THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934) B/W 107m dir: Mark Sandrich

w/Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Lillian Miles, Charles Coleman, William Austin, Betty Grable

This second film in the Astaire-Rogers pairings concerns a love-sick dancer who pursues his dream girl until she succumbs to his terpsichorean charms.

From Arlene Croce's The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book : "When one considers that only ten minutes of The Gay Divorcee are taken up by the dancing of Astaire alone or with Rogers, the film's enduring popularity seems more than ever a tribute to the power of what those minutes contain. For their first co-starring film, the studio [RKO] surrounded Astaire and Rogers with a great deal of 'protective' tissue --- a lot of clowning by Edward Everett Horton, the incessant Alice Brady, and two more farceurs brought in from the stage production, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore. There are songs and dances by other performers than the stars, and there's a great giddy whirligig of a production number. It all falls away in retrospect.

"Most people don't realize how short dance numbers are, even on the stage, and how hard it is to sustain one for more than three minutes, which was Astaire's average length. The general complaint about all the Astaire-Rogers films is that there's not enough dancing. It seems so because the rest of the film is dull by comparison --- what wouldn't be dull by comparison? The dances are poetry; even the best prose of which RKO was capable can't console us for what seem wasted minutes. Although later on there would be more numbers, the proportions established in The Gay Divorcee remained basic to every Astaire-Rogers picture."

Those numbers include "Night and Day" (Croce calls it an "incomparable dance of seduction" which is "a movie in itself") and "The Continental."

From the website A March Through Film History (, this 2012 article about the film:

"People did not know, but the way dancing was presented in musicals were about to change when a small, skinny man with a receding hair line took his place on screen. After the release of RKO’s 1933 movie Flying Down to Rio it was interesting to find that the most attention-grabbing actors of the film were two supporting ones, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, as they quipped back and forth and danced their way into the limelight. From that the studio began to package them as a team and arose to produce a new line of musicals that stepped away from the large, lavish chorus set ups of the Busby Berkeley pictures from Warner Bros. and began to focus on the beautiful precision of the individual dancers as never before. It starts here with The Gay Divorcee and the performance of the dancing perfectionist Fred Astaire.

"The Gay Divorcee is a musical comedy about a woman seeking a divorce from her husband who she has not seen in years and she meets a new love interest in a dancer who literally sweeps her off her feet. Mimi (Ginger Rogers) takes a trip to England in effort to gain a divorce from her husband who cares little about her and has not visited her in many years. To do so she, with the help of her several times wed Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) and an incompetent lawyer, Egbert (Edward Everett Horton), who happens to be an ex-fiance of Hortense, who plan for Mimi to have her caught in a staged affair. After many miscues, she mistakes Egbert’s friend, famous dancer Guy Holden (Fred Astaire), to be her co-respondent in the romantic action she was to be discovered in. Guy and Mimi have in the past had a few runs in before, making Guy be infatuated with Mimi and Mimi being less than enthused about him, but even with the mix up Mimi enjoys Guy’s company over the overly gaudy, real co-respondent, Rodolfo (Erik Rhodes). Guy and Mimi’s relationship flourishes as they dance the night away under the moonlight, destined to be together.

"The picture has a rather weak story that sets up many marvelous dance sequences of Astaire and Rogers. The musical moments do, however, play along with the plot, not clogging up the movie as simple eye candy, as the lavish Busby Berkeley films did. The two stars play well off each other, at first with Mimi avoiding Guy while he becomes smitten by her, later evolving to a mutual love between the two as they share wonderful dances with each other. The dancing uses the sets and props as part of its beauty, dancing on and off furniture, using the whole body as the canvas. The elegance and charm of both the stars make the film ever more playful and fun. Despite the loose storyline, you do get caught up in a sort of awe as the splendor of the elegant dancing takes hold of the screen.

"To direct the picture was a novice of feature films, Mark Sandrich. An intelligent man, educated at Columbia University who mistakenly fell into motion pictures, he was an Academy Award winning director of shorts subjects. Here with The Gay Divorcee, he made his first big hit in features. A man of not great creativity, Sandrich was smart enough to know what looked good in such a film. He was a veteran of primarily comedies, but he seemed to know how to bring elegance to this musical, perhaps with the inspiration from Berkeley's films. He does move the camera and take a few high shots in visuals of the large ensemble dancing number, but he more sticks to a static camera while Astaire dances through his scenes, as very much planned by Astaire.

"Above the director you have the stars themselves. Astaire and Rogers were the key of the film, and the reason it was made. Astaire, who had starred in the Broadway version of the film, was very much in control of the creativity of his dance numbers. He choreographed them and performed them all by himself, instructing Sandrich to film him continuously and from head to toe, as he saw it as a full body thing to dance. For Astaire to see only a portion of the dance in a shot would not be right. In a way Rogers was second fiddle, serving as the sex appeal to Astaire creativity and precision, but Rogers and Astaire needed each other. Rogers made Astaire work in the movies allowing him to be appealing. Astaire was originally against having a 'partner' in the movies, in fear of bad blood he experienced with his previous partner, who happened to be his sister, but Astaire would give in and Rogers did not disappoint. Rogers had an elegance that was not displayed before in other musicals she had been in, and her dancing is splendid. It is no wonder these two would make eight more films together.

"As with any picture, you need a fine cast of supporting characters, in this case supplying much of the great humor the film contains. Alice Brady plays the forgetful and ignorant, worldly Aunt Hortense. She clearly knew her role as a buffoonish well-to-do character, as she was a long time veteran of the stage and had just recently returned to appearing in movies, something she never quite liked as much. Edward Everett Horton was a rather well used character actor of the time, playing the attorney friend of Guy who thinks he knows what he is doing, but cannot quite get things right. In two other small humorous roles are Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes, respectively playing an interrupting waiter and the not too convincing co-respondent. Both Blore and Rhodes were hired directly because of their work on the Broadway play was perfect and reprised the roles for the screen.

"A quick note can be made for a beautiful eighteen year old girl that dances with Horton in the suggestive song and dance number “Let’s K-nock K-nees.” This little blond beauty is the teenager Betty Grable, who was a small time actress/dancer at that time, but her future would land her as one of the most iconic pin-up girls during WWII. Grable’s photo in a bathing suit in her later twenties would make the rounds with American soldiers in foxholes around the world, presenting the GIs with what they thought they were fighting for. Well this film gave many their first major look at this blushing beauty.

"The movie was one of RKO’s biggest hits of the year and would inspire many more Astaire-Rogers parings. The film did so well that it would be honored with five Academy Award nominations including best art direction, best musical score, best sound recording, best picture, and it would take home Oscar for best song for 'The Continental,' which accompanies a twenty minute number containing many different dances sequences that splash on the screen.

"The Gay Divorcee was a success for RKO (known as simply Radio Pictures at the time), continuing to build a strong platform for one of Hollywood’s best studios. The Hays office had its issues with the title, as it didn’t believe that divorce should be presented as lightly as 'gay.' By any means, the film is good, light hearted fun and is entertaining to watch. You can see that Astaire and Rogers' future was very bright in the genre with their grace, class and wit."

"The Continental" won an Oscar as Best Song (Con Conrad, Herb Magidson), and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction (Van Nest Polglase, Carroll Clark), Score (Max Steiner), and Sound (Carl Dreher).