“The Divorce of Lady X” (1938)
After a brief immersion in the London fog, the pastel carnival of colors assaulting the viewer’s eyes at the start of Ted Whelan’s “The Divorce of Lady X” is not unlike Dorothy’s later emergence from sepia toned Kansas to the hallucinogenic Munchkinland spectrum, except that in the case of this film the sudden visual onslaught actually distracts from the initial expository minutes and will prove an aesthetic weight from which the featherweight material of the comedy will prove insubstantial to justify.
Nor is the success of the film assisted by that most curious of “Golden Age” cinema phenomena: the compromised attraction of the featured romantic coupling by far more interesting and accomplished supporting character actors; in this case, the charm deficient duo of self-assured socialite bulldozer Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon) and suitably flummoxed barrister Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier) is overshadowed by the delightful secondary (in credit ranking only) performances of Ralph Richardson, Binnie Barnes, Gertrude Musgrove and Morton Selten.
Stranded in a London hotel due to heavy fog, the patrons of a costume ball find themselves with a shortage of sleep worthy accommodations. After the aforementioned young barrister (Olivier) sternly refuses to surrender his spacious suite of rooms to a group of ladies, the aforementioned flighty socialite (Oberon) bullies her way into his bed and pajamas, all within the boundaries of good, chaste mischievousness, though both the mechanics of the plot and its execution are lacking both the sparkle of energy and invention to be found in the best screwball comedies.
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