Saturday, July 29, 2017

#2,396. Ex-Lady (1933)

Directed By: Robert Florey

Starring: Bette Davis, Gene Raymond, Frank McHugh

Tag line: "So frank . . so outspoken... so true..."

Trivia: A scene from this film was featured early on in 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

After playing minor characters in such pre-code dramas as Waterloo Bridge and Three on a Match, Bette Davis finally stepped into in the spotlight with 1933’s Ex-Lady, a movie that takes more than a few jabs at the institution of marriage.

Helen Bauer (Davis), one of New York’s most prestigious fashion artists, enjoys her independence, and has stated on many occasions that she has no desire to be tied down to one man. Initially, Helen’s steady boyfriend, advertising executive Don Peterson (Gene Raymond), said he felt the same way about marriage, but has recently had a change of heart, and wants Helen to become his wife. At first she refuses, but after realizing she too is deeply in love with Don, Helen says “yes”, and the two are married.

But it isn’t long before Helen’s worst fears are coming true, and she and Don are dealing with problems they never experienced before, including money issues, jealousy, and even infidelity. All at once, Helen and Don realize they made a mistake, but can they return to the way things used to be, or has marriage ruined their relationship forever?

With Ex-Lady, Bette Davis got a chance to show Hollywood what she could do with a lead role, and she’s entirely convincing as the confident Helen, a woman who wants her freedom, yet is willing to risk it for love. As for the men in Helen’s life, Gene Raymond is strong as Don, while Monroe Owsley has some good scenes as playboy Nick Malvyn, who tries on several occasions to lure Helen into his bed. Also interesting in supporting roles are Frank McHugh and Claire Dodd as Hugo and Iris Van Hugh, one of the few married couples in Helen’s circle of friends (Iris is unhappy because her husband takes her for granted, and she even flirts openly with a man just to get Hugo’s attention).

Though tame when compared to other pre-code films (the sexual innuendo is kept to a minimum), Ex-Lady does feature scenes that insinuate both premarital and extramarital sex. That said, the movie’s most heinous violation of the Hays Code is its rather frank assertion that marriage is the end of romantic love. “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld”, the code states, and from its opening scene Ex-Lady doesn’t just challenge the “sanctity” of marriage; it stomps it into the dirt! Early on, when Helen’s father (played by Alphonse Ethier) barges into her apartment and confronts Don for spending the night with his daughter, Helen stands her ground, telling dear old dad that two people in love don’t need a license to tell them it’s OK to be together. As if to prove this theory, Ex-Lady then reveals what happens when Helen and Don do tie the knot, and from day one it changes their relationship for the worse (even taking a honeymoon leads to marital strife).

While its stance against marriage does get a bit heavy-handed at times, Ex-Lady is solid enough to warrant some attention, and is a movie that every Bette Davis aficionado will want to add to their queue.

1 comment:

Andrew Sydlik said...

Hey Doc, been enjoying your last few reviews on these pre-code hidden gems. Maybe not my favorite type of film, but I do enjoy learning about these older films that slowly but surely try to check out for myself.