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The Divorce of Lady X


The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

     I had not planned to watch a movie when I turned on The Divorce of Lady X, yet somehow I got sucked in. For one, this was my first time seeing Laurence Olivier in color, which took me by a somewhat delighted surprise. Also I was intrigued by the Merle Oberon character’s brash forwardness –all while wearing a hoop-skirted dress of Civil War-era style.

     When a fog traps a large party of women attending a fancy ball in a hotel where barrister Everard Logan (Olivier) is also stranded, a brazen young woman (Oberon) talks her way into sharing this stranger’s two-room, two bedded suite. Before Logan knows what has happened, this Leslie has taken his bed and his pajamas and forced him to sleep on a mattress in the sitting room. He is quite furious, but by breakfast the two are getting along swimmingly.

     The trouble starts when Mr. Logan, a divorce attorney, goes to work the next day and meets with a client/friend (Ralph Richardson) who says his wife stayed the night in another man’s suite and at the same hotel where Logan had just rested. Naturally, the barrister assumes his mysterious Leslie –who wore a ring on her third finger– is this Lady Mere and he has just destroyed a marriage. In actuality, Leslie Steele is the daughter of Judge Steele (Morton Selton), who often presides over Logan’s cases. When Leslie visits the man’s office to return his pajamas, she realizes his confusion and goes along with the ruse. The two continue to court as Logan ensures the witness to Lady Mere’s indiscretion is unable to identify him as the correspondent and as he learns that Lady Mere has had quite a few ex-husbands. Leslie even gets the actual Lady and Lord Mere to go along with the charade as she prepares to reveal the truth, but the woman will not get the reaction she expects.

     The Divorce of Lady X  was not much more than a cute romantic comedy. Olivier and Oberon are well-suited together as they will again prove a year later in Wuthering Heights. Our sympathy easily rests with our male protagonist who is being taken for a ride by a somewhat snotty and inexperienced woman. The story actually reminded me some of Love in the Afternoon in which Audrey Hepburn‘s Ariane conceals her name and concocts a false and extensive list of ex-lovers to make her more desirable to Gary Cooper‘s loverboy Frank. Both these women think that being a bad woman makes them more appealing to their mates. Although Ariane’s experience drives Frank wild with jealousy in the 1957 movie, it causes a cringe for Mr. Logan who cannot seem to stop himself from loving the troublesome dame regardless of her past.

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