More Than a Secretary (1936)
Carol Baldwin (Jean Arthur) runs a secretarial agency for women more interested in finding a husband than a good paying job. When she’s mistaken for a health magazine publisher’s latest hire, she begins to understand the appeal of working for a handsome man. George Brent, not one of Hollywood’s more charismatic leading men of the 1930s, isn’t as dull as usual, a testament perhaps to his co-star. Arthur makes the most of her role, coming out from behind her horn-rimmed glasses to catch the publisher’s eye while saving his flagging magazine. Lionel Stander as the publisher’s right-hand man, leads the staff in daily calisthenics and livens up every scene he’s in. [*** out of 5]
Too Many Husbands (1940)
The very same year that Cary Grant starred in the screwball classic My Favorite Wife (about a man on the verge of declaring his long-lost wife dead so he can remarry), this sub-par doppelgänger film debuted, starring Jean Arthur as a woman who discovers she has two husbands. Vicky (Arthur) and Henry (Melvin Douglas) are happily married until Vicky’s first husband (Fred MacMurry), thought to have drowned (just a year ago–the first of many lame plot points) shows up, looking to resume his marital bliss.
Hilarity fails to ensure when the plot calls on Vicky to choose between the two former best friends. Turns out, the entire thing has a legal answer, so there’s really no reason for everything that comes before it, other than to throw these three together in a bizarre love triangle. The entire film is silly, not very funny, and ends on a strange note. There’s a reason why Wife is the enduring classic and Husbands is long forgotten. [**1/2 out of 5]
If You Could Only Cook (1935)
Sure, it’s not the perfect Depression-era comedy (the script doesn’t sparkle 110% of the time) but it has a cute premise and terrific performances across the board. Sitting on a park bench, a down and out woman (Arthur) meets who she thinks is a fellow member of the unemployed masses (Herbert Marshall). She convinces him to pose with her as husband and wife to gain employment as cook and butler to a wealthy ex-bootlegger. Unbeknown to her, Marshall is an auto magnet, bored with his job, and on the brink of marrying a woman who loves him for his millions.
Marshall is winning as the tycoon who plays along, taking a crash course in “buttling” from his own butler and falling in love with his “wife.” There’s great chemistry between Marshall and Arthur. Lionel Stander performs excellent right-hand-man duties again, this time in service of Mike Rossini (a terrific Leo Carrillo), a mobster with a discriminating palate. Arthur’s tryout for him (“You merely waft the garlic five inches over the sauce”) is a clever bit. Slow to take off, If You Could Only Cook picks up speed, careening to a somewhat rushed, but very amusing conclusion. [**** out of 5]