His Private Secretary (1932)

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • None other than John Wayne is a philandering rich boy with an attitude, who gets around with plenty of young ladies. And you thought he was cocky when he was a cowboy with a gun!
  • Man, gotta dig this line, said with plenty of suggestive flair: “I thought I’d give this young lady some dictation on the way.”
This is the best series of shots in the movie. Leering John Wayne. Oh yeah.

Ride ‘Em, Desk Jockey

Last week I went into a fairly rare Pre-Code, Night World, which was actually considered lost until the 1980’s. Now I’ll take my lickings and go in the opposite direction: here’s some public domain Pre-Code, one that’s stuck around mainly because of its star and little else.

Yes, it’s round two of John Wayne before he was John Wayne. You may remember a few weeks ago I hit up The Lawless Frontier, which was a zero budget, “we used stock footage, a couple of the shots twice, and Wayne rode in on a donkey painted to look like a horse” kind of a picture.

His Private Secretary is a few steps up. It’s still very much an independent picture, and, as such, is still a few years behind with the expertise at creating a talkie– long pauses and a noticeable lack of noise all around give the film a rough air. Moreso, since the movie attempt to be a light comedy, the dead air and stilted, often unintelligible dialogue give it a an uncanny feeling of dread; not good for a light comedy.

But, hell, if the worst we can say about a comedy is that there’s maybe one laugh in the picture, all that is is enough for me to Dislike it. It’s an ugly, lame movie, that only fans of seeing Wayne at his youngest would or could put themselves through.

Oh, right, you probably want to know the plot at some point, don’t you?

Rich Man, Poor Son

“No one can succeed unless they’re on their own.”

Dick Wallace (Wayne) is the useless son of a millionaire. Dad (Reginald Barlow) finds he can’t keep him around the office less he let one of the gold digging secretaries get their claws into him, so he sends Wayne off to collect some debt from a priest in the small town of Somersville.

Here he meets the preacher’s daughter, Marion (Evalyn Knapp), who doesn’t immediately give into his charms; in movies, one or two scenes of disagreement followed by playing hard to get are near mandatory. Wayne decides to begin a full frontal charm assault, which involves buying the local garage and using a mischievous young man to put nails into Marion’s tires. The stunt works, and soon they’re happily married.

But, plot development! Dad gets angry when he hears about his son getting married, and threatens to cut him off. He refuses to even talk to the new bride, so Marion decides to be sneaky apply for the job as dad’s private secretary. In that position, she takes notes, makes a couple of mediocre wisecracks, and helps the dad see how much he loves his son. When she finally gets him to admit that she’s a pretty swell gal, she reveals that she was his daughter-in-law all along!

Minor complications ensue as an old flame of Wayne’s creates a fuss, but it still ends happily enough, with everyone pleasant, white, and filthy rich.

Knapps' got great eye usage, I'll give her that.

When people picture old black and white movies in a bad way, it’s probably something like His Private Secretary they picture. No care given to its elements, no money put into it to begin with, and not much interesting happening either above or below the surface.

“I exist,” this movie declares. Good for you movie. Let’s see you aim a little higher next time.

Jeez, this is the shortest Pre-Code Follies I’ve written in a while. I don’t even have any links, since no one reviewed this movie outside of Amazon. Uh, so, I’ll just mention a brief positive about this film: it’s only 60 minutes long. A short review for a short film.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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