Year: 1936

Director: Clarence Brown

Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and James Stewart

Wife Versus Secretary actually ends up being quite a suspenseful movie as we follow devoted husband and successful businessman Van through one of the biggest business deals of his life assisted by his secretary named Whitey. It just so happens that Whitey is not only a invaluable part of the business team but a very attractive woman and while Van is able to keep the relationship strictly professional people start to talk and those around Van, including his wife, become more and more suspicious that there might be a little more to their relationship then just business. The suspense comes in the form of a question. Will Van cross that line?

This film is a very satisfactory drama with well defined and well portrayed characters. Clark Gable’s character is a charming blend of business savy and child-like exuberance. You can’t help but root for his character who is on top of the world and has so much to lose if things were to go too far with his secretary.

Jean Harlow is able to break out of her regular typecasting and play a very successful career oriented woman with a good head on her shoulders. Yet she still ends up subtly playing the role of a temptress.

Myrna Loy plays Van’s wife who lets her mother in law’s warnings about the dangers of an attractive secretary get to her. She tragically ignores her instincts and begins to question the man she should trust and love.

Keep your eyes peeled for Jimmy Stewart in one of his early roles as a young man trying to settle down with career woman Whitey.

Wife Versus Secretary has its flaws. For one thing, aspects of it are some what predictable. However, the third act doesn’t disappoint. A key scene and perhaps one of my favorites for its symbolism takes place in a car with Van’s wife and mother discussing his secretary. Just as Van’s mother places doubt in his wife’s mind concerning the possibilities of his relationship with his secretary they drive through a dark tunnel foreshadowing the possible dark times ahead that could result from doubting her faithful husband. Wife Versus Secretary is definitely a film worth watching. This is a film that thematically comes across as modern despite being released over 70 years ago.

Year: 1932

Director: Jack Conway

Cast: Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Una Merkel, Lewis Stone, Leila Hymes, Henry Stephenson, May Robson, Charles Boyer, Harvey Clark

Red-Headed Woman is a very simple movie that follows a gold digger named Lillian as played by Jean Harlow as she shamelessly uses her sexuality to try and climb higher and higher. While the movie seemed mediocre to me I could certainly see why some would enjoy it more then I did. My sympathy for her boss and what he goes through as she does everything in her power to ruin his marriage got in the way of enjoying her antics. Some enjoyment comes from seeing such blatant sexuality portrayed in this pre-code film, but the shock value of hearing sex frankly discussed and sexuality paraded so freely in such an old film wears off quickly. It certainly doesn’t make up for the overly simple story line and the stiff acting of the films atypical leading man, played by Chester Morris. The acting highlights were Una Merkel, who plays Lillian’s roommate and best friend and Jean Harlow herself.

Red-Headed Woman is one of the quintessential films that typifies the typecasting that plagued Jean Harlow’s short career. The film also contains some well known scenes and dialogue from Harlow’s career that would have to be included on any reel featuring her most memorable moments. An example being the placement of a key down her blouse.  A key that is a married man’s only hope of getting out of the bedroom she has just locked him in, alone, with her. Another example is a famous line where Lillian asks a store clerk if the dress she is considering buying is transparent and after receiving the reply that it is, eagerly deciding to purchase it.

The film is an interesting look at the lengths a woman so inclined would go to in order to secure status and wealth. My assumption is that the film was meant to be light and fun, a sexual romp on celluloid, if you will, but I couldn’t help but get distracted by the tragedy of Jean Harlow’s character and the mayhem her promiscuous choices cause. I wonder if any women would find any sort of joy out of the portrayal of power a woman wielding her sexuality can have and the influence she can have simply by being beautiful and sexually accessible. My guess is that most women would look down on her and find her inability to be successful in a less demeaning way tragic. It is interesting to see how a woman willing to abandon all self-respect can so easily throw a monkey wrench in the lives of incredibly powerful and influential men. Perhaps I over thought this movie. Those interested in simply seeing a 1930s film that deals candidly with the subject of sex will likely get a kick out of this naughty bit of nostalgia.