I think I first heard of Norma Shearer many moons ago when I watched “When the Lion Roars” the magnificent documentary on the history of MGM which is still due for a DVD release. My impression from it was that she got lucky because her husband was the head of production of the studio and I never gave her much thought. As her films have become available on the shinny discs I had my chance of cementing this opinion: “The Women”, “Marie Antoinette” and “Romeo and Juliet”, some of her most celebrated films, failed to produce any lasting impact on me and occasionally I almost couldn’t bear her.
Then I bought the “Forbidden Hollywood vol.2” DVD box. This box contains two of Norma’s most famous films: “A Free Soul” and “The Divorcee”, for which she won her best actress Oscar. While the former didn’t succeed in changing my views (I was quite bored by it) the latter was absolutely astonishing. Where had Norma hidden this talent in her other performances?
“The Divorcee” is the story of a happily married woman who founds out that her husband has cheated on her and decided to give him a bit of his own medicine. And of course when he does it, it was something of no consequence, when she does it it’s a most serious outrage against the good order of things – she should have bear it with a sad look. So they divorce and she decides that staying sad at home is not really for her…
The whole issue of the double standard is presented in a very modern way and Norma Shearer was to me a revelation in this film. Even her constipated leading man (who has an acting style out of the early 1920’s and is unbearable in “Red Head Woman”) was acceptable. The only fault I can find with the film was the subplot with the car accident and the duty marriage that arises from that. All in all, a wonderful Pre-code and I will be looking for more of her films in the future – there might be another gem in their midst.