© 1934 Radio Pictures

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

One of the great joys of living in Tokyo is the number of small theaters that specialize in running classic films. One of them, Cine Vera, is run by a former entertainment copyright lawyer who decided it would be more fun to run a theater. Going to see my last film of 2011, late in the afternoon of December 31, I expected to be one of a handful of other viewers, especially since it is a ’30s musical. I was pleasantly surprised to find the medium-sized theater nearly full. As the house lights went down and the crackly soundtrack started over the Radio Pictures logo, I realized how nice it was going to be to view this as a projected film in a theater with a live audience, the closest I will ever be able to get to watching the original film in a theater in 1934.

The Gay Divorcee is a frivolous film with a light plot. It is also a very funny film, and the audience burst into loud laughter at several points in the film, something you don’t get watching a DVD at home. This is the second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, but the first which was really molded around their on-screen dynamic. Astaire looks young and very, very thin, and there is an appearance by an 18-year-old Betty Grable singing the silly song “Let’s K-nock K-nees”, and Edward Everett Horton, who plays the lawyer unsuccessfully trying to plot the separation mentioned in the title, must have been born old, as he looks as just as worry-worn in this as in the dozen of other films I have seen him in. The really laughs are from two of the supporting characters. Alice Bradly as Ginger’s flighty aunt can raise a laugh with just a confused look, and Erik Rhodes, as the Italian lover hired to be the correspondent in the divorce case, increasingly mangles the password meant to introduce him to the divorcee: “chance in the fool’s name for fate.”

What a great movie experience to end the year with.

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