Forbidden Hollywood: The Divorcee 1930

Before the Hayes code was put in to effect as the early ratings system in 1934. Movies around that time had rougher subject matter and showed a lot of things that were considered to be taboo. The ones from this era reminds me of the films of the seventies. Filmmakers were a bit more risky and took more chances. Yes we have a few filmmakers  like that now, but not as many as before.


The Divorcee

Cast: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel

Director: Robert Z Lenoard.

The material that was controversial back in the early 30’s would barely make a priest blush if it was told today.  The Divorcee told the story of a woman who turns the table on her husband for having an affair. I’m sure this did ruffle some feathers back then because it showed a woman on-screen having sexual thoughts about other men that were not her husband.   It was a bold statement for women everywhere but unfortunately it ends up throwing dirt right back at their face.

Spoilers Below.  You have been warned.

Jerry(Norma Shearer) is a woman who has been very flirtatious throughout her years of dating.  She has a lot of male friends, but  agrees to  only marry Ted(Chester Morris). This causes one of her friends named Paul(Conrad Nagel) to become really jealous and he begins drinking heavily. Without thinking it over they decide to let him drive and he ends up getting them into an accident.  One of their friends Dorothy(Helen Johnson) becomes disfigured and Paul feels so guilty that he ends up marrying her.  Jerry and Ted are happily married for a while until he drop the bomb and tells her about the affair he had.   He says it meant nothing and he asks her for forgiveness which she gives him. One weekend while Ted is away on business Jerry ends up hooking up with his best friend Don(Robert Montgomery).  When her husband finds out about the affair he is furious and will not forgive her. The  two end up getting a divorce which causes Ted to become an Alcoholic and Jerry to become more promiscuous then she was before.  During this time she starts up a relationship with Paul who couldn’t be any happier but when Dorothy admits  she still love him.  Jerry puts a stop to their affair right away.  At a New Years Eve Party and Jerry finds Ted and basically begs for him to come back and this is where the movie lost it for me.


I do appreciate a good happy ending just as much as the next person(especially if the price is right. ba dum bump ching).  But this ending feels forced.  It was like the writers couldn’t think of any other way to end this story(I don’t know why, there were three of them).  Certainly one of them could have written something more original then having them fall in love at a New Years Eve party.  She even uses the lame clichéd line that it’s a brand new year and that it’s a chance to begin things again, including their relationship.  It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of love(thank you Huey Lewis).  it’s just these two main characters did nothing, absolutely nothing to make me belive that they were in love again.    So when Jerry confessed her love to Ted at the end I was very confused.  All this time they have been spewing this hatred at each other and now all of a sudden  they are both going to be in love again.  I could buy maybe one of them falling back in love but not both.

Norma Shearer won and Academy Award for her performance and she is good. The scene where she confesses her affair to Ted is one of the best moments.  It does expose the hypocrisy back in those times that only men could indulge in acts of infidelity and be forgiving.  But when woman does it they are treated like a plague and thrown out.   The issue of a woman engaging in her own sexual fulfillment  wouldn’t be anything real taboo today.  Keep in mind though that back in the 30’s people were not as open about their sexual thoughts as they are now.  I’m not saying that they didn’t have the same type of feelings but it felt more oppressed.  I am curious to find out what sort of things  make us uncomfortable now become normal in the future.



About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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