Gay Divorcee, The (1934)

Gay Divorcee, The (1934)

“Chances are that fate is foolish.”

A professional dancer (Fred Astaire) falls in love-at-first-sight with a beautiful young woman (Ginger Rogers) while she’s traveling through Paris with her aunt (Alice Brady). After a fruitless attempt to successfully woo her, their paths accidentally cross again when Astaire accompanies his lawyer-friend (Edward Everett Horton) to a hotel where Horton is helping Rogers seek a divorce from her stuffy husband (William Austin), courtesy of a hired co-respondent (Erik Rhodes).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Divorce
  • Fred Astaire Films
  • Ginger Rogers Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Musicals
  • Play Adaptations
  • Romantic Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “having stolen Flying Down to Rio [1933] from its topbilled stars, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were given their first lead roles in this delightful adaptation of Dwight Taylor’s stage musical, The Gay Divorce, in which Astaire had just starred in London”. He correctly points out that the scene in which Rogers finally falls for the persistent Astaire “after they dance together to… Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ [is] one of the most elegant, seductive numbers in the entire Astaire-Rogers series” — indeed, it epitomizes the role of dance-as-lovemaking in the films, complete with Astaire lighting up a cigarette once the number is done. Peary notes that the “stars are appealing, playing very likable characters”; we can’t help but root for their romance to succeed, and it’s fun to see how they eventually overcome the mistaken-identity subplot they become immersed in.

Ultimately, of course, the storyline in any Astaire-and-Rogers film matters much less than its dancing, songs, and humor. To that end, it’s too bad that most of Cole Porter’s original songs were axed (leaving only his iconic “Night and Day”), but Astaire’s song-and-dance performance of “A Needle in a Haystack” is quite memorable, and 17-year-old Betty Grable’s rendition of “Let’s K-nock K-nees” (sung to Horton) is pleasant as well. I’m much less a fan of the “famous, extravagantly produced 17-minute song-dance ‘The Continental’,” which goes on for far too long — but it is fun to see how Astaire and Rogers manage to “slip past Rhodes and onto the ballroom floor”, courtesy of a clever (if patently obvious) ploy using a silhouette on a record player.

Meanwhile, playing “the ridiculous Italian co-respondent (a union man), Rhodes is absolutely hilarious” — he steals the movie whenever he’s on screen, whether he’s bungling his line-of-code (“Chance is a fool’s name for fate”) in an infinitely creative number of ways, or “calling his wife long distance” and boasting “that his nine-year-old son, whom he thinks he heard in the background, already has a voice that’s becoming deeper” (!). Alice Brady is effective as the ultimate ditzy socialite, and Horton is well-cast as a bungling lawyer struggling to live up to his father’s reputation — though Eric Blore (fresh from the stage play) is unfortunately given too few funny lines to make much of an impression.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Astaire’s initial seduction-by-dance of Rogers (set to the music of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”)
  • Alice Brady as Aunt Hortense
  • Erik Rhodes as Tonetti
  • A fun and frothy storyline
  • Some fine solo dancing by Astaire

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable Astaire-and-Rogers musical. Nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.



One thought on “Gay Divorcee, The (1934)

  1. I don’t actually think this is a must. However…

    ~there are three wonderful musical numbers that do make it worth a viewing, if that’s all you need:

    The opening number – ‘Don’t Let It Bother You’ – has the lovely conceit of singers using hand-puppets to augment their number. It’s quite charming.

    ‘Night and Day’ – the film’s centerpiece (therefore, midway) – is exquisitely performed and quite sexy. It might be the single reason to see the film.

    And I happen to be a fan of the Busby Berkeley-esque ‘The Continental’. I find it quite entertaining, with a wonderful build, and it’s enticingly edited in a surprisingly still-modern way.

    Personally, I can do without the rest of the farcical script and all that’s connected with it. But it’s your call.

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