The Divorcee starring Norma Shearer in a role that won her an academy award is a pre code Classic (actually in some ways it was post code as Will Hays was working in Hollywood to police the studios, but The Divorcee flouted every aspect of the code and proved that it would be years before anyone followed it). Shearer plays Jerry Martin a party girl who attempts to live as a man: career, lovers, parties and no apologies, and even if she is a bit chastened at the end of the film you'll barely notice.
The film opens with Jerry embracing her new fiancée Ted
and discussing the egalitarian marriage they'll have.
It's pretty obvious from the title that doom is coming and it comes quickly. Jerry's friend Paul is in love with her and none too pleased to hear of the engagement. He drowns his sorrows and winds up taken a late not drive with Helen, a women whose in love with him, and Helen's sister. Unsuprisingly the drive does not go well.
There's a horrific accident that leaves Helen's face terribly disfigured. The damage is left to the audience's imagination, but confirmed with fantastic early Hollywood histrionics as her sister screams that she hopes Helen does not live after seeing her face.
The next scene shows two weddings. Jerry and Ted's in a church
And Helen and a guilt stricken Paul's in the hospitall.
The film then jumps forward three years to Jerry and Ted's third wedding anniversary. Jerry is wearing a divine 1930s jumpsuit.
Still a career girl she is shown finishing up some work
Meanwhile, Ted is preparing to go on a business trip. When her maid comments on their unusual arrangement Jerry laughs it off, secure in Ted's love for her. After all he has just gifted her with an expensive bauble
Prior to Ted's leaving the couple have some friends over. That's when Jerry finds Ted in a compromising position with a known home wrecker
And the plot thickens. Never loosing her cool Jerry makes a snappy comment to which the home wrecker replies "If I could think as quick as that I would have stayed married." Jerry's retort "think of all the fun you would have missed."
Ted appeals to Jerry's supposedly masculine nature by telling her to "take the broad minded view." She pretends to agree, but is inwardly plotting her revenge. As soon as Ted departs on his business Jerry sets about seducing his best friend. Her knowing gaze from the wrappings of her velvet coat say it all.
When Ted returns home she gamely informs him that she has "balanced their accounts."
Ted is not too broad minded once the tables are turned. The couple go their separate ways. Jerry begins living like a man and getting all her "exercise in night clubs." With an increasing fabulous set of outfits to go with her divine deco apartment:
Eventually Jerry tires of the partying and runs into Paul
who declares his continued love for her. The two embark on an affair and are initially happy.
Paul wants to leave poor disfigured Helen and marry Jerry. Initially Jerry is game but then Helen shows up at her apartment. Nothing like a poor blameless disfigured accident victim in a black tule veil to put the damper on romance:
Jerry has second thoughts. Newly chastened she decides for return to Ted and honor the sanctity of marriage. So while The Divorcee does have a typical ending with Jerry regretting her past sins, the the sinning sure looked like glamorous fun!