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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 »
Toward the end, when Sidney convinces her mother to leave, she reaches for her mother's coat, and someone off-camera hands it to her. The hands of the crew member are clearly visible. Correction: The maid hands Sidney her mother's coat. You can see the maid's apron when she steps into view. Several scenes earlier the maid told Gray she had the mother's bags packed. See more »
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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