Norma Shearer

Lady of the Night (1925)

Lady of the Night 1925

When two girls are born at roughly the same time, they go on to lead very different, yet somehow similar, lives. There’s Molly (Norma Shearer), whose father was a convicted criminal and was sentenced to prison by Judge Banning (Fred Esmelton) shortly after Molly was born. Life wasn’t easy for Molly; as she grew up, she lost her mother and ended up in a reform school. Meanwhile, Florence (also Norma Shearer) was the daughter of Judge Banning and happened to be born around the same time as Molly. She enjoyed a life full of privilege and got to attend an excellent boarding school, but like Molly, she also lost her mother.

Both Florence and Molly graduate from their respective schools at about the same time. Molly gets a job as a dime-a-dance girl in a bar and gets together with her boyfriend Chunky (George K. Arthur). One day, a customer gets out of line with her and Chunky tries to put a stop to it. When the customer overpowers Chunky, his friend David (Malcolm McGregor) steps in and puts a stop to things. She’s immediately taken with David. While Chunky is the type of person Molly is accustomed to being around, David is an aspiring inventor and more polished. Although Molly loves David, he only sees her as a friend, but Chunky is jealous of the attention Molly starts giving his friend.

When David announces he has an invention that will open any safe, Chunky thinks criminals would pay hand over fist for it, but Molly encourages him to sell it to bankers so they can use it to keep criminals out. Following Molly’s advice, David presents his invention to the board of directors at a bank, which Judge Banning just happens to be part of. Not only does the board of directors love his invention, he also has the chance to meet Florence, who is also instantly smitten with him. David falls in love with Florence and although she cares about him, she doesn’t have the heart to pursue him when she meets Molly and sees that she loves him. But when Molly realizes how much he loves Florence, she only wants to see him happy.

Lady of the Night is nothing Earth shattering, but it’s a very pleasant little movie. Usually when a movie has an actor or actress playing a dual role, the end result can feel really gimmicky, but this is one movie that seems to actually pull it off; possibly because Florence and Molly only have one scene together. If you’re a big fan of Norma Shearer, Lady of the Night is well worth your time. She’s great in both roles, but I’m particularly fond of her performance as bad girl Molly, especially when she gets to wear that huge, spectacular feathered hat. This also happens to be one of Norma’s earliest films where she has a major role that’s widely available to the general public (He Who Gets Slapped is a year older and is the earliest of her movies that I know of to have a DVD release.)

What’s on TCM: November 2015

Norma Shearer

Happy November, everyone! Hope everyone had their fix of horror movies in Halloween and is ready for a new month of movies to look forward to.

Before we take a look at November’s TCM schedule, a little bit of site news! If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I traditionally spend every November writing about the fabulous pre-code era on a daily basis as part of National Blog Posting Month. But after five years, I feel like I’ve written about most of the most significant pre-code movies and at this point, the pre-codes I have access to (and haven’t previously written about) would make for a pretty lackluster month of posts. So for the sake of quality, I have decided to go in a different direction this year. I’ve decided to shift my attention to another era of filmmaking that I adore, but have long felt I don’t give nearly enough attention on here — the silent era. Stay tuned every day in November for a review of a different classic from the silent era.

Now, back to TCM’s schedule. I’m thrilled to see that Norma Shearer is November’s Star of the Month. She’s one of my favorite actresses, so even though I’ve seen most of the movies they’re showing for her this month aren’t new to me, it will be a pleasure to revisit some of them and catch up on the few I haven’t seen. On Wednesday nights, there will be a spotlight on movies based on the works of southern authors. And in between, there are plenty of delightful days in between.

With no further ado, let’s take a closer look!


Let Us Be Gay 1930

Let Us Be Gay (1930)

After years of marriage, Kitty Brown (Norma Shearer) still adores her husband Bob (Rod La Rocque) and is faithfully devoted to him and their two children. She doesn’t dress stylishly and she doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup, but she’s happy. At least, she’s happy until Bob’s mistress drops by the house one day. She’s heartbroken and wants nothing to do with him. But she’s not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself. After he divorce, Kitty gets a makeover and earns a reputation for being notorious maneater.

Three years after her divorce, Kitty is invited to spend a weekend at the home of Mrs. Bouccicault (Marie Dressler). Mrs. Boucciault’s granddaughter Diane (Sally Eilers) is engaged to be married to Bruce (Raymond Hackett), but is not-too-secretly seeing a man named Bob on the side. She invites Kitty because she’s practically an expert at stealing men away from women and asks her to work her magic on Bob. She agrees, not realizing Bob is her ex-husband.

Bob hasn’t seen Kitty since their divorce and he can barely recognize her as the woman he used to be married to. Although it’s an awkward reunion at first, but old feelings start to come back.

I liked Let Us Be Gay more than I expected to. At the time of writing this post, it gets 6.5 stars on IMDB, so really, a pretty average rating by IMDB standards. But it was a pretty entertaining little movie. I loved Norma in it. Seeing Norma play dowdy was certainly a fun surprise; she was hardly recognizable. But after Kitty has her makeover, we get to see Norma doing everything that makes me love her early 1930s roles. Marie Dressler was a lot of fun as the over-the-top Mrs. Bouccicault. And Sally Eilers was a real treat, especially in her drunk scenes. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but I had so much fun watching everything else leading up to that point, I still really like the movie on the whole.

Pre-Code Essentials: The Divorcee (1930)

The Divorcee 1930 Norma Shearer


When Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) decide to get married, one of the most important things they both want is for their marriage to be a marriage of equals. They live together happily married for three years, but that all changes on the night of their third anniversary party. Several of their friends arrive at Ted and Jerry’s home, including Janice (Mary Doran). Ted and Janice had a brief affair some time ago and it doesn’t take long for Jerry to pick up on the fact that they aren’t just friends. She pressures Ted into admitting to the affair, but he swears it doesn’t mean a thing.

