THE KING AND QUEEN OF “CARIOCA”!
“The Gay Divorce” became a Broadway hit, but once it was time for the film adaptation the folks behind the Production Code (enforced for the first time that same year) objected. There could be people who were happy to get a divorce, they reasoned, that was acceptable… but labeling a divorce “gay” was not OK. An old-fashioned way of seeing it and there is little in this film that isn’t dated. If you’re willing to live with that, you will find this classic a pleasant diversion.
Guy Holden (Fred Astaire), an American dancer, has arrived in England and spends time together with one of his close friends, a lawyer named Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton). He accidentally runs into Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) and falls in love head over heels. What he doesn’t know is that she’s in England to get help from her aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) in a delicate matter; Mimi is married to a geologist but wants a divorce. The husband is not prepared to grant her one, so Hortense takes Mimi to Egbert, who is one of her acquaintances, for advice. He agrees to arrange a situation where Mimi would appear to have an affair with another man and thereby give the husband a reason to grant her divorce.
The arrangement will take place at a seaside hotel and Egbert brings Guy along, not knowing that the woman he’s fallen in love with is Mimi. Egbert has hired a corespondent (Erik Rhodes), but everyone who has seen one of these farces can tell that Guy accidentally will end up playing the part of the adulterer.
A 17-minute long “Continental”
The tagline is a reference to the first film Astaire and Rogers made together, Flying Down to Rio (1933), where they performed the “Carioca”. The Gay Divorcee was the first film they starred in though and they’re charming together even if they spend most of their time arguing. They do however get to dance properly in one of the film’s final acts, the 17-minute long “Continental” number. Director Mark Sandrich’s camera doesn’t move to capture their brilliance together, but the music and dancing compensate for that. There’s also plenty of humor in the shape of Brady as the outspoken aunt Hortense, Horton as the childish lawyer and Rhodes as the corespondent, a confidently colorful Italian charmer.
Too bad though that the comedy is hardly one of the film’s best ingredients; there are few truly memorable lines and situations here. The Hortense character is not unlike the matrons played by Margaret Dumont in Marx Brothers films and I can’t help longing for just a touch of that zaniness here. Still, it’s an entertaining flick and the two stars along with Sandrich find ample opportunity to practice before embarking on the following year’s magnificent Top Hat.
The film surprisingly earned a Best Picture nomination. A few of the songs have remained popular throughout the years (especially “Night and Day”) and it is a pleasure to watch “The Continental” being performed as there is much work behind the whole act. But it is also typical of the film that the series of events leading up to the finale seems remarkably contrived; we’ve come a long way from an era when men alone settled matters in cases of divorce.
The Gay Divorcee 1934-U.S. 107 min. B/W. Produced by Pandro S. Berman. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Screenplay: George Marion, Jr., Dorothy Yost, Edward Kaufman. Play: Dwight Taylor, Kenneth Webb, Samuel Hoffenstein (“Gay Divorce”). Songs: Cole Porter (“Night and Day”), Con Conrad, Herb Magidson (“The Continental”, “A Needle in a Haystack”). Cast: Fred Astaire (Guy Holden), Ginger Rogers (Mimi Glossop), Alice Brady (Hortense), Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore… Betty Grable.
Trivia: Astaire repeated the role he made on stage; “Night and Day” is the only song retained from the show.
Oscar: Best Original Song (“The Continental”) (first winner of the award).