Cast & Crew
Because the fog has made continuation of his journey home impossible, London barrister Everard Logan is forced to spend the night in the swank Royal Park hotel. Unable to obtain a single room, Logan settles for a suite and is adamant that he will not share it with any guests stranded at a fancy dress ball held in the hotel. Leslie Steele, one of the guests, refuses to take no for an answer, however, and convinces the reluctant Logan to let her share his sitting room, then tricks him into giving her both the bedroom and his pajamas. The next morning, though still grouchy, Logan has become infatuated with Leslie's angelic looks and sweet disposition and, although he professes to hate women and mistakenly thinks that Leslie is married, wants to see her again. She then dashes off in his pajamas, not revealing her real name. At home, Leslie, who is the granddaughter of judge Lord Steele, tells her grandfather that she will marry Logan, even though he thinks she is an unfaithful wife. Meanwhile, in his office, Logan is visited by Lord Mere, who tells him that his wife spent the previous night at the Royal Park hotel with another man, and wants Logan to begin divorce proceedings. Misinterpreting the details of Mere's story, Logan thinks that Leslie is Lady Mere, and clumsily tries to convince Lord Mere not to initiate divorce proceedings, while simultaneously trying to hide what he thinks is his own part in the case. Later, while Logan is cross-examining a woman in a divorce case in Lord Steele's court, Leslie, sitting in the gallery, is shocked to hear his loutish views on the frivolous nature of modern woman. Returning to his office, Logan tries to hide his identity from Lady Mere's maid Saunders, who has come to tell him about the man she saw coming out of her mistress's hotel room that morning. During the interview, Leslie comes to the office to return Logan's pajamas, and he hides her in another office. She decides to play along when he tells her that "her husband" is in the next room, and despite his reservations about her, Logan admits that he loves her. Returning to Mere, however, he learns about various other affairs of Lady Mere, decides his situation is hopeless and talks Mere into attempting a reconciliation with his wife. When Mere returns to thank Logan for his advice and says that his wife also thanks him, Logan is despondent and tells Mere to tell his wife she is the cleverest woman in the world. This starts Mere wondering and soon he and Lady Mere argue and she throws him out. At his club, Mere runs into Logan and Logan confesses that he is the "other man." Happy that a gentleman like Logan is his rival, rather than the lout he suspected, Mere gives him his blessing, then gets drunk and returns home to tell his wife about Logan's confession. The next day, when Leslie and Lady Mere arrive at Logan's office simultaneously, Leslie takes Lady Mere into her confidence. They concoct a scheme wherein Leslie invites Logan to the Mere estate for the weekend, then, when Logan comes down for dinner, the real Lady Mere introduces him to "Leslie Steele," and they all have a laugh at Logan's expense. Logan leaves, furious, but Leslie soon finds him on his way to France and he finally proposes. Soon, Logan is involved with another divorce case, but now he fervently defends the innocent nature of women.
J. H. Roberts
H. B. Hallam
David B. Cunynghame
William V. Skall
L. J. W. Stoukis
C. R. Tasto
A. W. Watkins
The Divorce of Lady X
Korda had discovered Oberon when she was working as a film extra, but then had seen her rise to stardom in the U.S., where independent producer Sam Goldwyn had cast her in such films as The Dark Angel (1935) and These Three (1936). Calling her back to Great Britain, Korda started looking for a suitable starring vehicle for her. Plans to film Caesar and Cleopatra and Cyrano de Bergerac fell through. When his epic production of I, Claudius fell apart, partly because of an auto accident that required Oberon to undergo plastic surgery, he moved her into a pair of comedies, Over the Moon (1939), co-starring Rex Harrison, and this remake of his low-budget 1932 comedy Counsel's Opinion.
