Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Divorce of Lady X, The (1938)



Director: Tim Whelan

A near tragic star actress and leading man better known for his stage work in Shakespeare than on screen headline in this British produced romantic comedy about love and mistaken identitie. The Divorce of Lady X is a Technicolor remake of a 1933 London Film production Counsel’s Opinion, an adaptation of a stage play in itself. It is a simple, character-based production that relies heavily on the stars’ acting ability, producing moments of comedy, but better yet continues to introduce a young Laurence Olivier to British film audiences.

The Divorce of Lady X is a British romantic comedy of a lawyer who becomes interested in a woman he believes is a wife of a client he represents in divorce proceedings, and the fun she has making him believe so. Bad weather during a costume party keeps Leslie (Merle Oberon) marooned in a hotel with no vacancies as she tricks her way into the room of Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier), a rather stiff lawyer, forcing him to share his extra space for the evening. Not learning her name Logan believes her to be married, even more so when an old friend of his, Lord Mere (Ralph Richardson), comes for a divorce from his wife (played by Binnie Barnes) whose story matches Leslie’s tale of spending a night with a strange man. With Logan believing Leslie is Lady Mere Leslie, in fact a playful single, toys with Logan’s misunderstanding of the situation, up to the point of getting the Mere’s involved, sending Logan franticly to hide the fact he is the believed homewrecker. Despite the embarrassment  of learning he was made the fool, Logan comes to terms he is falling in love with Leslie in a happy ending.

The picture is  beautifully shot in Technicolor, yet is very simple, and contained primarily a few room locations for extended periods of time, very similar to a play. This puts more pressure on the performance of the actors instead of the creative filmmaking the director. American born director Tim Whelan has been a veteran to London Films, easily producing a film that plays well on both sides of the ocean.

The headliner in Merle Oberon had become a star in America by this time, but suffered a serious car accident in 1937, leaving her scarred fearing to possibly end her career. In fact the accident caused the abandonment of the Roman period picture named I, Claudius. In this case however good lighting and cinematography would minimalism the appearance of her scarring. Oberon plays the playful female lead, a role in the 1933 film played by Binnie Barnes, who plays the supporting part of Lady Mere in this picture.

The young Shakespearean actor form London’s stage, Laurence Oliver, once again makes an appearance in a motion picture, something he has detested, believing film to be far inferior to classier, noble stage acting. He would become known as a master of the Shakespearean art, but was somewhat of an unknown in cinema, especially for audiences across the ocean as he had only appeared in British produced films. The Divorce of Lady X proved to be the lead in for both Oberon and Olivier future as they would work together on another film later in the year, Wuthering Heights, an American picture that assured Oberon would remain a star after her accident and propelled Olivier to movie stardom.

The Divorce of Lady X makes for a fun, little picture with lighthearted comedy, showcasing the early talents of a very young Laurence Olivier before making his mark on cinema history. Its Technicolor palette is rich and beautiful, most highly paying off in the opening scenes of the film with the costume ball and the hotel room scene. Though a British picture, the feature would play well with an American audience and makes for a pleasant film to watch even for contemporary audiences.

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