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DIVORCE American STYLE was an offbeat and surprisingly adult (for 1967) that starred Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as Richard and Barbara Harmon, a wealthy California couple who divorce after 17 years of marriage and the adjustments both try to make being single once more. Smartly directed by Bud Yorkin and co-written by future TV icon Norman Lear, this biting satire died at the box office at the time of release, but is really a well-made and quite revealing comedy about the ins and outs of marriage, divorce, and all the little banalities that these subjects bring about. Yorkin directs with a master hand here...I love the scene right after Richard and Barbara's dinner party where they undress for bed in total silence, getting in each other's way but not saying a word to each other, just "Bury you in six feet under" looks. Or when Richard and his best friend (Joe Flynn)and Barbara and her best friend (Emmaline Henry) arrive at the bank at the same time to clean out their bank accounts and safety deposit box...another scene done with no dialogue but so smartly staged, dialogue is not needed. The supporting cast is first rate...Jason Robards is surprisingly funny as Nelson Downs, a divorce victim who tries to set Richard up with his ex (the lovely Jean Simmons) so that he doesn't have to pay alimony anymore. Lee Grant, Tom Bosley, Van Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Shelley Berman, and Dick Gautier also contribute funny bits. A very young Tim Matheson also appears as Richard and Barbara's eldest son. This delicious and slightly twisted comic confection from the mind of Norman Lear is a delight from beginning to end and if you've never seen it, it's worth a look.
Divorce-American Style, a surprisingly intelligent effort from writers Kaufman and Lear and TV power-house director Bud Yorkin, was first in series of witty, satirical releases that included "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" and "Lovers and Other Strangers". This way-paving comedy featured the delightfully flustered pairing of Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as a successful 'Married With Children' duo who, after years of supporting each another, simply tire. despite it's (minor) shortcomings, the sharp dialogue certainly justifies the screenplay oscar nod. Nice work. ***1/2 out of ****
It's amazing how preconceptions can affect a movie's popularity.
Multiple reviewers seem to feel Divorce American Style should be
"funnier," because they've apparently decided it's a comedy. (And one
of a particular type, presumably.) Unfortunately, this isn't a film
that fits into any such predefined mold. It's a dark satire, dealing
with the insane approach to divorce current at the time of its making
(especially in California). And it succeeds splendidly on that level.
No, we're not expected to guffaw as we watch Dick Van Dyke being first railroaded into divorce, then reduced to poverty by punitive alimony payments. We're expected to shake our heads and smile wryly at the folly of the times. And to walk out just a little more determined to push for true equality of the sexes, and a truly rational legal framework for their relations.
We're not there yet, but things have moved forward so unimaginably far that today's viewers may not understand the attitudes in this film. To put it in context, compare it to The Dick Van Dyke Show. Divorce was utterly unthinkable in the cozy world of Rob and Laura Petrie. Yet here, just a few years later, we see Van Dyke and Reynolds playing essentially the same Rob and Laura roles, and not only admitting the possibility of divorce, but tackling some of its uglier ramifications. It was a huge leap forward, for Van Dyke, for Hollywood, and for society as a whole.
Of course, on a dramatic level, Divorce American Style still has a lot of that old-time Dick Van Dyke Show sensibility. But it's sharper than many similar films of the time (courtesy of Norman Lear, no doubt), and benefits from some great performances (especially by Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds and Jason Robards). The conditions it dissects may no longer exist, but that doesn't have to spoil our enjoyment.
It seems that not everybody remembers the world in 1967.
To begin with, there was no such thing as no-fault divorce. A divorce had to involve one "guilty" party, and one "innocent" party. Two "guilty" parties would just be blown off with "You two deserve each other." And it was regarded as standard good manners for the man to offer himself up as "guilty", unless the woman was a complete slut or psycho. (See "The Gay Divorcée" for an example of a man who /doesn't/ follow this social rule, because he's a pig.)
Now, also during this period, the usual rule was that the wife got the kids, and the wife and kids were entitled to be just as well off as they had been before the divorce. (Remember, as far as the Law was concerned, she and they were officially innocent victims of the Big Bad Man.) So alimony could be very high indeed.
As to her getting a job....
There was no such thing as professional daycare. If a divorced woman were poor, she could probably leave the kids with a neighbor, because poor folks have been doing that for thousands of years, but for a middle-class divorced woman to do that would have been regarded as shameless freeloading.
