The Divorcee (1930)

12 Angry Men
Norma Shearer and Conrad Nagel

'The Divorcee' is a dramatic romance made in 1930, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Norma Shearer, Chester Morris and Conrad Nagel. The movie was based on the novel 'Ex-Wife' by Ursula Parrott and received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, both unsuccessful, and winning for Norma Shearer the Best Actress Award. The movie is an excellent example of the early 1930's pre-code Hollywood films which explored sexuality and sexual mores with a depth and intensity which was not possible a few years later.


After three years of happy marriage, Jerry, played by Norma Shearer, discovers that her beloved husband, Ed, played by Chester Morris, is being unfaithful. She decides to do the same to teach him a lesson, with her husband's friend, Don, played by Robert Montgomery. Ed cannot understand that she is just mirroring what he did and the couple are soon divorced.

Both begin exploring a hedonistic, single lifestyle. Eventually Jerry meets old admirer Paul, played by Conrad Nagel, and agrees to marry him, but things do not turn out as they expect.


The movie is based in the spicy novel 'Ex-Wife' by Ursula Parrott, which was a phenomenal bestseller in 1929. MGM purchased the screen rights for $20,000, an exceptionally high figure for the time..The novel was deemed so hot that MGM did not want it mentioned by name as a source and so credited it on screen as "Based on a novel by Ursula Parrott". They were forbidden by the Production Code Administration to use the original title for the movie and 'Divorcee' was deemed less steamy.
Norma Shearer had married MGM's director of production, Irving G. Thalberg, in 1927 and it gave her a big advantage in obtaining top leading lady roles. She badly wanted to play the strong role of Jerry and went to the trouble of having a series of photos taken of her in provocative poses in order to convince her husband that she could play a sexy lead. Thalberg was convinced although he had originally intended Joan Crawford for the role

Duly convinced, Thalberg threw all MGM's considerable clout behind the movie. Shearer's dresses were designed by Adrian and some script changes were made to showcase her at her best. The result was a Best Actress Oscar and future "liberated" roles for Shearer in the pre-code 1931 movies 'Private Lives' and 'A Free Soul'.

Main Cast

Norma Shearer ... Jerry Martin
Chester Morris ... Ted Martin
Conrad Nagel ... Paul
Robert Montgomery ... Don
Florence Eldridge ... Helen Baldwin
Helene Millard ... Mary
Robert Elliott ... Bill Baldwin
Mary Doran ... Janice Meredith
Tyler Brooke ... Hank
Zelda Sears ... Hannah
George Irving ... Dr Bernard
Helen Johnson ... Dorothy


Director ... Robert Z. Leonard
Producer ... Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay ... Nick Grinde, John Meehan, Zelda Sears
Based on ... The novel 'Ex-Wife' by Ursula Parrott
Music ... Jack Yellen, Milton Ager
Cinematography ... Norbert F. Brodin
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... April 30, 1930
Running time ... 84 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actress ... Norma Shearer
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Director ... Robert Z. Leonard
Best Writing, Achievement ... John Meehan