Monday, February 2, 2009
Directed by: Robert Z. Leonard
Starring: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, and Conrad Nagel
Plot: A husband's infidelity shatters a promising marriage, but the ex-wife learns that being single again isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Thoughts: The Divorcee's subject matter really surprised me. The topics of divorce and infidelity weren't the sorts of things I would have imagined would be generally talked about in the "more civilized age" (as my grandmother puts it). The subject is handled reasonably well, and is certainly the first talking film to deal with the matter. These two items, combined with a bit of artful direction are probably what attracted the Academy's attention.
The film is based on Ursula Parrot's novel, The Ex-Wife, which was considered both scandalous and sensational at the time. It remained a bestseller for a good, long while and, like any bestseller (especially then), was optioned to be a film. In typical Hollywood fashion, the finished product barely resembles its source material. However, the changes work and make the film a bit more accessible, especially in more conservative parts of the country.
You might remember Chester Morris from The Big House. Well, he was one of the few male actors left over from MGM's silent era who could carry a film. Also appearing in this film was Morris' semi-nemesis from The Big House, Robert Montgomery. Norma Shearer was the wife of MGM studio head Irving Thalberg and petitioned to get the part as she was fearful of being typecast as a goody two-shoes. Thalberg reluctantly agreed and good thing too, because this role catapulted Shearer's career until the Hayes Codes put big restrictions on women's role for close to 30 years.
Norma Shearer took home a deserved Best Actress award that night. The Divorcee was also nominated for Best Director and Best Writing, Achievement, for John Meehan's adaptation of Parrot's novel.