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John G. Adolfi
Commercial artist Helen Bauer believes marriage kills romance. She lives with advertising writer Don Peterson. He convinces her to marry him. He later carries on with client Peggy Smith; Helen takes up with Don's competitor Nick Malvyn. In the end, the couple agree to give marriage another chance. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Going into Ex-Lady I really didn't expect Bette Davis to have that much chemistry with Gene Raymond, who has never been a particular favorite of mine; I always considered him too feminine a leading man, with that blonde hair and non-threatening, laid back physique. However in this film I was pleasantly surprised: I think working with dynamo Bette made Gene a much better actor. I get the feeling he really went to school watching her, and gave a performance to match. I like him a lot better here than in Red Dust, for instance.
The plot of Ex-Lady dances around a provocative subject quite deftly, with witty dialog and great pacing. Bette plays a successful commercial artist who is in love with a fellow who wants to marry her, but she is unwilling to take the plunge. She'd rather live in sin with her beloved. Even when confronted by her parents she defies tradition. However eventually she decides to marry her lover so that she doesn't lose him. The marriage has some jittery ups and downs, and in the interim we are treated to some fine character actors playing mischief makers popping in and out of the couple's life, creating mayhem.
Frank McHugh is quite funny and breezy as their ultimate matchmaker - even though he has his own secret yen for the artist, he does what he can to resolve the situation sacrificially. Monroe Owsley ("Private Number") is a leering confrontative distraction to Bette. Striking Kay Strozzi makes her play for the husband too desperately for her own good. All this makes for wonderful fun. However once again, as with most precode films, we have a traditional, conservative ending to our story. This may be realistic, it may not, to each his own. I prefer happy endings myself.
9 out of 10.
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