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Kit Le Fever
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
A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT is only one of the problems to confront a man returning to his family after fifteen years in an insane asylum.
Although this George Cukor-directed soap opera is chiefly remembered now for Katharine Hepburn's film debut, its other strengths should not be overlooked. The film was primarily crafted to be a showcase for the histrionic talents of John Barrymore and he certainly does not disappoint his audience. Charging his way through the range of emotions from giddy elation to utter despair, Barrymore, left profile firmly planted towards the camera, gives a wonderful master class in ham acting. This is in no way to disparage his performance -- he makes leaping a bit beyond the bounds terrifically entertaining.
Hepburn is a sensation, of course, very fresh & unspoilt, giving real urgency to the plight of a headstrong girl who must make a wretched decision during a domestic upheaval. The viewer cannot help but think of the many decades to come in which she would continue to delight moviegoers. The trouble is that Kate's excellence makes it somewhat easy to forget the film's real female lead. In a rare serious role, Miss Billie Burke gives a splendid portrayal of a good woman torn between duty to a man she no longer loves and the possibility of joy with the man she now adores. In the scene where Barrymore forces her to make a commitment to him, Burke's body language painfully communicates the agony of her breaking heart.
A fine supporting cast adds to the film's enjoyment: sensitive David Manners, one of the ablest young actors of the era, as Hepburn's loyal boyfriend; gentlemanly Paul Cavanagh as Burke's fiancé; waspish Elizabeth Patterson as Barrymore's strict sister; and elderly Henry Stephenson as the wise family doctor.
Movie mavens will have to look fast to spot the excellent young English actor, Bramwell Fletcher, unbilled as the fellow at the Christmas party who opens the windows for the carolers.
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