THE DIVORCEE (1930) 

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Norma Shearer
Chester Morris
Conrad Nagel
Robert Montgomery
Florence Eldridge
Helene Millard
Robert Elliot
Judith Wood

Robert Z. Leonard



Time: 83 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romance/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Actress. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing.

Filmed before the Production Code, this film about a marriage that hits the skids due to adulterous behavior by both parties is notable mainly for the free-wheeling sexual antics of Norma Shearer's character, which would soon be outlawed onscreen. Once the Hayes Code was enacted, adultery and obvious sexual contact before and even after marriage pretty much disappeared from movies until the 1970s. If these topics were explored the consequences for the characters were usually dire indeed. Shearer suffers for love here, but it's her own jealousy and pride that bring about her downfall, not societal restrictions.

Even in the roaring twenties, Jerry (Shearer) holds the mistaken belief that men and woman are equal when it comes to sex and love. That what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Unfortunately, her supposedly loving husband doesn't see it that way. When Ted (Morris) dips his wick elsewhere it means nothing, when Jerry does it to even the score, she's a common, dirty whore. He believes there was nothing wrong with his infidelity and can't understand why she's so upset when it shows up on her doorstep looking for a replay. The fact that she gave in to her baser impulses with a friend of theirs is more than Ted can take and the marriage quickly dissolves into anger and bitterness.

Jerry returns to singlehood with abandon, enjoying the attentions of many different men, all of whom adore her vivacious energy and witty repartee. She reconnects with an old friend Paul (Nagel), who never got over losing her to Ted. Despite the fact that he's married to Helen (Eldridge), another old friend whom he disfigured in a car accident, he attempts to sway Jerry's affections his way. He only married Helen out of guilt. Don't they all deserve to be with someone who truly loves them? Jerry almost gives in to his pleas, but a last minute visit from Helen shows her that her path to true love does not lead to Paul. While she's enjoyed being a woman about town, able to do what and who she pleases, in the end, she realizes her heart has always belonged to Ted and that their lack of maturity, not the affairs, is what destroyed their marriage.

"Really? I've heard of platonic love, but I didn't know there was such a thing as platonic jewelery. "

When she discovers that Ted's also been brutally unhappy since their breakup, she does what any self-respecting, conniving woman would do – she uses her feminine wiles to get him back. Shearer's performance perfectly captures the many sides of a woman's sexuality, giving the film greater depth than this simple plot calls for. She is both loving and lustful, wanting, like most men, to have her cake and eat it too. Jerry is such a well-rounded character that when she eventually settles for love instead of sex it doesn't feel like a cop out to morality. Mostly because her decision is a choice, not something she's forced into. Though everything about this film from the direction to the production design is terribly staid and old-fashioned, its' attitudes about men and woman are more truthful and up-to-date than most of the films created in the four decades that followed. This isn't a film to rush out and see, however, if you get a chance, it's an interesting look at early American cinema with a powerful turn by one of Hollywood's first celluloid goddesses.

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