Pre-Code Cinderella tale has the plain secretary teaching the big bad wolf something about real love.
This 1932 movie has Warren William playing an efficient, workaholic banker who doesn’t want to be distracted by the female form while working (only then, mind you). So he dismisses the secretary who’s coming on to him (Mary Doran), makes a change in company policy about secretaries’ appearance, and then gets her number for when he’s feeling “improper.” In rushes a starving little church mouse, the plain Marian Marsh, who’s plugged in to the office grapevine and has that secretary position in her sights. She’s prepared for a job like this forever, so she whips out the steno pad and cuffs faster than a seasoned western gunfighter, takes notes faster than William can speak, and has a brilliant mind for business. William is thoroughly fascinated by this unusual specimen and hires her, since with her looks she poses no threat whatsoever to his No Alluring Secretaries rule.
Soon Marsh starts to fall for the boss, wishes he’d see the woman in her and, first with impatience, and later out of possessiveness and jealousy, she plays bouncer to the never ending parade of cheap overly-perfumed ladies who come calling on William (the list of his female callers that Marsh unfurls like a new roll of paper towel is hilarious). Incensed at the liberties Marsh is taking to control his social life, William commands her to go apologize to Doran with flowers (she brings turnips instead), and the meeting between those women turns into a lesson on the best use of female assets to attract a man. Marsh tries out these newly learned seduction skills, immediately has second thoughts, but however green and honest she is about the act, William falls for her completely.
I’ve never seen a movie described in as many reviews with the same word, the first one that came to my mind: “delightful!” Funny, charming and wonderful will do too. Director Roy Del Ruth and the actors give us one sparkling scene after another. William made such a fine cad, easily romancing then discarding women, mercurial and unpredictable. Here he is matched with an equal, and when his eyes open to Marsh’s true beauty, he’s like a cartoon wolf, chasing her around every piece of furniture in the hotel suite, then marveling at this woman who has her own rules and policies and demands that romance be more than just a fling. Mary Doran is fun as the naughty, predatory dame so confident in her abilities that when she instructs Marsh on feminine wiles it sounds like bragging; I doubt she ever expected this little mousy girl to ever take her up on her tips, let alone outdo her. David Manners plays William’s brother, Frederick Kerr (Frankenstein) is a fun loving Count who encourages Marsh’s transformation, and Charles Butterworth plays William’s aide and similarly professional man who appreciates an evening of “diversion” (he returns home from a night in Paris with a garter on his head).
The magic of this movie is Marian Marsh (Svengali, The Black Room), who starts out as a no-nonsense, no-fun dowdy girl obsessed with never going hungry again, and dressed in overly mature schoolmarm clothing. She may be plain but she’s captivating throughout; fiery, quick to anger and judgement, super capable at work, slowly revealing there’s a sweet and curious girl yearning for some fun and romantic attention. When she transforms it’s a fairy tale, and all the men all go gaga over this Cinderella (who hijacks a horse & carriage and goes racing through the streets). With the light and comical romance, the superb acting by Marsh and William, and a number of stunning double entendres ranging from great to silly, this movie is great fun and highly recommended.