5/11/12: The Gay Divorcee

“Chance is the fool’s name for fate!”

Thursday was the 113th anniversary of Fred Astaire’s birth – the leading man in Mark Sandrich’s 1934 musical, The Gay Divorcee. It was Fred & Ginger’s second of ten collaborations. The film is an adaptation of the Broadway musical, A Gay Divorce, and is very much a Broadway musical.

It’s the story of Guy Holden, a famous American dancer, initially on vacation in Paris with his inept lawyer friend, Egbert played by Edward Horton, but early on they head to London via ship. While onboard, Guy meets and falls for Mimi Glossop, played by Ginger Rogers, a beautiful wealthy blond traveling with her ditzy Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady). He accidentally rips her dress & gives her his overcoat to cover up. She finds him annoying & won’t return the coat in person, but agrees to send it to him when they get to London. When it arrives without a note, he becomes obsessed with looking all over London until he finds her. He finally sees her in her Dusenberg and the chase is on – literally & figuratively. Like all good romantic comedies, there’s plenty of confusion, mistakes of identity & relationship complications.

The music is fantastic in the film. And the dancing, of course. Notably, Let’s K-nock K-nees, sung & danced by an 18 year old & still unheralded Betty Grable, soon to be the girl with the million dollar legs; and The Continental, at the time the longest & still the second longest dance sequence in movie history at just under 17 minutes. Only the ballet at the end of An American in Paris at just over 17 minutes is longer. It resulted in the first Best Song Oscar for Con Conrad (music) & Herb Magidson (lyrics) at the 7th Academy Awards. The film received 4 other nominations, including Best Picture and Score.

Fred Astaire never won a performance Oscar but was nominated for Supporting Actor in The Towering Inferno of all things, and was given an Honorary Award in 1950 at the 22nd Oscars. Ginger took home the Best Actress Oscar for & as Kitty Foyle in 1941 at the 13th Academy Awards. Alice Brady is awesome as Aunt Hortense, the film’s main foil. She won the Supporting Actress Oscar three years later as In Old Chicago’s Molly O’Leary. She wasn’t present at the ceremony and, believe it or not, the Oscar was stolen by an impostor accepting on her behalf. To this day, it hasn’t been recovered nor the thief located. And unfortunately, she died of cancer at just 46 years old before the Academy could issue her a copy.

The Gay Divorcee is my favorite of the nine films I’ve seen so far this month. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’ll love it. If you have, you already do! Either way, it’s worth the rent.


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