THE Divorcée was created in the first wave of "all talking pictures," an era in which directors, writers, and actors often struggled to find styles appropriate to the new technology. At the time, it was hailed as a masterpiece of realism; today, however, it is a film more often discussed than actually seen, for there is no escaping the fact that the film is stylistically dated. Even so, it remains a landmark of its era--and given its historical importance it should be seen by any one with a serious interest in the history of American cinema.
The film is "pre-code," which is to say that it was made during a handful of years in the early 1930s when Hollywood's self-censorship was more the subject of jokes than of reality, and THE Divorcée was among the first Hollywood talkies to openly address both female sexuality and the sexual double standard. The story finds Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) happily married--but on their third anniversary Jerry discovers that Ted has been unfaithful, something that Ted dismisses with the words "it doesn't mean a thing." Angry and hurt, Jerry responds by having a one night stand of her own--and then is astonished by Ted's hypocrisy when he declares that her infidelity "isn't the same thing." The same story has been told so often that today we take it for granted, but in 1930 it was extremely controversial, and the cast plays it out with considerable intensity. Most notable is star Norma Shearer; although changing styles have left her sadly neglected, in her own era she was considered among the finest actresses on the screen and noted for her unusual beauty, memorable speaking voice, and tremendous star quality. In THE Divorcée she gives it everything she has, and her power is such that most viewers will find she quickly transcends the stylistically dated aspects of both the film and her own performance.
Over the years I've seen the film several times--most impressively on the big screen, where the larger than life performances seem considerably less affected--and I've enjoyed it quite a bit every time. If you are interested in exploring early 1930s Hollywood films, you could do considerably worse than to begin with THE Divorcée, which was my own introduction to that film era. If you are already interested in early 1930s film and have never seen it... this one belongs on your shelf, and no excuses.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT
48 out of 51 found this helpful