Saturday, November 5, 2011

Laurence Olivier does comedy!

Who knew that Laurence Olivier was actually a reasonably good acter when given comic material? The movie that shows this is The Divorce of Lady X, which is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM.

Olivier plays Everard Logan, a prominent barrister who is spending the night at a London hotel. There's a costume ball going on in the ballroom downstairs, and due to the stereotypical London fog, the people running the ball decide it's best if everybody stays over at the hotel. The problem is that there aren't really enough rooms for everybody. Not that this matters to socialite Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon). She goes up to Logan's suite, and doesn't mind that it's taken. She finagles herself into taking Logan's bed and making him sleep on the sofa in the other room. To compound matters, she never tells him her name, all the while eating his breakfast and taking his bathrobe before leaving. He's fallen in love with her, though.

All this presents a problem when Logan is at his office later in the day. Lord Mere (Ralph Richardson) comes in to tell Logan he wants a divorce from his wife. The reason is that Mere had a private investigator following his wife, and the investigator determined that Lady Mere had spent the night at a hotel with another man, although they didn't discover who the man was! Logan's inference is obvious and natural: the woman who came up to his room must have been Lady Mere, and all this is going to come out in the divorce trial.

Except, of course, that we viewers know that Logan is completely innocent of any involvement with Lady Mere. In fact, Leslie is the granddaughter of the equally prominent Lord Steele, a judge at the high court who would be likely to preside over the divorce proceedings. Leslie, meanwhile, has decided that she's not going to let Logan off lightly. In fact, she's going to pretend to be Lady Mere and let Logan continue to believe that he's the man engaging in adultery with his wife's client. In fact, the real Lady Mere (Binnie Barnes) seems to be OK with all this. After all, she has good reason to want to get back at men.

The script isn't perfect, as The Divorce of Lady X is one of those "comedies of lies" that I'm normally predisposed against. However, Olivier and Oberon both do quite well playing off each other, and show a surprisingly adept touch at comedy (at least, at elegant comedy). The movie is also one of the earliest British films made in three-strip Technicolor. It's a movie that's not without its flaws, but is still entertaning and worth watching.

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