Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

The year before they costarred in the 1939 classic WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon played opposite each other in a lighthearted British romantic comedy, THE DIVORCE OF LADY X.

Late one evening Everard (Olivier) and Leslie (Oberon) are both stranded in a London hotel due to a black fog which makes travel impossible. There's a resulting shortage of hotel rooms and Leslie talks Everard, a complete stranger, into giving her one room of his two-room suite for the night. All is innocent, though they are quickly strongly attracted to one another, but things soon become much more complicated: Everard is a divorce lawyer, and circumstances lead him to believe that his newest client (Ralph Richardson) wants to divorce Leslie for spending the night in a hotel with an unnamed man...who would be Everard. Of course, Leslie's really not married, but oh, what a tangled web we weave...

It's a fun movie with some very witty dialogue and a great period look. Olivier and Oberon are charming; they have great chemistry, and it's a shame they didn't make more movies together.

Binnie Barnes costars as the divorce client's real wife, and Morton Selten plays Oberon's grandfather.

The film has a very distinctive look, thanks to its designers and color cinematography by Harry Stradling. Stradling was nominated for over a dozen Oscars in his half-century career, winning for THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) and MY FAIR LADY (1964).

The movie begins with the London Films logo, which includes Big Ben, followed by multicolored credits which almost glow neon against the backdrop of Piccadilly Circus at night. (The movie is currently on YouTube; you can see the opening here.) When Olivier leaves the foggy exterior and enters the hotel filled with costumed ball guests, the abrupt explosion of color almost causes the viewer to gasp in delight. The film has a unique color palette; at times the color combinations, such as browns and yellows, are so strange the Technicolor movie looks colorized, but then again combinations such as the blue and green hotel bathroom are both unusual and visually pleasing.

THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was directed by Tim Whelan. It runs 92 minutes. The score is by Miklos Rozsa.

This film is available on DVD.

The movie was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of Merle Oberon Day in the Summer Under the Stars festival.


Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I love this movie. I bought two VHS copies from a thrift shop, but both were of the same poor quality. Was the TCM broadcast a restoration?

12:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I don't believe it was restored. I thought it looked quite good -- definitely better than poor -- but not great. To some extent it was hard to tell if the movie's colors, which are pale at times, were the original color design or if it needed to be touched up a bit.

It's a fun film, isn't it?

Best wishes,

12:53 PM  

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