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The Divorcee

(1930 b 82')

En: 5 Ed: 6

This exploration of the double standard based on the novel by Ursula Parrott won Norma Shearer an Oscar and was nominated for best picture.

Jerry (Norma Shearer) decides to marry newspaperman Ted (Chester Morris) even though he does not have money. Paul (Conrad Nagel) is disappointed, and despite objections he drives recklessly, causing an accident in which Dorothy's face is disfigured. Ted weds Jerry in a church while Paul marries Dorothy in her hospital room.

Three years later when Ted is about to leave on a business trip, Jerry discovers that Ted has been having an affair with Janice. Ted tells Jerry he will not lie to her but that it does not mean a thing, saying he cares only for her. Jerry talks with Don (Robert Montgomery) about Janice, and he consoles her. They go out together while Ted is trying to call Jerry. Ted returns from his business trip with flowers, hoping for a loving reception. Jerry asks him if he believes being unfaithful "does not mean a thing." Don calls Jerry and asks her not to tell Ted about him, because Ted is his best friend. Jerry tells Ted she has balanced their accounts but will not say with whom. Then she leaves for work. At the party for Bill and Helen's wedding Ted comes in late drunk; he sympathizes with Bill and disrupts the party. While Ted is packing, Jerry pleads that they try again; but Ted says that people are laughing at him. Jerry cannot stand that vanity.

Jerry gets a divorce, and Helen (Florence Eldridge), who is on her second marriage, says that she will help her find men. Jerry dates various men and meets Paul on a train. He is still married to Dorothy but says that he has always loved Jerry. She says she has made a mess and cries. Jerry spends two weeks with Paul on his boat. He says that Dorothy is still bitter about the accident, and he invites Jerry to live with him in Japan. Ted tells Don he would kill the man who broke up his marriage if he knew who it was. Helen tells Jerry Ted has been drinking constantly in Paris. A veiled Dorothy visits Jerry to plead for her husband. Paul comes in and says he has made arrangements for Dorothy. Jerry realizes Dorothy is right to hang on to marriage and regrets she did not. Jerry goes looking for Ted and finds him in a Paris nightclub. He has been trying to forget her but wants to be friends. Jerry tells Ted she wants only him, and he says he will give anything for another chance.

This story reflects how women of this era were beginning to be free themselves from social conventions that relied on the double standard, which was much discussed at this time. Jerry realizes she wanted a "perfect marriage" and quit when she found it was not. By experience she and Ted both learn to forgive and to value their love.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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