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Ex-Lady

(1933 b 67')

En: 5 Ed: 6

A woman artist and her lover experience ambivalent feelings about marriage versus independence.

Helen Bauer (Bette Davis) dismisses her party guests so that Don Peterson (Gene Raymond) can sneak back alone. He wants to marry her so that he'll have a right to be there; but she objects to that idea of "right." Her parents come in; her father calls her cheap and criticizes Don, who says the father is old-fashioned. Helen wants to be on her own and says that marriage is dull. Don says it is marriage or nothing.

Pretty Iris (Claire Dodd) wants to make her husband Hugo (Frank McHugh) jealous. Nick (Monroe Owsley) woos Helen and has an account for her art. Don apologizes to Helen and says he will not use words like "ought" and "must." Helen offers Don her drawings so that he can get the advertising account. She asks Don to marry her, and they wed. The big account goes to Nick, but they want Helen's drawings. Even though he did not get the account, Don and Helen go to Havana for a honeymoon. Don returns to learn he lost a big account, causing him to regret the trip.

At Hugo's dinner party Helen is jealous of Don and Peggy (Kay Strozzi). Don works late, and Helen tells him she is doing the drawings for Nick. Peggy calls Don and offers to bring him home. Helen sees Don leave with Peggy. When Don gets home at 3 a.m., Helen tells him she is moving out, because marriage is no good. She says, "Compromise is defeat." If she wasn't a wife, she wouldn't be jealous. Hugo tells Don that Iris has gone visiting relatives, and he is jealous. Don visits Helen and wants to stay in. Hugo drops in, but Don and Helen sneak out. Don brings Helen breakfast in bed, and they make a series of frequent dates.

Nick takes Helen out to dinner; unrequited, he calls her old-fashioned. Helen sees Don with Peggy. Don drinks with Peggy, and she kisses him. Helen comes in and asks Don to leave with her. They talk, and Helen says good-bye. Don leaves Peggy. Nick kisses Helen; but Hugo comes in to borrow Scotch for a party, and Helen goes out with him. Hugo asks Helen if she could be interested in him; she says no, but there was no harm in asking. Helen goes home and cries. Don comes in, and Helen says that living together hurts less. Don tells her that her husband is home to stay.

This drama explores the dilemma of the independent woman who wants the satisfaction of a career and a relationship without giving up too much freedom. Helen and Don come to realize that even though marriage is not a perfect solution, for them it is a better choice. Unfortunately even this mild treatment of such issues led the Legion of Decency to bring about severe censorship in the next year.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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