Essential: THE DIVORCE OF LADY X (1938)
THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was released in North America by United Artists and was made by Alexander Korda’s London Films company. It boasts impressive Technicolor as well as elegant costuming and sets. It’s safe to say many films in 1938 were not this technically advanced. It had an American director, so its humor seems to translate well. Plus the cast was already becoming known in Hollywood productions– a group which includes Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and Binnie Barnes.
Olivier and Oberon would soon pair up again for a completely different type of film– Samuel Goldwyn’s adaptation of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But in this picture, they are playing characters and a scenario that is about as far from Bronte as you can possibly imagine.
It’s a shame Oberon wasn’t photographed more often in color during the 1930s and 1940s, when she was at her peak. Her complexion is absolutely flawless. And despite excessive dialogue, the scenes do move quick enough, thanks to the actress’s spirited line deliveries and her obvious chemistry with Olivier.
Originally, third-billed Binnie Barnes played Oberon’s role in the first screen version of this story. It was called COUNSEL’S OPINION and hit screens five years earlier. Barnes proves how versatile a performer she is, relinquishing the lead and taking a supporting character part in this remake. In addition to Barnes’ presence in the two films, Korda makes sure both versions were given big budgets.
As for Olivier, he’s quite charming in THE DIVORCE OF LADY X. He plays a divorce attorney who meets a lovely costume ball attendee (Oberon). They innocently share a room for one evening; but the next morning, things do not seem so innocent when he is led to believe she's married to his client. The client has a supposedly unfaithful wife (in reality, the woman played by Barnes). So what develops is a romantic intrigue taken to farcical extremes. It's all played to a tee by the film’s delightful stars.
THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was directed by Tim Whelan. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime.