For Reel

Ex-Lady (1933)
September 14, 2014, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Florey
3.5 Stars
Ex-LadyAlthough one might imagine that Bette Davis would have a certain sentimentality about the first film in which her name was above the title, Ex-Lady was released during one of the most creatively unfulfilling periods of her career and represented the peak of her frustrations with the roles Warner Brothers had been providing her. The role might not be completely suited to Davis’ talents, but her very noticeable discomfort adds a lot to her character of a strong, independent woman whose lame boyfriend all but guilts her into a marriage before immediately turning to infidelity. There’s a terrific scene in which Davis witnesses him (a lousy Gene Raymond) with another woman, and when he arrives home in the middle of the night she plays aloof to see if he confesses. When he doesn’t, she announces her intention to leave in the morning with a cocksure confidence. This sense of projected emotional detachment is coming from her desire to defend her pride, but the film is also keen on displaying her vulnerabilities–on more than one occasion, Davis weeps as soon as she is alone in a space. The greatness in the performance is this running theme of the contrast between her private moments and her public affectations. As a modern, progressive woman, she is independent and opinionated, but it is grounded with a very feminine emotionality (in the generic Hollywood convention). Her power comes not only from her confrontational attitude and the sparring matches she has with her husband, but from her embrace of what it is that makes her woman.

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