There were relatively few jobs for women, and even fewer that paid decently. A woman could be a secretary, but shorthand and typing take years of practice. (There were no personal computers then; few people could type except for writers and secretaries.) And secretaries didn't make much more than minimum wage, anyway. The same for stitchers in clothing factories (America had clothing factories back then). Beautician? Cleaning woman? Hotel maid? Nurse? None of them paid all that well. There were a handful of woman doctors, lawyers, and the like, but the closest pointer to the future was that there have always been quite a few women in computer programming. But you couldn't just walk in and ask for a programming job if you'd never done it before.
In short, this movie makes the usual exaggerations you expect in a comedy, but it is nowhere near "preposterous" or "ridiculously unrealistic". It's pretty solidly grounded in 1967 reality.
Now, on the other hand, I can't say I like the movie all that much. I guess I'm too romantic to take divorce as a joke. But the performances are sound, and I have to say that Van Dyke and Reynolds both had guts to tackle this script at all. Both of them have always been typecast as "lovable".
The marriage of Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke and Debbie
Reynolds) is falling apart. They're always fighting and are extremely
unhappy. They decide to divorce and go their separate ways. They're
helped by friends and co-workers played by Jason Robards, beautiful
Jean Simmons, Van Johnson, Joe Flynn and Lee Grant.
I never even knew this movie existed until it popped up on TCM. It seems to be a forgotten movie which is too bad because its lots of fun. The script is excellent--most of it is a comedy but they also bring up interesting and serious insights into love, sex and relationships. The entire cast is great throwing off one-liners left and right. Also this is a fascinating social documents of the late 1960s to see how couples lived, the things they talked about, the fashions they wore and the houses they had. Sure it's dated but I was never bored. Also it's fun to see 20 year old Tim Matheson in his first film (playing a teenager!). Worth catching.
This movie is a scathing satire of the institution of marriage in modern American society. It offers a honest and frank glimpse of the problems associated with marriage. In the movie, the women are depicted as shrill and manipulative, the men as dupes and drunks, marriage itself as transient and temporary, and love as a sham. According to the movie, marriage is something "to be worked at," not to be enjoyed. Lawyers are crass and insensitive and the judicial system unforgiving. Dick Van Dyke plays Richard Harmon, a man whose life becomes a living nightmare when his marriage starts collapsing. far from being victims, the children are depicted as deriving much joy from their parents' bickering. Men are shown as being crushed under the weight of alimony and the women openly sneering at their men. Marriage counseling is depicted as being pedantic and out of touch and incapable of resolving marital discord. Set in 1967, the movie also depicts heavy consumption of alcohol and the use of cigarettes to deal with anxiety. Society in general is depicted as decadent and materialistic. The parent-child relationship is shown to be situational and shallow, with little love or affection. The story contains no heroes, nothing gets resolved, with the story ending the way it started, the details of which will not be disclosed in this report. The relationship between men and women is depicted as being a power struggle, with both men and women being prone to fits of acting out behavior bordering on outright physical violence. The Harmon character is shown breaking dishes, drinking, yelling, and losing his composure. His best friend is depicted as a cheater and panderer, and a white-collar pimp. The only character that has any redeeming qualities is the whore who has sense enough not to play into Harmon's acting out, not because she cares but because it would put her at risk. The potential for violence permeates throughout the story. Another of Harmon's friends is an out and out drunk. In the movie nobody cares about anybody; everybody is self-centered. There is no sense of community, no real desire to resolve issues, no personal warmth. Psychologically, all the principal characters are neurotic and are resistant to dealing honestly with their feelings. The worst offender of them all is Harmon whose affable exterior hides a deeply narcissistic personality that sets off his wife, which in turn triggers her own defenses. Sadly, these scenarios are not implausible; indeed they are too, too true.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lot of not has been made of a very well known cast here. Bud Yorkin
who would go on directing and do a lot of television including Sanford
and Son does pretty well here controlling a talented cast with a lot of
well known stars and characters. Dick Van Dyke is very good in this
film and Debbie Reynolds while not as attractive as usual throughout
the early parts gets it on later in the movie.
The opening sequence of the divorce meetings with the Lawyers more worried about Golf and other cases is spot on. This couple is divorcing more because of a miss understanding than about a relationship problem. Then the Lawyers and the court run away with it. As for the story that the husbands got the shaft in these things in the 1960's- that it totally accurate. The only thing the film does not put enough of a point on is the fact that the mothers almost automatically got the kids custody during this era and courts never cared about their thoughts often.
