Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

A quintessential Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, The Gay Divorcee takes place in the sort of world only golden era Hollywood could create and a fast moving witty script, charming cast and great music make for wonderful old fashioned entertainment.

Guy Holden (Astaire) is a famous American song and dance man, hanging around London (I have always wondered by this and other Astaire and Rogers films are set in London - perhaps the European setting might have seemed exotic to Depression era American audiences) with a bungling lawyer friend, Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton). Enter another American, Mimi Glossop, who is in England, staying with her bossy and regularly married Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) and
seeking a divorce from her geologist husband. Holden is besotted with Glossop – but once Hortense enlists Fitzgerald to help, things get complicated.

The assorted plot twists that crop up along the way do not stand up to much scrutiny, but this is not meant as a criticism, as the very absurdity of them helps to create the fantasy world that the film inhabits.

The characters are pretty much the same as in any of the other classic Astaire and Rogers films. Fred plays the showbiz celebrity, famous enough to get out of paying a Paris restaurant bill by treating the diners and staff to a spot of tap dancing, and rich enough that he can devote his ample spare time to hanging around with his friend and chasing the woman of his dreams. Rogers is brassy and great fun, without ever being overbearing or grating, not an easy trick to pull off. The chemistry between the two is fascinating and not the usual on screen romance. Astaire is hardly a macho, alpha-male type, and Rogers looks as likely to sweep him off his feet as the other way around.

The rest of the cast are equally enjoyable, with Horton and Brady bringing charm to characters who could otherwise be irritating, especially important as it is these two who often drive the plot forward.

Although still a bit technically crude in places, we can see director Mark Sandrich experimenting with cinematic techniques that were in their infancy. The camera is largely static in the talking sequences but becomes mobile during dance numbers, panning from side to side as it follows the stars. Even more interesting is the montage created for the song The Continental, with some odd angles and (still modern looking) fast, rhythmic editing.