I have to say I didn’t think much of Norma Shearer when I first saw her playing Shakespeare’s Juliet; a role she was far too old for. But upon watching her Oscar winning role in Best Picture nominee The Divorcee I completely changed my opinion. .
Shearer was one of the first ever silent film stars to crack through the sound barrier and make the crossover successfully and The Divorcee was certainly a revolutionary film. Shearer’s character Jerry get married to her fella Ted at the start of the film meanwhile another admirer of hers gets drunk and ends up crashing his car with a few passengers in it. Fast forward three years later and Jerry believes her and Ted are still happily married however she later discovers that he got drunk and cheated on her and furious she does the same. However back in the early 1930s gender politics dictated that the husband could have an affair but how dare the wife attempt such a thing! And that’s why I found this film so revolutionary. Flick forward again and Jerry and Don are both in new relationships as the years go on, Jerry again meets her admirer Paul who is now married himself but is still in love with her so they begin a relationship. Paul’s wife comes to see Jerry and begs her to stop her budding romance with Paul which Jerry agrees to and then finally there is a happy ending as Jerry and Ted are reunited.
In my opinion most of the first of the talking films seem to just be obsessed by getting sound right and most of them were jolly musical fare. However The Divorcee is very dark and very before its time in terms of the fact that Shearer portrays a woman who is able to stand up to the men and play them at their own game. The only thing I have a problem is at the end she relents and ends up with the guy that cheated on her in the first place so I’m guessing the film could only go so far to say that a woman still needed a man instead of just being by herself. Despite Shearer’s nomination the film didn’t win that year instead All Quiet on The Western Front, a male dominated film, took the honour. The film was also nominated for its direction and screenplay and I have to say that both nominations were deserved. And I was completely wrong about Shearer, I know find her a fascinating and engaging actress and The Divorcee definitely deserves a place in the history books as well.