Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Old Movie Madness: The Divorcee (1930)
I'm fairly new to Norma Shearer, she isn't an actress I've ever felt particularly drawn to and so this was an experiment for me.
The Divorcee is the story of Jerri Bernard and Ted Martin - a well to do society couple. Opening on their engagement the film starts with both celebration and tragedy as one of Jerry's spurned lovers drinks too much and causes a car accident in which one of their female friends is horribly disfigured.
Fast forward to their third anniversary and the golden couple seem as happy as ever until Ted's sour faced mistress crashes their party. Hurt and embarassed, Jerry cannot forgive Ted his indiscretion and attempts to even up the playing field with a one night dalliance while Ted is away on a business trip.
On his return she tells him that she has "settled the odds" and, in classic "one rule for the goose and another for the gander" mode, Ted flies off the handle and cannot forgive her for the very act he claimed was "meaningless" on his side. Men, eh!
They divorce and Jerri loses herself in a whirlwind of short lived affairs with unsuitable men, reaching her lowest point when she rekindles her affair with her former lover, now married to the woman he disfigured in the car crash. At her emotional rock bottom Jerri realises that she still loves Ted and and returns to him to try and rebuild their relationship.
The film is visually beautiful, if you can get over the very odd face of the male lead (Chester Morris, playing Ted) but hey - that is just personal opinion. Ms Shearer's gowns are by the incredibly talented "Adrian" and she looks stunning in them all.
As with many early talking pictures the acting style is very theatrical, and you do occasionally feel you are watching a stage play, however Shearer's deft touch relieves this somewhat. I'm not convinced by Shearer in the role however - she seems a bit of a cold fish to be out carousing with various playboys. Her husband, the producer, himself had doubts and she had to work hard to steal the role out from under Joan Crawford (and if the stories about Joan are true that is literal ;-) ). She won an award for the part though, and to give her credit she does act her socks off.
This is a pre-code flick, dealing with the later taboo subject of sex outside marriage, here, a woman exercises her sexuality without being damned for it and the film is worth watching for this alone.
The movie is available on youtube, if you don't mind watching it in parts. I say go for it! Part one is linked below.