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DIVORCEE, THE (director: Robert Z. Leonard; screenwriters: Nick Grinde/John Meehan/Zelda Sears/from the novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: Hugh Wynn; cast: Norma Shearer (Jerry Bernard Martin), Chester Morris (Ted’ Martin, newpaperman), Robert Montgomery (Don), Conrad Nagel (Paul), Florence Eldridge (Helen Baldwin), Robert Elliott (Bill Baldwin), Mary Doran (Janice Dickson Meredith), Tyler Brooke (Hank), Zelda Sears (Hannah, Jerry’s maid), Helene Millard (Mary), Helen Johnson (Dot), Theodore von Eltz (Ivan); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Thalberg/Robert Z. Leonard; MGM; 1930)
“Hysterical early talkie melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian Norma Shearer, married to MGM genius production head Irving Thalberg, changes her good girl all-American image to win an Oscar for Best Actress playing a vamp in this hysterical early talkie melodrama about the double standard regarding sexual mores. It comes a few years before the 1934 Production Code made sex tabu in Hollywood films, and is based on the steamy 1929 novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott. Robert Z. Leonard (“Ziegfeld Girl”/”The Bribe”/”Pride and Prejudice”) directs this morality play, but gets little humor or sex out of these upper-crusts living the good life as they travel in the same circles.

Jerry (Norma Shearer) is the successful Manhattan ad writer who marries newspaperman Ted Martin (Chester Morris), and disappoints her jealous former boyfriend Paul (Conrad Nagel) so much that he gets drunk when it’s announced and recklessly crashes his speeding car that causes his date Dot (Helen Johnson) to be disfigured. Feeling guilty, he marries her even though he only loves Jerry. Jerry’s marriage is blissful for three years until she uncovers that hubby had an affair with divorcee fast woman Janice (Mary Doran). While Ted’s in Chicago for a week Jerry decides to balance the account by having an affair with Ted’s wealthy best friend Don (Robert Montgomery). After Ted tells Jerry his affair with Janice ‘doesn’t mean a thing,’ she tells him she had an affair with someone she refuses to name and also tells him it doesn’t mean a thing. Ted’s male pride is hurt, and he gets a divorce. After being apart for awhile, Jerry meets Paul again by accident on a train. Paul wants to divorce Dot to marry her. She almost agrees, but Dot confronts her and Jerry realizes it would be a mistake to marry the wealthy Paul. She then gets a job transfer to London, and from there she searches Paris for Ted. On New Year’s Eve they meet in a nightclub, and at midnight they kiss and makeup in a formulaic happy ending.

It’s a slight story that seems more ridiculous than the average modern-day soap opera. The public was enthralled with the way Shearer could suffer in satin gowns, and that seems to be the main reason this high-strung emotional performance was considered Oscar worthy. As for me, I suffered watching her inane performance and never believed for a New York second that she was a vamp or, for that matter, was suffering.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”