Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Divorcee (1930)

USA 1930
82 min

From The Forbidden Hollywood Collection - volume two.

The film begins with a New York "in-gang" spending a pleasant time in a cabin in the woods. Ted and Jerry (Chester Morris and Norma Shearer) are young and in love, and soon they pronounce they are engaged. Most of their friends are thrilled by the surprise (including an unbelievably charming Robert Montgomery as Don and Florence Eldridge, one of the Thirteen Women, as Helen), except for Paul (Conrad Nagel) who in secret always have been in love with Jerry. (God, that was a long sentence. Really kafkaesque!)
When it gets time to leave the cabin, Paul has gotten so drunk that he in a shockingly horrifying scene wrecks his car, the accident causing one of the women, Dorothy (Judith Wood), to become totally disfigured. Out of pity, Paul marries her by the same time of Ted and Jerry's marriage.

Chester Morris and Norma Shearer in the leading roles.

We jump in time. Ted and Jerry Martin proves to be happily married, but on the night of their third anniversary Jerry finds out that Ted has been unfaithful to her. Ted is going away on business and has no time to explain the situation more than "it didn't mean anything at all". Feeling betrayed and disillusioned, Jerry goes out for a night on the town with her friends and eventually end up in the beautiful Don's bed.
When Ted gets home from his business trip, Jerry explains to him that she has "balanced their accounts", and Ted gets furious. After having shown up drunk and crashed the wedding party of one of their friends, Ted leaves Jerry and they seek for a divorce.

We once again take a leap in time, to the time where the divorce has been finalized. Jerry is devastated, but tries her best to feel the greatness of being single again. But no matter how many men she meet and charms, she only realizes more and more that the divorce was a mistake.

Norma Shearer with Conrad Nagel.

The Divorcee is without a doubt one of the best pre-codes I've seen (competing violently with Red-Headed Woman and Baby Face), and the Norma Shearer film I've seen that her acting is at her best.
When casting the film, the MGM producers doubted that Shearer would suit the part - until this time she had mostly played "proper" characters. Interestingly enough, producer and Shearer's husband Irving Thalberg was the one who doubted her most. To prove them wrong, Norma did a photo shoot where she posed provocatively in lingerie - and after having seen those photos, all doubts about Shearer being able to play sensual women were gone with the wind.
Shearer received the Academy Award for Best Actress for this role, as well-deserved.

Norma with the irresistible Robert Montgomery.

At the time of The Divorcee's release, the subject of divorce was a sensitive issue. When the Hays Code was finalized in 1934, this film would be unthinkable. I therefore found the introduction dialogue of the film very interesting, having four people playing cards and casually joking about their ex-husbands and ex-wives.

And now I must admit that I fell in love with Robert Montgomery today. He is just swell in this film. And even though I was quite charmed by Chester Morris in Red-Headed Woman, his character in The Divorcee is too proud not to be annoyed with. Conrad Nagel is nothing I would turn down, neither, but his character is quite flat. Montgomery's self-confident Don Juan is more my type. In conclusion: with Montgomery in the lead, The Divorcee has a lot of eye-candy for a woman!

Ever seen Robert Montgomery, Chester Morris and Conrad Nagel play The Cocoanuts?


Jerry Bernard Martin: [slipping on a diamond ring] Oh, I couldn't think of accepting such a valuable gift!
Offscreen man: But, my dear, my feeling for you is purely platonic.
Jerry Bernard Martin: Really? I've heard of platonic love, but I didn't know there was such a thing as platonic jewellery.


Kate Gabrielle said...

I'm so glad you fell in love with Robert Montgomery! One of my top three favorite actors, hands down! Not too many of his films are on DVD though (he has a lot where he's the real star, where in this one you know he's kind of second string) I hope you get to see more of his films soon!! :)

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Does Kate perhaps have any suggestions and tips on Montgomery favorites? ;)