Kay Francis … Diane Carter
Bruce Cabot … Bob Phillips
Helen Mack … Martha Phillips
Jerome Cowan … Jim Driscoll
Craig Reynolds … Bill Endicott
Ruth Lee … Liz Smith
Jean Fenwick … June Endicott
Mary Gordon … Ellen
Larry Olsen … Michael Phillips
Johnny Calkins … Robby Phillips
Jonathan Hale … Judge Conlon
Addison Richards … Plummer
Leonard Mudie … Harvey Hicks
Reid Kilpatrick … Dr. Andy Cole
Virginia Wave … Secretary
Directed by William Nigh.
Produced by Jeffery Bernerd & Kay Francis.
Story by Sidney Sutherland.
Screenplay by Harvey H. Gates & Sidney Sutherland.
Musical Direction & Composition by Edward J. Kay.
Set Decoration by Vin Taylor.
Cinematography by Harry Neumann.
Gowns by Odette Myrtil.
Hats by Keneth Hopkins.
A Monogram Picture.
Released August 18, 1945.
“Harry Langdon, Kay Francis, and Bela Lugosi,” wrote Ted Okuda in The Monogram Checklist: The Films of Monogram Pictures Corporation, “were among the distinguished performers whose failing careers reduced them to appearing in cheap Monogram programmers.”
More than sixty years later, it’s difficult to understand exactly why Kay Francis ended her career by working for one of the Poverty Row studios, home of the “burned out has-beens.” Was Kay Francis really a has-been by 1945? In some ways, yes, but in others not necessarily.
Following the war, Kay Francis found job offers scarce, but she still headlined Four Jills in a Jeep (1944), a marquee musical based on her USO tours with Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair, and Martha Raye. Both biographies, Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career by Lynn Kear and John Rossman, and Scott O’Brien’s Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten, claimed that it was the opportunity to produce films which lured Francis to Monogram. Certainly they had their points.
At the climax of her career at Warner Brothers, storylines and dialogue had often played second fiddle to production values with beautiful sets and costume designs. I Found Stella Parish (1935) and Another Dawn (1937) are perfect examples. This annoyed Francis to no end, and the fact that Monogram often cut corners with costumes and sets was an entirely new factor in moviemaking to Kay Francis. Even at the beginning of her career, she was given the lush star treatment opposite big names like Fredric March, Walter Huston, and William Powell in films with little distinction.
Now Kay had the opportunity to produce her movies her way.
Divorce was based on the screen play by Harvey H. Gates and Sidney Sutherland. The plot revolved around a frequently divorced woman who sets her sights in a happily married childhood sweetheart. It was a return to the vamp roles which has made Kay a star in the early 1930s.
Bruce Cabot had been a popular second-rate leading man, but he was billed in equal star power to Kay on all Divorce promotion ads. Helen Mack made her last feature film appearance in Divorce, and that same year costarred with Claude Rains in Strange Holiday. Rains had been Kay’s costar in Stolen Holiday (1937), the film which marked the peak of per popularity back at Warner Brothers.
The film was completed in ten days and made a notable profit for Monogram. It was definitely not the best example of Kay’s work, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. After two more movies for Monogram, Kay retired—unofficially—from the screen for good a year later.
A divorce preceding is underway. A woman-hating Judge who takes himself too seriously reprimands a Mrs. Elliot for punishing her son for locking him in his room to practice his music. Jimmy, the son, went out into an alley to play baseball with the other boys his age. The judge tells the mother to forget the music, because good “American boys” (aka the sons of stuffy white people) should be playing baseball rather than music. The divorce is granted.
Diane Carter’s divorce preceding follows. Her husband, John, tells the judge that today is they wedding anniversary. They’ve been married for only a year. He’s filed extreme cruelty on the part of Diane. She’s slapped him across the face, thrown glasses at his head, and has been sleeping around with other men behind his back (he doesn‘t mention that, but it‘s obvious).
The judge goes on about how shameful some of his cases are. It makes one so tired to hear him bitch and bitch about such things. People get married. People get divorced. Get over it.
We first see Kay on a train. Another shot of her stylish heels with a camera tilt-up to reveal this stunning creature. Well, stunning, but puffy and aged from her ruthless drinking and smoking.
Martha Phillips is throwing an anniversary party for her husband, Bob. They’ve been married ten years, and at least her two little brats aren’t invited. One thing about these low-budget programmers, they’re filled with annoying children named “Jimmy” or “Johnny.”
The boys Martha and Bob are raising love to have “Court Marshalls,” where their father plays judge and they have their own little fake trials. It’s meaningless and annoying, an effort to make the children appear cuter than they really are.
