Plot: Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) are the kind of couple that makes people either jealous or nauseous, as they’re a natural match and have a passion that most couples couldn’t even dream of. The two decide to make things official and get engaged, which should be great news, but some of their friends don’t take the news as well as others. After all, both were popular and well liked, so the engagement takes two eligible partners off the market. After a few years of marriage Jerry and Ted remain as in love as ever, though a dark turn is just ahead. At a party to celebrate their anniversary, Jerry notices how one of the guests can’t take her eyes off Ted, so she presses her husband for the truth. As it turns out, Ted had a one night stand with the woman a little while back, which devastates Jerry. He insists that the incident meant nothing and he is happy as can be with his wife, but Jerry starts to think that perhaps she should seek out an affair to return the pain to Ted. But even if she does accept the affections of another man, how will her actions impact both her marriage and herself?
Entertainment Value: This pre-code movie shows some strains of the shift from the silent era, but I think The Divorcee is a great watch. I love how the movie lets things breathe at times, so every scene isn’t packed with dialogue or music, which seems almost impossible in the modern era. I think it happens here because filmmakers were feeling out the post-silent process, but it works and I think some beautiful, understated scenes unfold as a result. The narrative is quite interesting, as we’re able to see Jerry explore and embrace her sexual freedom, but she isn’t taken to task or vilified for it, which is a great chance of pace. The experiences take a toll on her, but not because she is a bad person or because she doesn’t enjoy the affection, instead she just seems happier in a different kind of relationship. So while some dislike how the movie ends and I can understand that, I think it makes sense from Jerry’s perspective, even if we wish things were different. I was hooked in right from the start and found The Divorcee to be a wild, fun ride.
In a role that was far removed from her previous work, Norma Shearer is excellent in The Divorcee and won a Best Actress Oscar in the process. The role was a hotly contested one and several top names were up for the part, including Joan Crawford, who had some infamous words about the role was won. In any case, I think Shearer is fantastic as Jerry and is able to bring such an infectious energy to the role, which makes her so likable, you can’t help but root for her. She is able to bring across immense charisma and presence, then hit the emotional beats, as well as the more restrained, dramatic moments. I loved her work here, just a wonderful performance. Robert Montgomery is also quite good here, turning an effort second only to Shearer, while Chester Morris is sold, but I can’t stand Ted as a character. A more than capable supporting cast is also present, but Shearer is the real star in this one. I found The Divorcee to be a terrific watch, with a great cast, some sharp dialogue, and even the visuals sparkle at times, so for fans of classic cinema, this is highly recommended.