More celebrity shoulder-rubbing stories from this past week at work. I poured some water for Andie MacDowell, was thanked by Jimmy Fallon, and witnessed a live performance by Coldplay. Other attendees that I spotted at these events were Julianna Margulies, Taraji P. Henson, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John McEnroe, Lorne Michaels, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Here endeth the name-dropping.
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Next up in the contenders vying for 1929/30's Best Picture prize is...
Robert Z. Leonard
Nick Grindé, Zelda Sears and John Meehan
(based on the novel "Ex-Wife" by Ursula Parrott)
Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomery, Florence Eldridge
1 win, for Best Actress (Shearer)
You would be hard pressed to find another film with such a spoiler for a title. The leading lady, Jerry (Shearer), doesn't actually become a divorcee until two-thirds of the way into the story. After marrying former lothario Ted (Morris), she is devastated to learn of his infidelity. Ted is remorseful, asserting that his fling meant nothing and that an affair need not end a marriage. His opinion is quickly reversed, however, when Jerry confesses to an affair of her own. They are summarily divorced and Jerry must now figure out what she really wants out of life.
The Divorcee is melodrama, but it is good melodrama. One might even say that it is restrained melodrama, if that's not an oxymoron. Granted, it is laboured at times. There are even a couple of instances in which dramatic pauses have been quite obviously inserted artificially by the editor. However, the result is a healthy amount of dramatic tension that, for the most part, remains subdued. Yes, the characters are emotionally volatile but there is a pleasing lack of over-the-top explosive arguments.
With a mostly straightforward storyline that grows a little more complex in the final act, The Divorcee is essentially an in-depth exploration of a relationship tainted by infidelity. The script itself is cleverly written and infused with wit. Note, for example, the way in which Jerry admits her adultery by using the phrase, "I've balanced our accounts." Then again, that wit is occasionally offset by some downright strange lines, such as the romantically intended, "I'd like to make love to you 'til you scream for help."
Motion Picture Production Code was enforced in Hollywood in the mid-1930s. However, as far as Pre-Code films go, this picture is relatively tame. In fact, director Robert Z. Leonard utilises some clever visual techniques that were in abundant use once censorship outlawed anything sexual. When Jerry commits her unfaithful deed, all the audience sees is a curtain closing over the bedroom window. Later, when Jerry is enjoying her bachelorette lifestyle, there is a montage which consists solely of close-ups of her hands being held by a series of different men. Of course, while these scenes themselves may have satisfied the Code's guidelines, the promiscuous behaviour enjoyed by the main character would certainly have been a no-no. Particularly since that behaviour goes unpunished.
Norma Shearer (pictured) won a Best Actress Oscar for her astute portrayal of a woman dealing with life's punches. Her supporting cast delivers a number of intelligent performances, but my favourite is Robert Montgomery, who is shrewdly funny as the calmly neurotic (another oxymoron?) Don.