel began taking commercials, first between films, and then interrupting their movies for them. By 2007, with the acquisition of the series "Mad Men," AmC started moving away from old movies and started pursuing original programming...where it stands today.
If you're wondering why Scorsese and Spielberg and being so vocal about TCM not changing under the aegis of Warner Brothers Discovery, it's because they've seen it happen before...with AMC.

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