Kino Lorber | 1940 | 75 minutes | Not rated | Feb. 26, 2019
Blu-ray review of a divorce certificate
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 18, 2019
It can usually take several years in Hollywood to even consider making a remake of a movie, for a number of easily discernible reasons, including, but not limited to, the fact that if enough time has not passed. not elapsed, people may just think that the previous version is being recycled rather than being offered something new. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s at least a little weird that A divorce certificate does not have one but of them remade less than two decades after the tale first appeared in a 1922 British silent film, although the very fact that the first film version was a British silencer can logically explain at least part of the remake’s “whirlwind”. (The original British film was in turn based on a play that had debuted the year before 1921, and all three versions are decidedly “scenes” in the presentation aspects.) Perhaps because the first movie was British (and silent), it may not have had enough impact to seriously hamper the film’s first talkie version, which came out ten years later in 1932, and which, famously enough (at the era, at least) paired Katharine Hepburn (in her screen debut) with John Barrymore. If there weren’t any real “market-based” requirements preventing the 1932 “remake” (in quotes since the original UK version may not have had much of an impact in the US), there is arguably a bit more of a surprise factor in the fact that the next release came shortly after the Barrymore / Hepburn release. Maybe because this version caused a stir when it was first released, it may seem at least a little unexpected that the next version did not appear until eight years later, in 1940, with Maureen O’Hara taking on the role of Sydney, the daughter of a man named Hilary (Adolphe Menjou as Barrymore), whom Sydney has never really known since Hilary has been locked in an insane asylum for many years.
A divorce certificate is certainly a product of its time, as can be deduced from its very title. (This title may remind some that production standards at the time did not allow the Cole Porter musical Gay divorce to be filmed under this name, as it was believed that divorces could not be happy, which led to the film being called The divorced gay when it was released in 1934.) Apparently, in the “dark ages” of the early 20th century, one of the few surefire ways a woman could divorce her husband was to think of him as insane. This is a salient point of the plot in A divorce certificate, because at the start of the film, Sydney’s mother Margaret (Fay Bainter) attempts to put the sadness of her life with Hilary behind her by pursuing a relationship with Gray Meredith (Herbert Marshall). Sydney is also involved with a dashing young man named John Storm (Patric Knowles).
A divorce certificate is unmistakably old school in its flowery, often almost hyperbolic dialogue, but it at least hints at a surprisingly provocative subject matter. When Hilary (Adolphe Menjou) arrives unexpectedly, her presence of course upsets the whole household, but what is interesting is that the household has already been shown to harbor tensions simmering just below the surface. It’s been hinted pretty widely that Sydney may have inherited her father’s “eccentric” streak, and it’s quite amusing to see the late Maureen O’Hara’s mark erupt into small fits of spite in the role. She looks a little less patrician than Katharine Hepburn, but maybe for that very reason, she’s arguably a little more vulnerable.
But by any stretch A divorce certificate is very strange indeed. It attempts to give a sort of melodramatic soap opera, a tale of a family in crisis, but the denouement, featuring the two questionable goofy members of the family beating in tandem on a piano is only an obviously bizarre formulation for one. era of movie it often tended to focus on the guy who had the girl before the final fade out. Sure, that’s kind of what’s going on here, but when it comes to a dad and a daughter, things can be provocative in a way that has escaped the Hays office.
Blu-ray divorce certificate, video quality
A divorce certificate is featured on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics imprint with 1080p AVC encoded transfer to 1.36: 1. The back cover of this version features a “brand new 2K master”, and aside from a few transient issues, this is a very organic and problem-free transfer. There’s kind of a weird moment at the start of the credits, where there’s a momentary layering during an optical fade (see screenshot 14), and it’s frankly so long since I’ve seen this version. (I think it was maybe even on American Movie Classics, it’s how long ago that was), I just can’t remember if it was always there. There are a few small spots and bits of dirt dotting the premises, but nothing too much of a distraction. Contrast is excellent throughout the presentation and the grain field also resolves naturally. There are several optical fades in the film itself, some of which can feel momentarily rough. The detail levels are generally excellent, although a few medium and close shots appear to have minor focusing issues inherent in them.
Blu-ray divorce certificate, audio quality
A divorce certificate features a competent DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that showcases a bit of boxing throughout, but supports dialogue from the movie perfectly. Part of Roy Webb’s score sounded a bit bright to my ears, but there are no absolute issues with major distortion. The disc does not contain subtitles.
Blu-ray divorce certificate, overall rating and recommendation
The dogs of Trivia might be interested to see that this version was made by John Farrow, husband of another Maureen (Sullivan) and father of Mia. Farrow brings the kind of well-heeled professionalism you’d expect, and the movie tries to develop an emotional boost, but my hunch is that this material probably played old-fashioned even in 1940. Fans of the cast might want to. be checking this out, and the good news for them is that the technical merits of this record are generally solid.
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