Just Another Day at the Office for Douglas
Kirk Douglas has had a long and varied career spanning more decades than many of us have been alive, yet through out his long career it has been his roles in more dramatic movies which have been the best, the ones where often he played some form of hero. As such his casting in "My Dear Secretary" doesn't really work because this is a very run of the mill, old fashioned romantic comedy. To be fair "My Dear Secretary" not only is one of Douglas's earlier movie roles but it is no worse than many romantic comedies from the 40s and 50s but it is forgettable.
Stephanie 'Steve' Gaylord (Laraine Day - The High and the Mighty) is an aspiring writer who whilst attending a night school lecture by bestselling novelist Owen Waterbury (Kirk Douglas - Tough Guys) finds herself being offered the job of being his secretary by Owen's best friend Ronnie (Keenan Wynn - Mackenna's Gold). In awe of Owen she agrees but soon discovers that Owen is less interested in having a secretary but more in having another pretty girl to hang out with and Stephanie soon learns that he has had a few. Discovering that Owen is not after her to help with his work Stephanie decides to leave causing Owen to shed his playboy ways and propose to her. The question is can Owen really change his ways or will Stephanie have to play him at his own game?
"My Dear Secretary" wants to be a screwball comedy and as such whilst we have this storyline of egotistical author Owen Waterbury falling for and marrying his latest in a long line of secretaries much of what happens feels familiar. We get the comedy double act of Owen and Ronnie as best friends who almost double team women in to getting them to stay and we get Stephanie wising up to Owen's ways and playing him at his own game. Throw in some confusion where not only does he think she is going to marry someone else before he proposes but then thinks she is having an affair and there is little which comes as a surprise.
The trouble is that at times the storyline to "My Dear Secretary" feels like it has been pieced together from other movies. So whilst we have the comedy of Owen and Stephanie's relationship you then get comedy set pieces thrown in for Ronnie which usually revolve around his disastrous attempts at cooking. Don't get me wrong as it is fun and a scene which sees Ronnie trying to knead dough is amusing but there isn't anything brilliant about it, nothing which makes "My Dear Secretary" feel any different to countless other romantic comedies from the era.
And sadly part of the trouble is the casting of a young Kirk Douglas because whilst he delivers the smooth, smug and manipulative side of his character he ends up struggling to make the humour work. It doesn't help that he's constantly outshone by Keenan Wynn whose natural comic timing provides the majority of the movies funnier moments. And as for Laraine Day as Stephanie, well she is delightful, occasionally funny but I hate to say it, there is nothing memorable about her performance. To be honest "My Dear Secretary" at times feels like a collection of actors working in their own boxes, reciting lines and waiting for their cue, it's only when Douglas and Wynn share a scene alone does the comedy banter come alive.
What this all boils down to is that "My Dear Secretary" is a fun romantic comedy from the 1940s but it's not an overly memorable one. It almost feels like a movie put together to see if a young Kirk Douglas was destined to work in romantic comedies or whether his talents lay elsewhere.