14 November 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Shearer becomes a Cody pendant
'His Secretary' is a comedy starring Norma Shearer ... which is a bad combination to be getting on with, as comedy was never Shearer's strong point. (In her most successful comedy, 'The Women', she plays her central role entirely straight.) But 'His Secretary' is an MGM film, and Shearer was at this point Irving Thalberg's favourite (and later his wife), so she was quids-in to get the role.
Our story begins at the firm of Colman & Sloden. Fat middle-aged John Sloden is busy in his office. Busy kissing his very pretty blonde flapper secretary Clara, that is, until Mrs Sloden arrives. Clara gets the sack very quickly, and Mrs Sloden demands that her husband engage a new secretary who is much less attractive. Well, 'much less attractive' is a good description of Norma Shearer. Here, she's cast as Ruth Lawrence, a plain Jane with bobbed hair and very demure clothes which emphasise that Miss Shearer's figure strongly resembles the Norfolk Broads, only slightly flatter. Sloden takes one look at Ruth and vows he wouldn't kiss her for $1,000. She's hired!
But Sloden's younger partner is David Colman. Ruth gets taken on a business trip to Washington, DC ... and it IS a business trip, all perfectly respectable. But while there, Ruth gets herself a makeover, then proceeds to vamp Colman. Since Colman is played by movie-star handsome Lew Cody, the ending is obvious.
There's a good performance by Estelle Clark as another secretary for the firm. Less welcome here is Karl Dane as the company's porter. Dane's part is irrelevant to the plot line; he's clearly been written in as comic relief, but he isn't funny. And this movie is meant to be a comedy, so why does it need comic relief? Dane became a star at MGM in the late silent era, only to have his career ruined when talking pictures revealed his thick Danish accent. He ended up operating a hot-dog barrow outside the front gate of the studio where he'd been a star. After a few months of flogging his weenies, Dane committed suicide. However, I don't think the problem was entirely down to Dane's accent. From what I've seen (and heard) of his career, he simply wasn't a very talented actor, and this became more obvious when talking pictures brought a more naturalistic style of acting. I'll rate 'His Secretary' 3 points out of 10