falderal : a moving images blog
The Divorcee ; 1930  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Actors: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomery
Country: U.S.A.

I immediately fell in love with Norma Shearer the instant I saw her in The Women and was delighted to find that Shearer’s pre-code films were in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection. This film is the first Shearer film I’ve watched outside of The Women and I’m both disappointed yet somewhat satisfied with the film and Shearer’s performance.

I haven’t seen many pre-code films and the ones I’ve seen, I could see the difference between pre-code films and post-code films right away. But with The Divorcee, I couldn’t see anything scandalous about it for some time until Ted (Morris) said something like, “I want to make love to you until you scream for help.” and I thought, “Oh my!” I’m such a prude. I had my ups and downs with the film because I was watching this film with my modern day goggles on. I was happy that Jerry (Shearer) brought up the whole “it doesn’t mean a thing” to Ted about having an affair but I did wish that she blatantly pointed out the double standard of wives cheating on husbands versus husbands cheating on their wives. It angered me to see how lightly Ted saw cheating while he was outraged when he found out about what Jerry did. I saw Ted as a total prick because Jerry was willing to “humiliate” herself and “beg for forgiveness” but he couldn’t stand that Jerry wasn’t “proper”. While Jerry was willing to sacrifice her pride and do those things, Ted didn’t see anything wrong with his own actions thus there was nothing to apologize for. I have always been angry about the double standard for cheating and this film grated on my nerves to an extent because of that.

As for Norma Shearer’s performance, I thought that it was mediocre at first, but then her talent really came out when she tells Ted “Vanity, I’ll never forget that! And I thought your heart was breaking like mine, but instead you tell me your man’s pride can’t stand the gaffe. I don’t want to listen. I’m glad I discovered there’s more than one man in the world while I’m young and they want me. Believe me I’m not missing anything from now on.” I was disappointed at first because I was taken aback by Shearer’s twangy, unnaturally high voice that was completely different than her classy voice and accent in The Women. To me, she sounded like any other female actress during the early sound films but then again, people probably just talked like that back in the days. In the beginning scenes, I thought her acting wasn’t very convincing but as the film progressed, Shearer’s performance got better and better. It is as if the more emotion Shearer has to show, the better her acting is. Although her acting wasn’t all too terrible, I don’t think she deserved an Oscar for this performance.
While writing about actors, this was my first Conrad Nagel film! I could see his appeal although I didn’t find him to be anything special in this film. Although I do admit that I was impressed by how well he transitioned into talkies just like Shearer did.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this film. I think I’m just getting personally invested in it because I’m angry about the double standard. I also thought that this film was a B-movie rather than a MGM production despite the extravagant art deco sets and lovely clothes (by Adrian, of course). Editing is sometimes odd due to abruptness at times but at the same time, some parts of it are beautifully edited, such as the scenes of just a voiceover and Jerry’s hand.

Final decree: worth a watch for pre-code film fans!

IMDb Link: The Divorcee
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 DVD set), Amazon.com (VHS)

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