Things I Love About The Divorcee (1930)

I could watch The Divorcee over and over again (and I do)!

Starring three of my favorite pre-Code performers – Norma Shearer, Chester Morris and Robert Montgomery – this film has it all. Great story, acting, set design, costumes, dialogue – I just love it. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. The way the film quickly and efficiently, with just a few glances and words, establishes the heart’s desires of the main characters – Dorothy (Helen Johnson, later known as Judith Woods) is in love with Paul (Conrad Nagel), who only has eyes for Jerry (Norma Shearer), who has just consented to marry Ted (Chester Morris). It’s a great, economical set-up in only a couple of minutes.
  2. Norma Shearer’s wardrobe. Her gorgeous gowns were by famed designer Adrian, including a form-fitting black dress and matching head wrap, and a memorable bronze number with a plunging neckline. But my favorite outfit was a simple jumpsuit with batwing sleeves and flared legs that she wore early in the film. I would cheerfully pay somebody to recreate it for me.

    Chester Morris, Mary Doran, Norma Shearer, and that pantsuit!

  3. The car crash scene – or, more specifically, the performance of Helene Millard, as Dorothy’s sister, Mary (who was seen with Shearer and Robert Montgomery the previous year playing Shearer’s stepmother in Their Own Desire). First off, Millard has the best scream this side of Fay Wray. And she’s so veddy, veddy dramatic – one  minute feebly insisting that she’s unhurt, the next literally fighting to see her sister, certain that she’s dead.  Then, after begging to see Dorothy’s mangled face, repeatedly exclaiming her hope that her sister does die, because she was “so pretty.” And finally, going completely bonkers on Paul: “Oh, you! YOU! You dirty, rotten beast! I told you not to drive! I’ll tell you, if you killed my sister, you’ll pay for this! Got drunk just because Jerry turned you down. You quitter! You rotten, rotten quitter! Do you hear me, I’ll make you pay for this! If you wrecked my sister’s life, I’ll make you pay for this! I’ll make you pay for this!” Whew.
  4. The contrast between Ted’s efforts to convince Jerry of the inconsequential nature of his fling and his over-the-top response when he learns of hers. After admitting his infidelity, he contends ad nauseum that it “doesn’t mean a thing,” and even urges his wife to “snap out of it.” But when Jerry reveals that she has turned the tables on him and “balanced our accounts” – oh, brother! Paul first laments that “it can’t be true. Why, I always thought that you were the most decent thing in the world.” Later, he gets drunk and acts a complete fool at a wedding reception (“I’ll go through this crowd like a high wind!”), and then back home, he packs his clothes to leave, telling her, “You’ll get along all right. You’ve made a pretty good beginning.” Jackass.

    It didn’t mean a thing – until Jerry balanced the accounts.

  5. The way we learn that Jerry has a one-night stand with Don (Robert Montgomery). After three brief scenes, containing no dialogue, lasting a total of about 45 seconds, we know exactly what has happened. The first shows Jerry and Don at a table in a nightclub. Don covers Jerry’s hand with his, she flashes him a slightly mournful smile, and he leans in close. Next, Jerry is seen reclining in Don’s arms in the back seat of a vehicle. And, finally, we see, from the outside, the windows of a dimly lit room as the drapes are closed. That’s it. That’s enough.
  6. The comic relief supplied by Zelda Sears, who played Jerry’s maid, Hannah, and who also wrote the treatment for the film. She has a small role – just pops in now and again to utter a few one-liners and then she’s on her way. My favorite is the scene where she tells Jerry that she’d like to leave early because she has a date with the butcher. When Jerry slyly asks if his intentions are honorable, Hannah sighs heavily and rejoins, “I’m afraid they are. He just wants to keep a good customer.”
  7. Watching Norma Shearer prepare the morning coffee. I actually replaced my Mr. Coffee with a percolator because of this scene.

    Nobody makes coffee like Norma Shearer. Nobody.

  8. Finally, this monologue, from Norma: “And I thought your heart was breaking like mine. But instead you tell me your man’s pride can’t stand the gaffe. . . . 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. . . . Loose women great, but not in the home, eh, Ted? The looser they are, they more they get. The best in the world, no responsibilities. Well, my dear, I’m going to find out how they do it. So look for me in the future where the primroses grow. And pack your man’s pride with the rest. And from now on, you’re the only man in the world that my door is closed to!”

