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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
When Hollywood was madly casting the ingénue in "A Bill of Divorcement," they saw many, many tests of actresses but still weren't satisfied. Katharine Hepburn took a look at the test scene and realized immediately why no actress was acceptable - it was a terrible scene. So she did another one and won the role.
Let's just say that Hepburn started her amazing career with amazing good fortune. Her director was the excellent George Cukor, marking the beginning of their marvelous collaboration; and she had the great John Barrymore as a co-star.
The story concerns a man who comes home from an insane asylum only to discover that his daughter has grown up, his wife has divorced him, and she is about to marry someone else. He's as much in love with her as he has always been and can't bear the thought of her leaving him.
Based on a play by Clemence Dane, "A Bill of Divorcement" doesn't hold up today. It's very talky, done in a stagy manner, and melodramatic. Some of the performances are melodramatic as well - it was the beginning of talkies, and many of the actors had not yet adapted to the technique of acting on film, Billie Burke especially. My big quibble with the story is that, due to the times, it can't distinguish between "insanity" and emotional problems or chemical imbalances, which makes the Hepburn character's ultimate sacrifice seem unnecessary.
You can really see in this movie how Katharine Hepburn would have been so unusual to audiences with her angular, athletic body, high cheekbones and austere looks. She once said of Angela Lansbury, "She was unusual in the wrong way, and I was unusual in the right way." It's certainly true. She's quite beautiful and interesting-looking. Ultimately she would tone down her acting. For a first film, she's wonderful.
The star is John Barrymore, who gives a timeless, heart-wrenching performance. What a wonderful actor and what a loss that his last film was made in 1941 and as early as 1938, he was playing his roles drunk.
Recommended definitely for Hepburn aficionados and to see the great John Barrymore being the magnificent actor he was capable of being.
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