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After spending fifteen years in an asylum, Hilary Fairfield escapes from the institution after regaining his sanity. He finds that things at home are different than when he left them. His wife has divorced him and is already planning her next marriage, and his daughter has grown up throughout the years and is planning to marry as well. Written by
For her screen test, Katharine Hepburn chose, not a scene from A Bill of Divorcement, but a scene from the Philip Barry stage play Holiday. The test, directed by RKO talent scout Lillie Messenger, was shot in New York, with Alan Campbell playing opposite Hepburn. Although RKO executives in Los Angeles were less than impressed by the footage, George Cukor was struck by the way that Hepburn had placed a glass on the floor of the set and voted to cast her. Backed by David O. Selznick, who also felt that Hepburn had a striking, fresh screen presence, Cukor brought Hepburn to Los Angeles. Before shooting began, Cukor arranged for Hepburn's hair to be re-styled and her facial freckles covered with makeup. In preparation for her first film role, Hepburn spent time on the RKO lot, studying each aspect of the filmmaking process. Hepburn praised John Barrymore for teaching her a "tremendous lot" about film acting during this production. See more »
'Katharine Hepburn' is misspelled in the credits as 'Katherine Hepburn'. See more »
It's Christmas in England. World War I veteran John Barrymore (as
Hilary Fairfield) has been committed to an asylum for 15 years, due to
insanity brought on by "shell shock". The season has resulted in a
blessing for Mr. Barrymore, who is on his way home for the holidays,
after recovering his sanity. Meanwhile, wife Billie Burke (as Margaret
"Meg" Fairfield) has fallen in love again, received a divorce, and is
planning to re-marry. Barrymore's return throws the household into
turmoil. Daughter Katharine Hepburn (as Sidney Fairfield), also
planning to marry, begins to fear starting her own family, after
learning Barrymore's madness is hereditary.
It's admittedly not intended as such, and consequently not exceptional;
but, George Cukor's "A Bill of Divorcement" should be seen as a filmed
stage play. The story is thought-provoking; it mixes madness, marriage,
and war with duty, self-sacrifice, and religion. The characterizations
are, today, "outdated" in style, substance, and storyline. Still, they
are interesting in context. The three lead performances are
significant: Barrymore's theatrical skills are clearly evident; his
performance is most enjoyable (the war duty scene is a highlight).
Additionally, Ms. Burke begins a welcome "second career" in sound
films; and Ms. Hepburn begins a welcome "second career" in films. With
less to do, steadfast supporting actress Elizabeth Patterson (as Hester
Fairfield) definitely holds her own.
****** A Bill of Divorcement (1932) George Cukor ~ John Barrymore,
Billie Burke, Katharine Hepburn
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