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Sunday, April 1, 2012

MY DEAR SECRETARY (1949)

Indie producer Harry Popkin turned out some impressive low-budget dramas (D.O.A./’50; AND THEN THERE WERE NONE/’45), but he hasn’t a clue on this romantic screwball comedy. It’s painfully unfunny, a boulevard farce from (rightfully) unsung scripter/megger Charles Martin about best-selling author Kirk Douglas & best-bud Keenan Wynn auditioning a series of secretaries for sport. But when Laraine Day takes the position, romance gets the upper hand. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the set-up, they even use the built-in sexism to highlight a pre-feminist plot turn when Day turns out the better manuscript. If only the execution wasn’t so gruesomely labored. Helen Walker maintains some dignity as Kirk’s Ex, but everyone else overplays madly, trying to squeeze laughs between the moldering dialogue & mismatched close-ups. Day looks positively rattled and the more than decent supporting cast (Rudy Vallee, Alan Mowbray, Irene Ryan!, Florence Bates, Grady Sutton) can barely generate a chuckle. (Special mention to the art director, Rudi Feld, who designed the ugliest nightclub in romantic-comedy history.) NOTE: Lots of subfusc Public Domain DVDs on this one. If you must, try IMAGE/Corinth which looks fine if you tamp down the brightness level.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The classic Battle-of-the-Sexes comedy from the period is George Cukor’s ADAM’S RIB with Tracy & Hepburn sparking off the Gordon/Kanin script.

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