Still it is here, though the reason for that is it is made as a comedy. The sequence where all the children are together from previous marriage inside of as with Tom Bosley (Happy Days) doing the score card is funny. Bosley goes through how each kid arrived there and which marriage each kid is from, who the kids parents are, and who was married to who is amazingly complex. Makes things sound like a Peyton Place with staggering effectiveness.
The old "ball and chain" references are still here. I did not recognize a younger Eileen Brennan in the cast until the credits roll. She has the least script here which is a waste of talent. This is a good movie that really does a good job of stereo typing people from the 1960's.
The message of trying to stop this madness is a good one but was ignored in the 1960's and beyond until today, Not only are a lot of relationships rocky but we are now adding gay relationships into the mix.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On the whole, this is not a great film, and it seems in a lot of ways
like a feature length sitcom episode, esp. with Van Dyke doing
essentially his stock character. Debbie Reynolds was done no favors by
the wardrobe, hair and makeup departments, as I've never seen her less
attractive at this point in her career. The film didn't spend enough
time establishing her character either, to the point that I found
myself rooting for Van Dyke to hook up with Jean Simmons' character.
Jason Robards plays a very strange and kind of funny divorcée who is
desperately trying to marry off his ex-wife (Simmons) in order to free
himself to marry his (very pregnant) ditzy girlfriend from Bakersfield.
The settings and music are quite typical and induce nostalgia even in those who did not live in that time and place. There are some really amusing gags that come and go, such as the son who keeps a scorecard of his parents' argument, and the beginning conceit with the conductor on the hilltop who seems, like a god, to be orchestrating all the arguments in the suburban valley below.
These smart bits of humor don't really make the film flow any better or make it any more of a complete experience. By the time Van Johnson shows up, we're thinking there are so many interesting side characters that we don't really care anymore what happens to the original couple played by Van Dyke and Reynolds.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bickering married twosome Dick Van Dyke (as Richard Harmon) and Debbie
Reynolds (as Barbara Harmon) decide to take the plunge - and head for
Divorce Court. But, like they say, "In America the ring costs two
dollars to put on, and a fortune to take off!" Due to high alimony
payments, Mr. Van Dyke finds it difficult to make ends meet.
Acquaintance Jason Robards (as Nelson Downes) is likewise strapped for
cash; so, he decides to help lonely ex-wife Jean Simmons (as Nancy
Downes) walk Van Dyke back to the alter. To free up additional alimony
money, Reynolds is paired up with Van Johnson (as Al Yearling).
The landscape of this Yorkin/Lear satire is excellent. However, it's always evident the characters played by Van Dyke and Reynolds really love each other. Sure, "marriages don't break up, they unravel," but the marriage in question is never shown unraveling. And, it really isn't ever threatened by infidelity, either. The "Pat Collins, Hypnotist" ending is mind-bogglingly stupid, and predictable. Otherwise, the cast performs exceptionally well. Although flawed, the production, with its wonderful cast and crew, is too good to thumb down.
****** Divorce American Style (6/21/67) Bud Yorkin, Norman Lear ~ Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Simmons, Jason Robards
This movie is too absurd for words. I find it really upsetting that
Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke two stars known for their great
physical humor and perkiness are totally unable to breathe real life
into their parts. It is not humor nor sarcasm nor social commentary,
nor drama. There is no understanding of the characters and their
What impressed me as one who handled many divorces is the partly believable scenes in the lawyers' office and the courtroom. Non lawyers will think this is satire of what goes on. In fact it grossly understates what goes on in the court system in a divorce. It is a very messy process that often takes years to unravel. It causes unbelievable harm to the children and both spouses. Both parties are made to feel like criminals. It also largely impoverishes both spouses and prevents them from going on with their lives. The no fault system that now exists does little to heal the pain. There are two scenes which take place in a lawyers office which is called mediation and in the courtroom. What actually goes on is a lot of screaming by the clients about the unfairness and lying that occurs. What is not understood by the lay public is that their anger is extremely painful to the lawyers and judges as well. Lawyers are also traumatized by the bloody duel and deal with it by acting civilly to each other (hopefully). The lawyers' social chit chat is their way to break the tension. It prevents the lawyers from going over the deep end.
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