by Douglas Messserli
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Friday, June 15, 2012
Charles Martin | My Dear Secretary
spaghetti and meatballs
by Douglas Messserli
Charles Martin (writer and director) My Dear Secretary / 1948
these two carry out their timid romance, a whole cast of character actors rush
in to make this film a comic delight. Most notable among them, is a sort of
live-in butler-friend, Ronnie Hastings (Keenan Wynn). Writer and director
Martins is quite obviously unsure of how to define his relationship to Waterbury;
is he a kind of sardonice sponge, taking advantage of an old friendship or a
sort of would-be lover, cooking, ironing, and housekeeping for his bachelor
partner?* It hardly matters, for he is a failure at whatever he attempts except
for the constant campy humor he dishes up to nearly everyone he meets, particularly
the outrageous landlady, Horrible Hannah Reeve (played with perfection by
Florence Bates). Instead of paying the rent, Waterbury awards her with
The marvelous Irene Ryan plays Mary, a
singing, tattle-tailing cleaning woman with permanent nasal drip and Grady
Sutton perfectly captures his role as soap-opera writing mamma's boy, as
taxi-drivers, bookies, ex-lovers, a wannabe actress, and a detective run in and
out of the Waterbury apartment to bring further comic mayhem into this pallid romance.
None of this makes sense except as a kind of desperate attempt to keep the
implausible relationship of the two leads from view. And it almost works.
Indeed the director himself seems to be of two minds, ferrying his gifted cast
back and forth between a slightly moronic romance or a series of comic riffs.
Fortunately Wynn's character is there to point out the inevitable choice:
Los Angeles, June 11, 2012
by Douglas Messserli
This pleasant comedy has a predictable plot: playboy novelist Owen Waterbury (Kirk Douglas) is less interested in writing than in living the life of a noted writer—consuming women and money as an alcoholic does wine. As the story begins, in fact, he has just broken up with his former "secretary," and is in search of a shapely replacement. Speaking before an adult creative writing class, Waterbury meets Stephanie 'Steve' Gaylord (Laraine Day), suggesting that she apply for the job; once he perceives her assets, she is quickly hired. She determines to leave her current job working for bookstore owner Rudy Vallee in search of independent study, but quickly discovers, to her dismay, that Waterbury prefers doing almost anything but practicing his "art."
Between rejecting his advances and her attempts to reform him, Gaylord pens her own best seller, outdoing her former employer. He has no choice, since she has hooked him as well, but to marry her and reform. End of story? Fortunately not.
Mrs. Reeves: I guess I'll run along.
Ronnie Hastings: Must you go? I was just poisoning the tea.
Ronnie Hastings: Is it informal, or shall I bathe?
Or, as he later describes the role the aspiring actress, Dawn O'Malley, would play, based on Waterbury's non-existent book: "You have to be insincere and be a moron."
Better that direction than taking the pious Gaylord—who seems to be attracted to the most undesirable of men, including the maxim-spouting publisher and the empty-minded mamma's boy—and her marriage to Waterbury seriously. Fortunately, the comedy boils over the romance:
Ronnie Hastings: I made a wedding breakfast...spaghetti andmeatballs.
*The fact that Waterbury's romantic interest has a male nick-name, Steve, and a last name that suggests quite the opposite of a heterosexual relationship, Gaylord, further spices the pot.