The phrase “happily divorced” is one that easily applies to Amanda (Norma Shearer) and Elyot (Robert Montgomery). Their marriage was extremely volatile, but now that they’re divorced (and thrilled to be rid of each other), they’ve both moved on and remarried; Amanda to Victor (Reginald Denny) and Elyot to Sibyl (Una Merkel). After each of their weddings, they each head off to their honeymoons. Imagine their surprise (and horror) when Amanda and Elyot find out they’re both honeymooning in the same city, in the same hotel, in rooms right next to each other.
They each beg their respective new spouses to leave immediately, but they both end up getting into arguments that end with Sybil and Victor storming out of their rooms. Left alone, Amanda and Elyot step out onto the terrace outside of their rooms and start having a conversation. They start looking back on their relationship and suddenly remember what it is that made them fall in love in the first place. They kiss and impulsively decide to run away from their honeymoons and go to St. Moritz together. The only thing standing in their way of happiness is their tendency to constantly get into fights, but they even think of a way to stop those.
At first, all is going well between Amanda and Elyot, but soon their arguments start popping up more and more often. Eventually, their plan to stop arguments quits working and they get into a knock down, drag out fight that involves Amanda breaking a record over Elyot’s head and completely trashing their rented chalet. The next day, they find that their new spouses have teamed up to track them down. Sybil and Elyot decide that they aren’t going to divorce and Amanda and Victor do the same. The two couples sit down to have breakfast together, but when Sybil and Victor get into an argument, Amanda and Elyot get such a kick out of seeing what they must look like, they once again decide to run off together.
Private Lives has some of my favorite acting by Norma Shearer. There are some scenes where she says so much with just the glance of her eyes or the tone of her voice. Definitely watch for her expression when she first realizes that Elyot is in the room next door and listen to the way she uses her voice when she and Elyot are reminiscing about their relationship, it’s great stuff. The movie itself is fully of smart, witty lines that lent themselves perfectly to being delivered by Norma and Robert Montgomery. The two of them had such a wonderful rapport with each other, it was a real delight to watch the two of them go to town with this material.