The Gay Divorcee (1934)
“Introducing the new dance sensation “The Continental””
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady
Synopsis: Mimi Glossop journeys to England to seek a divorce from her absentee husband. When Mimi meets dashing performer Guy Holden, sparks fly, and, most importantly, lavish song-and-dance numbers ensue.
Following their successful collaboration in the previous year’s Flying Down to Rio, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were awarded starring roles in The Gay Divorcee, a movie based on a Broadway show in which Astaire had already appeared. Although this was only Astaire’s third movie appearance, his background on the stage meant that he was already the finished article by the time he came to Hollywood. Although she had more screen experience, when it came to dancing, Rogers’ dancing skills weren’t quite fully developed, although any deficiencies weren’t obvious enough to spoil the entertainment. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Astaire’s singing skills. His voice would never improve, but for some reason Hollywood never seemed to have the nerve to rein him in.
The Gay Divorcee’s plot is a typical Hollywood confection of mistaken identities and misunderstandings which served no purpose other than to provide filler between the song and dance numbers. Astaire’s Guy Holden, a successful dancer, returns to London with his friend Egbert ‘Pinky’ Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton — The Front Page, Trouble in Paradise) after a holiday in Paris. During the voyage he is smitten by Mimi Glossop (Rogers), an American woman travelling with her Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady — My Man Godfrey), but she wants nothing to do with him. Needless to say, Their paths are destined to cross again. Mimi is in Britain to obtain a divorce through the services of a co-respondent (Erik Rhodes), a person hired to be discovered in flagrante in order for grounds for the divorce to be established, and Pinky’s the man who arranged the scenario. Through the usual far-fetched twists, Mimi mistakenly believes that Guy is the man hired by Pinky as her co-respondent, so any nascent feelings she might have nursed for him are abruptly destroyed.
The Gay Divorcee is typically polished Hollywood fare, set mainly in plush hotel rooms and ballrooms. Although it’s clearly Astaire and Rogers’ movie, it’s almost an hour before we get to see them dance together — in the sublime ‘Night and Day’ piece — and they don’t get much more screen time than their respective comedy sidekicks, Horton and Brady, both of whom possess an exceedingly grating voice. The audiences of the day must have liked Horton at least, though, because he was back the following year for Top Hat, as were Rhodes and Eric Blore, who enlivens a number of The Gay Divorcee’s scenes as a comical waiter. Apart from Blore and Rhodes, the movie’s humour hasn’t really stood the test of time, but the superb dance sequences, the biggest of which is the extravagantly staged Continental number which is nearly twenty minutes long, more than make up for it.
(Reviewed 11th July 2014)