Guests dance to live music at the Phillips’ party. Diane arrives with old friends, and the men make an awful fuss over out beautiful and glamorous she is. Bob takes Diane into the corner, and lays a big kiss on her. One that he clearly doesn’t give to his wife anymore. Martha is flabbergasted, but thinks it’s her own jealousy and that there is nothing between them.
Alone, Bob and Diane talk about how things have changed. She’s moved on from Hillsboro, while Bob is still stuck there and with a family, clearly won’t be moving on anytime soon. He begins to regret decisions he’s made in his life; marrying Martha is among them.
Diane visits Bob at work and brings him the news that she’s decided to stay in Hillsboro. He’s a realtor, and she’s come to ask him for a place to stay. When he gets Diane a place, she calls Martha to ask her to help furnish it. “Call you in the morning, darling!” Diane promises.
At a party thrown by Diane, there is a celebration for Bob’s being elected as president of the reality board. Friends congratulate Martha on her decorative style, and even tell her she should go into her own business with it. When Martha finds out that Diane has something to do with Bob’s promotion, she gets angry and storms out. The following day, there is a big train set for Michael from Diane, who has gotten the mumps. Martha is not happy, especially reading the note which asks for her to contact Diane.
Sitting back and smoking a cigarette, Diane asks Martha to throw her “cards out” on the table. Obviously Martha is jealous of her, and Diane is gloating over her insecurities.
At a picnic, Diane serves the boys “swell” cake and allows them to ride off on their brand-new bicycles, which she has bought them. The brats go off for a ride, and, though a car doesn’t even come close to hitting Michael, he falls over because of it and gets injured.
Back at the home Martha goes irate on Bob and Diane.
Kay vamps out the Phillips house to the fullest. “If you keep being as stupid and nagging as you are,” she says to Martha, “you can’t blame Bob for wanting to walk out on you. After all, he was in love you me years ago, why wouldn’t he be in love with me now?”
The three agree it’s time for Martha and Bob to divorce so Diane can marry him. Martha gets custody of the children.
On his first visitation day, Bob completely forgets about seeing his kids. He and Diane are gambling at a casino in Chicago. Both get arrested in a raid on the house.
Martha hasn’t been accepting Bob’s child support. In return, she has decided to take up working to support herself and her two boys. Diane makes a few wisecracks about how “puritanical” Bob’s and Martha’s beliefs are. “Would you rather be respectable or successful?” she asks him.
“Is there a law against being both?”
Clearly Bob is getting tired of living Diane’s kind of lifestyle. It seemed appealing when he was stuck at home with Martha, but the grass is always greener on the other side, and he decides to leave Diane and ask Martha and the children for forgiveness.
On the train home, Diane admits to the porter that she’s changed and that “I don’t think I’m going to like it much.”
Kay’s performance is one of her campiest. She’s back to playing the vamp, gowned in ridiculous hats and bulky furs. There’s a slight drunkenness to her acting in these Monogram features. Something about the way she throws her lines out with her particular facial expressions hint at the idea she might have been buzzed during filming. She makes strange eyes at people, the way a puppet master eyes up new models.
Still, she’s a pleasure to watch.
I never cared much for Bruce Cabot, finding him one of the more boring actors of Classic Hollywood, but he does okay in his role, which doesn’t allow him much. The real star of the piece is Helen Mack. She gets the camera time, audience sympathy, and support of Ruth Lee, who plays Liz Smith, a wise-cracking best friend.
The picture doesn’t offer much. The story doesn’t give a spark to bring an interest from the average viewer. One really has to be a Kay Francis fan to stick this one out. The children are annoying little brats, and make one second-guess the idea of being a parent.
But as my friend Sue pointed out to me after she saw the film, it does a much better job with bringing one back into the atmosphere of the American household, circa 1945. There is an authenticity to the sets and background which stem from a lack of expense on this aspect of movie making. The major studios, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and, especially, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, had no idea on how to bring the atmosphere of small town America to the screen. Everything had to be over the top and expensive, and perhaps this is one major bonus to the way Monogram produced their films.
Divorce’s reputation stuck in the heads of critics as the way all three of Kay’s Monogram productions turned out. While this one is a bit of a dud, Allotment Wives is spectacular, but I have not had the opportunity to view Wife Wanted (1946). But even Divorce isn’t as bad as generations of critics made it out to be, and their accusations of the film are prime examples on how those who haven’t seen certain movies should just keep their mouths shut.
A “review” does require one to actually “view” the film, not just pull the stuff out of the air.
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