Monday, December 28, 2009

Good for the gander

The Divorcee (1930) is a surprisingly honest examination of the workings and consequences of the double standard in marriage. The story is encrusted with all sorts of late-1920's frou-frou--racy parties, drinking, car accidents--like a pulp writer who had skimmed Fitzgerald and decided to make use of the "juicy stuff." Nonetheless, the story boils down to this: a couple promises to marry and live together honestly, without games, lies, deceptions. The wife, played by Norma Shearer is so modern, she hardly ever wear dresses. and even works outside the home.

Three years pass, hubby (Chester Morris) strays, she suspects, he breaks down and admits it, but tells her, "it meant nothing." He leaves town, greatly relieved. She does not feel relieved, and she returns the favor with hubby's best friend. Forgiveness doesn't come so easy now, and they are divorced. She vows that her husband is the only man to whom her bedroom door is closed! Although this is what is today called a pre-Code film, which allows for such racy goings-on, it is still a Hollywood film, and there is a fragile reunion of the characters at the end.

It's a 1930 film, so the makers were very interesting in having a lot of very smart chat. But today, the most interesting sequence, the staging of her adultery, does not use a word. To non-synchronized sound, we see a bit of hey-hey in a speakeasy, dissolve to couple sitting too close to each other in a cab; dissolve to an exterior view of a bright window with the curtains being drawn; dissolve to Shearer entering her apartment in the same gown accidentally kicking the morning paper, indicating she was out all night. Pictures still tell the story best.

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