Ex-Lady (1933)

Director:

Robert Florey

Plot

Helen Bauer (Bette Davis) is a glamorous, successful, headstrong, and very liberated New York graphic artist with modern ideas about romance. She is involved with Don Peterson (Gene Raymond) but is not prepared to sacrifice her independence by entering into matrimony. The two agree to wed only to pacify Helen’s conventional immigrant father Adolphe (Alphonse Ethier), whose Old World views spur him to condemn their affair. They form a business partnership, but financial problems at their advertising agency put a strain on the marriage and Don begins seeing Peggy Smith (Kay Strozzi), one of his married clients. Convinced it was marriage that disrupted their relationship, Helen suggests they live apart but remain lovers. When Don discovers Helen is dating his business rival, playboy Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley), he returns to Peggy, but in reality his heart belongs to his wife. Agreeing their love will help their marriage survive its problems, the two reconcile and settle into domestic bliss.

The plot is unusual for its time in that Helen is not denigrated for her beliefs about marriage and Don is not depicted as being a cad. In addition, although they are sleeping together and unmarried, neither is concerned about the possibility of children, and certain dialog could suggest that they are using birth control

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Enjoyable little gem, worth its 70 minutes

20 March 2001 | by Sleepy-17 (Colorado) – See all my reviews

Good acting and a slightly snappy script keep your interest afloat for this light sex comedy about marriage and early woman’s lib. Decadent 30’s New York is the background for this I-was-checking-out-while-she-was-checking-in (thank you, Don Covay!) tale of wavering fidelity.

Bette Davis’ Impact Upon Women’s Empowerment

Author: phd12166 from United States
6 April 2008

100 years after her birth, in 2008, to the credit of the greatest actor of the 20th century, it’s impossible to separate the personal empowerment of Bette Davis’ viewers from societies becoming more gender & sexually egalitarian.

“Ex-Lady” is the film version of an unperformed (1931) play “Illicit.” By 1933, the blatant sexuality of “Ex-Lady” was close to being considered censor-able. Warner Bros’. production explores the subject of open marriage way before it was popular. Brazen director, French Robert Florey accentuates the acute blend of delicious dialog, succinct script, on-point performances & sensual cinematography.

exladygif2

Helen Bauer (Bette Davis at 25yo) is a sexy, fashion illustrator. Don Peterson (Gene Raymond at 22yo) is an advertising executive who’s proposed marriage to Helen; but, she initially refuses not wanting to give up her independence. Much to the chagrin of Helen’s overly moralistic father, Adolphe Bauer (Alphonso Ethier), the unwed couple is obviously having a live-in sexual relationship. Had this film been released later, these sexual aspects of an unwed relationship would’ve been censor-able due to the Hayes Code.

What’s more, after Miss Bauer eventually becomes Mrs. Peterson, Helen’s reluctance to marry comes across like the woman has intuition, when her husband begins a sexual flirtation with the bored, flapper wife, Iris Van Hugh (Claire Dodd), of his alcoholic business rival, Hugo Van Hugh (Frank McHugh). When Helen tries to platonically date a handsome rouge, Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley), he unsuccessfully attempts to make an adulteress of her!

Several examples of delightful dialog make my points plain:

exlady10

Don (Raymond): “I’m just about fed up with sneaking in…let’s get married so I’ll have the right to be with you.” Helen (Davis): “What do you mean ‘right’? I don’t like the word ‘right’.” Don: “Let’s not quibble about words.” Helen: “No, I’m not quibbling, ‘right’ means something. No one has any ‘rights’ about me, except me.”

Helen soft & sincerely conveys what Bette Davis believed: women are men’s equals. Part of the reason such films appeal(ed) to Davis’ audiences so much is because she portrays empowered women. Helen ‘says without saying’ that she has the ‘right’ not to get married & enjoy her sexuality, too (in 1933!).

When Helen (Davis) says: “I don’t want babies,” Davis commented later in her life (1971), there’d be fewer divorces if couples didn’t marry simply to have sex & babies. If her point, that couples who get married ought to do so because they are very strongly committed to one another, hasn’t been socially adopted in the US yet, & couples still wed for moralistic reasons, Davis’ Helen conveys a higher moral reason for marriage: a feminist one that holds very heavy weight today, since equality between women & men is all the more prevalent, as this early 20th century dialog reveals:

codelady

Don (Raymond): “You’re a successful woman; I ought not to like it.” Helen (Davis): “You’re a pretty successful man; I ought not to like it.” Don & Helen simultaneously: “I’m a man!”

As usual, Bette Davis’ unique set of physical & verbal expressions convey a woman’s power; this time without disempowering her man. This remains her appeal to women & men: as a woman’s role model who is eventually actualized & an independent woman who men do love. In this sense, Bette Davis’ characters, as role models of empowered women, have far reaching effects upon changing the social status of women to be equal to men and reveals that men do like it.

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