Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Divorcee (Robert Z. Leonard) ***

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Cast: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomer, Florence Eldridge

Background: Based on the novel "Ex-Wife" by Ursula Parrott. Robert Z. Leonard was a long time silent film director who made his first film in 1913. Norma Shearer had also been around for a while, with her most notable role being Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.

Story: Jerry (Shearer) finds out her husband Ted (Morris) has been cheating on her, so she decides to get revenge and have her own affair.

Thoughts: A sophisticated drama that works for the most part thanks to the willingness to explore realistic issues in adult relationships and the fantastic central performance of Norma Shearer. The story also mixes in a touch of melodramatic tragedy, but in so doing lays the groundwork to examine what happens when you don't end up with the person you always wanted. The film generally works along these grounds, but runs into some problems during the third act. The script places Shearer's character in a position that she does not deserve at all. The completely one sided view of the what happened between her and her husband reflects the sexist attitudes of the day. It's really unfortunate, because the film at times feels very advanced (for 1930) in its treatment of gender roles, but then completely obliterates that with an awful ending where only one character says what needs to be said. Shearer's compelling performance still makes this a worthwhile film.

Postscript: Norma Shearer went on to win an Oscar for this role. She would end up being nominated four more times. The film was also nominated for Best picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

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