Silverscreen standards: The gay divorcee (1934)
I knew I wanted to write about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for this month’s column, but with ten films to choose from, the hard part was deciding which one to watch the most. cylinder (1935) and Rocking time (1936) are the most obvious choices, but I chose instead The gay divorcee (1934), the couple’s second picture after their debut team in Flight to Rio (1933). I want to say that I thought very carefully why I went with you The gay divorceelike its importance as the film that got Astaire and Rogers into a real partnership, or its award as the first film to win an Oscar for Best Original Song for “The Continental,” but I picked it simply because Erik Rhodes’ Scene-consuming performance because Tonetti always makes me laugh. There’s a plethora of wacky supporting character actions in The gay divorcee, and it’s just a gloriously silly picture from start to finish.
The plot is from Homosexual divorce, the 1932 Cole Porter Broadway hit that also featured Astaire. Astaire plays the American dancer Guy Holden, who falls in love with his American Mimi (Rogers) at first sight when he discovers her in a London train station. Mimi rejects his advances, however, mainly because she is already in a bind thanks to her marriage to an absent geologist who only shows up when he wants her money. Mimi asks her witty aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) to help her with the divorce. Hortense acquires legal advice from her former friend Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton), who is also Guy’s roommate and buddy. Misunderstandings then lead Mimi to think that Guy is the professional co-defendant Egbert hired to bring about the divorce, much to the frustration of the actual co-defendant, the surprisingly domestic Tonetti (Erik Rhodes).
The characters of Fred and Ginger in their films tend to be variations on a theme; his persecutions and refusals keep the action around the big musical numbers going, but also raise some questions about men who don’t take no for an answer. Guy is a particularly persistent stalker who drives around London in search of Mimi after she refuses to give him her name and number; There’s even a car chase that ends with him locking up their vehicle and forcing them to interact with it. Instead of having to sing the “Sprayed Mace Blues”, Guy catches Mimi’s attention, but her romantic problems are far from over. The fragile dialogue between the two contrasts with the impotent romance of their dances, in which they float across the floor together while Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” makes the score swell. Ginger wears some particularly nice clothes designed by Walter Plunkett during the dance sequences, and all of these elements are in The gay divorcee provide a formula for the many following Fred and Ginger pictures. They are indistinguishable, but they don’t tend to stray too far from a format that has consistently brought success to the stars and their films.
Of course, Fred and Ginger aren’t the only actors in their films, and for me, it’s the supporting actors that really make this film memorable. Erik Rhodes goes over the top as Tonetti, an extravagant Italian who romanticizes would-be divorced people, but who has very strict rules of conduct. His motto is: “Your wife is safe with Tonetti. He prefers spaghetti! ”The ubiquitous Edward Everett Horton acts as Astaire’s sidekick and has his own strange, reluctant romance with Alice Brady that brings both Horton and Brady some really funny moments. You will think of them when you hear someone say “peanuts”. Brady’s Aunt Hortense is only a few corpses less than the Brewster sisters for happy madness, but she’s a perfect match for Tonetti, Egbert, and Eric Blore’s equally crazy waiter. The icing on this character cake is Betty Grable as the special dancer for the “Let’s Knock Knees” number, years away from real star fame, but wonderfully energetic and enchanting. These characters exist in a world where huge, elaborate dance sequences with dozens of outrageously costumed actors appear through magic, so we’re not surprised if the residents of such a foamy wonderland are a little crazy. Guy and Mimi, by contrast, appear only sane; You are, after all, a man who falls in love with a woman he has just met and a woman who was impulsive enough to marry a man she barely knew.
As iconic as Astaire and Rogers are, it’s useful to see and appreciate them separately. Astaire has done musicals with a few other partners, but I especially like him with Judy Garland in Easter parade (1948) and with Cyd Charisse in The belt truck (1953). Some of my favorite solo trips by Ginger Rogers are Bachelor mother (1939), Kitty Foyle (1940) and the really perverted comedy Billy Wilder, The major and the minor (1942). The dramatic turnaround Kitty Foyle is a major departure from musical comedies and earned her the Oscar for Best Actress. For a double bill from Fred and Ginger, I would follow suit The gay divorcee With cylinder (1935), which she also reunites with director Mark Sandrich and co-stars Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore. Unfortunately, Alice Brady died of cancer in 1939 at the age of 46, but she made other memorable appearances in My husband Godfrey (1936) and In old Chicago (1938). Both roles earned her Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, but she won for the latter film.
– Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub
Jennifer Garlen writes our monthly column on Silver Screen Standards. You can read all of the articles on Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards here.
Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic films on her blog Virtual Virago and presents classic film programs for lifelong learning groups and retirement communities. She is the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 film classics worth seeing and its continuation, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 film classics worth seeing, and she is also the co-editor of two books on the work of Jim Henson.