- Title: The Gay Divorcee
- Director: Mark Sandrich
- Date: 1934
- Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
- Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy
- Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Betty Grable
- Format: Standard, Black and White
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“Guy, you’re not pining for that girl?” — Egbert Fitzgerald
“Pining? Men don’t pine, girls pine. Men just suffer.” — Guy Holden
“Chance is the fool’s name for Fate.” — Guy Holden (becomes a catch-phrase of the film)
Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) is a professional dancer, who bumps into Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) quite accidentally. He’s taken a steam ship to England for vacation. She’s only on the ship after boarding to pick-up her Aunt, who is dragged off by a custom inspector. Prior to leaving, Mimi’s aunt, Hortense Ditherwell (Alice Brady), accidentally locks her skirt in her steamer trunk – then runs off with the key. Guy happens by, tries to help, but only succeeds in ripping her skirt. Mimi is upset so he lends her his coat. But he’s smitten. Mimi returns the coat but without an address for him to reach her. He searches London for her, but has no luck. After two weeks, Guy’s good friend, a lawyer named Egbert (Edward Everett Horton) convinces him to leave London and go to Brighton for a nice seaside vacation.
Meanwhile, Mimi has seen Egbert as well, in his official capacity as a lawyer. She wants a divorce, but her husband, whom she’s barely seen over the last two years, won’t grant her one. Egbert suggests her only recourse is to go to a seaside resort, to get caught in flagrante delicto with a correspondent (a man who makes his living doing this). Mimi also heads to Brighton.
Mimi and Guy run into each other, and begin to get along. Then Guy casually tells her, “Chance is the fool’s name for fate”. Unfortunately, he’d used the phrase before with Egbert, who liked it so much that he told Mimi that would be the password of her correspondent. Meanwhile, he tells the correspondent (Erik Rhodes) the password, but the poor man is Italian, and his English is very bad, so he mangles the phrase every time he repeats it to various women at the resort. Mimi invites Guy to her room so they can get caught, but due to the misunderstanding with the catch-phrase, she misunderstands many of the things Guy says, and she gets more and more mad at him.
Aunt Hortense, and Guy’s friend, Egbert, end up finding the correspondent and bring him to Mimi and Guy, the mess with Mimi’s mistake is straightened out and Astaire and Rogers dance the show-stopping “The Continental”. The next morning, Mimi’s husband arrives, but finding her with the Italian refuses to believe there was an affair, and forgives her. Mimi brings in Guy and he starts to waver. Then the waiter comes in and points out that “Mr. Brown” had been at the resort before with his wife (not Mimi), and thus the divorce will be granted. The finale is a reprise of “The Continental” as Guy and Mimi dance together having now been married (probably, from their clothes and the fact that they seem to be sharing a hotel room).
- Don’t Let It Bother You – Vocals – Chorus
- Don’t Let It Bother You – Dance, Astaire (Fast tap, solo)
- A Needle in a Haystack – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire
- Let’s Knock K-nees – Vocals – Chorus and Edward Everett Horton, Dance – Chorus
- Night and Day – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire and Rogers
- The Continental – Vocals – Rogers,
- The Continental – Dance – Astaire and Rogers
- The Continental – Dance full chorus ensemble
- The Continental – Dance Astaire and Rogers (Finale)
“The Continental” is one of the few Busby Berkley-styled numbers in an Astaire and Rogers film – and this is only the second film they did, chronologically. The number is very impressive but doesn’t have the intimacy of later dances in other films. However, “Night and Day” is the film’s sweet, romantic dance between Astaire and Rogers, as he’s finally found this woman he’s fallen for, and she’s slowly drawn to him. “The Continental”, by contrast, is a very showy, impressive dance, and both the Astaire/Rogers portions and the chorus portion (with the strong, contrasting black and white dresses and full suits with tails) are an excellent example of not only really good Broadway-style dancing but also excellent black and white photography and use of contrast. The lines of dancers in alternating black and white, and even dresses that are half black/half white form patterns and are just impressive. Directors at the time knew how to use black and white photography to their advantage. However, the short reprise of “The Continental” with Astaire and Rogers dancing in their hotel room, including, over a breakfast nook table, is very romantic and intimate, and beautifully shot. This film also has two separate dances where Fred performs his “triple” as I call it — both feet off the ground, body absolutely straight, including both legs, angled to the floor, and a triple scissor flourish. It’s a fantastic move because Astaire is completely off the ground so long, he almost appears to hang in the air. The man was that good. And, yeah, it’s like he could float on air.
The plot of The Gay Divorcee is that of a light, romantic comedy. The film is based on a Broadway play, which had also starred Astaire, and was actually titled The Gay Divorce. The Hollywood production code actually made a note on the film that, “there is nothing happy about divorce”, and thus forced the change in the title. This film also showcases many of the bit players (Alice Brady, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, Edward Everett Horton) and ensemble actors who are sometimes but not always in the Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers RKO musicals. Though I wouldn’t call it one of the three best Fred & Ginger musicals, it could easily place fourth.
Recommendation: See it!
Next Film: Get Smart