I could go on, but I’ll stop here — I don’t want to do my usual and give away the whole movie! Just this: if you haven’t seen The Divorcee, see The Divorcee. (You can find it in the TCM DVD collection, Forbidden Hollywood, Volume Two.) And if you’ve seen it already, treat yourself and watch it again!

~ by shadowsandsatin on July 16, 2011.

27 Responses to “Things I Love About The Divorcee (1930)”

  1. Excellent! I love The Divorcee. To me, Shearer is damn near perfect. Elegant, well spoken, and absolutely stunning.

    Fantastic post!

  2. I recently watched MARIE ANTOINETTE and fell in love with Norma and Adrian. I’m fascinated with his wardrobe design and bought a great book “Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label” which is heartly recommended.

  3. […] was a toughie, since I love so many of them, but I absolutely adore The Divorcee.  (Click here to read why I’m wild about this film!)   I love this […]

  4. I really loved this movie too, and I still feel goosebumps when I hear or read her speech there that you quoted in #8. Reading about it and watching the bonus features in that Forbidden Hollywood set really made me fall for Pre-Code hard. So, totally agreed on all of this!

    • Thanks for your comment, Danny (which I’m only two months late in seeing, LOL). Any time I don’t know what to watch, I watch The Divorcee — I just can’t see it enough!

  5. […] herself in the title role after her husband steps out on her – and she steps right back. Click here for some of the reasons why I love this movie […]

  6. Oh man, thank you for that picture of the coffee scene! I’ve been trying to find a good picture of that beautiful art deco necklace Shearer is wearing for a long time. I’m taking a class in jewelry metal smithing, and I want to try to make something like it.

    BTW my favorite part of the movie is when Shearer tells her husband that, why, he’s just like a little boy who’s gotten away with only a little smack on the hand! Then he smiles and says yes, that’s exactly how he feels–completely oblivious to what an asshat he sounds like. Honestly, as much as I like this film, I can’t watch the last 15 minutes because . . . well, you know how it ends, I won’t spoil it.

  7. Good God I love this movie. I dressed up as Norma Shearer in The Divorcee for a film themed costume party. No one knew who I was but who cares. I was fabulous! 🙂

    Great post. I want a percolator too now!

  8. I love this movie and I love that you were struck by the percolator, too.

  9. […] Karen at Shadows and Satin has a long list of everything she loves about the movie (one of which being that quote at the top of the review which I stole from her site). Besides things like seeing Norma Shearer percolate coffee, she makes this observation: […]

  10. I watch the Divorcee last night and I fell asleep! The movie is boring and outdated and Norma Schearer is truly not a great actress! The only reason why she won the Oscar was the fact that she was sleeping with the boss(Irving Thalberg- head of MGM)! Thank God, she never won another Oscar and I can count over 10 actresses over the 1930’s who had more talent than Mrs. Thalberg-!

  11. Thank you for reminding me how truly scary the car crash scene was. You’re right; Helene Millard’s blood-curdling scream, the first time you’re watching the movie, makes you fear they’re going to show us exactly how Dorothy was left looking. They don’t of course, leaving it to your imagination which is calculating the lack of seat belts, the open condition of the car and the speed, which fosters plenty of horror. “I hope [my own sister] dies” only makes it worse. The hostile wedding scene follows and at least Mary isn’t brandishing her shotgun. We never do see Dorothy’s face either.

    Strangely, it is a corner of the movie that doesn’t ask anything strenuous of Shearer, and yet undeniably bolsters one of her best showcases.

    • I agree with your assessment of the car crash, Dave — and another thing that makes it so scary is that it was something that so clearly didn’t have to happen. If Dorothy wasn’t so recklessly head-over-heels in love with Paul, and exercised a little common sense, how differently her life would have turned out.

  12. For me, I became a huge fan of Helen Johnson (Judith Woods). Her sultry I got the look performance is perfectly portrayed.

  13. Love it! Thanks!

  14. I was particularly impressed by the car crash scene, I totally agree with you. It was like being there and watching real people involved. The whole movie is wonderful, it’s Class with a capital “C”.

    • I totally agree with you about the crash scene, Maria — from the time they climbed into the car, it was so tense and realistic. It’s a really great movie, all around!

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