Jerry is devastated by Ted’s infidelity, but since their marriage was supposed to be built on equality, she evens the score by having an affair with Ted’s best friend Don (Robert Montgomery). She admits to it and also tells him it didn’t mean anything to her, but Ted is furious. However, Jerry is even angrier at Ted’s double standards and insists on a divorce so she can be free to pursue as many men as she pleases. But will that kind of lifestyle make her happy?

My Thoughts

I really don’t think The Divorcee gets enough credit nowadays. Although it’s widely accepted as one of the greatest pre-code films, it doesn’t get enough recognition for being a good movie in general. Time has actually been quite kind to The Divorcee, which is a lot more than can be said for many other movies from this era. It lacks the general creakiness that is characteristic of many movies from the late 1920s and very early 1930s. The writing is great and the story still feels very modern and relevant. You could do a remake of it today and audiences could forget how long ago the original story was written. Norma Shearer’s performance is still wonderful; not the sort you have to say, “Well, standards were different back then” about. It’s a very smart, well produced movie that deserves a little more recognition beyond its pre-code factor.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

When Jerry tells Ted she’s “balanced their accounts.”

The scene where Jerry furiously tells Ted that from then on, he’s the only man her door is closed to.

The whole plot in general.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

The Divorcee is based on the novel “Ex-Wife” by Ursula Parrot, which was a bestseller in 1929 because of its scandalous content. Obviously, trying to turn it into a movie was going to be a very risky endeavor because being tied to such a book was going to practically set out a welcome mat for censors and moral crusaders. You might notice that the book is never directly credited as being the basis for the movie; it’s simply stated as being “based on a novel by Ursula Parrot.”

Taking on a provocative character like Jerry was also definitely a big career risk for Norma Shearer. By the time she made The Divorcee, she was an established star, but audiences loved her for playing respectable characters. But she was bound and determined to liven up her image with something more scandalous; a move that could have either brought her career to a new level or been career suicide. Her husband Irving Thalberg didn’t think she was right for the part and even Norma’s maid thought playing such a character would be a bad idea. But she certainly proved them all wrong and not only successfully changed her screen image, but won an Academy Award in the process.

Fashion in Film: Berets

If you’re like me, you often find yourself watching films and seeing tons of fashion styles you would love to wear in real life.  I watch movies from so many decades and from so many different genres, if I actually did copy all the styles I like, I’d have one diverse wardrobe.  But if there’s one accessory you could easily get a lot of mileage out of, it’s a beret.  Berets have been a popular hat style for decades, so if you want to go for a Norma Shearer inspired look one day and a Faye Dunaway inspired look the next, a beret could easily work for both styles.


Dueling Divas: Joan Crawford vs. Norma Shearer

The Women_Joan and Norma

Bette Davis may be Joan Crawford’s most notorious rival, but personally, I don’t think Joan had nearly as much to fear from Bette as she did from Norma Shearer.  One thing you have to remember is that Bette and Joan only spent six years working together at the same studio, so for most of their careers, they at least weren’t directly competing for roles.  They may not have liked each other very much, but at least they were out of each other’s hair for the most part. On the other hand, Norma and Joan spent seventeen years together at MGM, so on many occasions, they were vying for the same material.  Plus, Norma had the advantage of being married to Irving Thalberg, MGM’s head of production.


A Free Soul (1931)

A Free Soul Norma Shearer Leslie HowardJan Ashe (Norma Shearer) and her father Stephen(Lionel Barrymore) have a very close relationship.  Even though a lot of their family judges Stephen for his alcoholism, Jan stands by him every step of the way. When she and Stephen are invited to a family dinner, Jan’s grandmother asks her to keep an eye on Stephen and make sure he doesn’t drink. But sure enough, he shows up to dinner drunk.  Not only does he come over drunk, he brings gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) along with him.  Stephen is an attorney and had just defended him in court earlier that day.

Even though she’s engaged to Dwight Wintrhop (Leslie Howard), Jan is very attracted to Ace, who she finds much more exciting than Dwight.  They start seeing each other and before long, Ace asks Stephen for permission to marry Jan.  Stephen does not approve of their relationship, but that doesn’t stop Jan from seeing him.  However, when Jan finally can’t take any more of Stephen’s boozing, she makes a deal with him that she’ll leave Ace if he quits drinking. Stephen and Jan take a trip out of town to get their minds off their vices and at first, all is going well for them.  But as soon as they get home again, they’re right back where they started.

When Jan goes to see Ace, he’s angry at her for leaving him and insists they get married right away.  She doesn’t want to marry him and wants to go back to Dwight, but Ace continues to force her into it.  Finally, Dwight is ready to put an end to this once and for all and shoots Ace.  Dwight owns up to it and is willing to take the fall for everything, just to keep Jan’s name out of the whole mess.  But Stephen isn’t willing to let him throw his life away and makes a very dramatic appearance in court to defend him.

A Free Soul isn’t one of my favorites, the story really drags at times.  But it does have some excellent performances and it’s worth seeing for that reason alone.  Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, and Clark Gable all shine in it.  Barrymore won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, Shearer earned a Best Actress nomination, and it was a big breakthrough for Gable, who was pretty new to the film world at the time.  Leslie Howard was also a movie newcomer then, and he’s fine in A Free Soul, but he wasn’t given a chance to do very much in it. Of course, it’s interesting to see Gable and Howard together in a movie as newcomers eight years before they co-starred in Gone With the Wind when they were both at the peaks of their careers.