This time out, Korda gave the story, adapted from Gilbert Wakefield's play, a more spectacular production, with a $500,000 budget that was high by British standards for the period. He brought in Natalie Kalmus from Hollywood to supervise Harry Stradling's Technicolor cinematography and hired Russian-born art director Lazare Meerson, best known for his work with director Jacques Feyder, to create the sets. As he had done with the original, directed by Allan Dwan, he entrusted The Divorce of Lady X to an American-born director, Tim Whelan, and he assigned his story editor, Lajos Biró, to write a new adaptation. From the original production, Korda kept writer Arthur Wimperis and actress Binnie Barnes, who moved from the lead to the supporting role of Lady Mere, the real cheating wife for whom Oberon is mistaken.
Korda turned to the stage for his other leading players, casting frequent co-stars Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson as the lawyer and his cuckolded client. For Olivier, the film was just another picture, made to keep him busy while his current love Vivien Leigh was making A Yank at Oxford (1938) at MGM's British studio and prior to his stage engagement in Macbeth. He would not even refer to the picture by name in his memoirs, recalling only that he had enjoyed working with Oberon prior to the problems they had co-starring in Goldwyn's Wuthering Heights (1939).
By the time Oberon made The Divorce of Lady X, her relationship with Korda had begun to heat up. When their courtship kept her up too late to report in the morning, he had her call moved back to 12:30 p.m., then would whisk her off to lunch, often keeping her off the set until 3:30 p.m. As a result, shooting usually lasted until 10 or 11 pm at night. They would marry the following year.
However late they shot, the film that emerged was a confectionary delight that pleased both critics and fans. Unlike other Hollywood stars whose British sojourns kept them off American screens, Oberon actually saw her popularity in the states rise when The Divorce of Lady X was released successfully there. Unfortunately, her work, though praised by later critics, was overshadowed by her male co-stars, with many critics suggesting that Richardson stole the film. Although Frank Sennwald in the New York Times raved that "Merle Oberon enjoys comedy, and vice versa," many focused instead on how beautiful she looked, particularly in the gown for a costume ball she attended as the Empress Eugenie. One churl even suggested Olivier looked prettier in Technicolor than Oberon.
The film's success proved a boon for Oberon's leading man, raising his box-office profile in the U.S. after his swashbuckling performance opposite Leigh and Flora Robson in Fire Over England (1937). When Goldwyn asked Korda for advice on choosing Oberon's co-star in Wuthering Heights, the British producer sent him a print of The Divorce of Lady X, which would convince the mogul to cast Olivier as Heathcliff.
Although possibly the most successful of Oberon's comedies (and certainly better than most of the comic films she would make in the U.S.), The Divorce of Lady X was soon eclipsed by her more romantic Hollywood vehicles. It would enjoy a new life with the coming of television, however. As one of several Korda films that were allowed to slip into the public domain, it became a popular favorite on television, exposing younger audiences to one of the star's lightest and most satisfying performances.
Producer: Alexander Korda
Director: Tim Whelan
Screenplay: Lajos Biró, Ian Dalrymple, Arthur Wimperis
Based on the play Counsel's Opinion by Gilbert Wakefield
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Art Direction: Lazare Meerson
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Merle Oberon (Leslie Steele/Lady X), Laurence Olivier (Everard Logan), Binnie Barnes (Lady Claire Mere), Ralph Richardson (Lord Mere), Morton Selten (Lord Steele), J. H. Roberts (Slade), Michael Rennie (Bit), Patricia Roc (Bit). C-92m.
by Frank Miller
The Divorce of Lady X
You're much too nice to turn me out.- Leslie
Nice! My dear young lady, you don't know me. The trouble with me is that I'm weak. A charming young girl like you can put anything over on me in five minutes. But at least I know my weakness, so I force myself to be rude. Sometimes even brutal!- Logan
You do like talking about yourself, don't you?- Leslie
Why... yes... most men do. But at least they know the truth about themselves. Women don't. They only know the truth about each other.- Logan
We have ample opportunities in this court for learning what women mean, or what they mean they mean if in these days they mean anything at all.- Logan
Modern woman has disowned womanhood but refuses man's obligations. She demands freedom but won't accept responsibility. She insists upon time to develop her personality, and she spends it in cogitating on which part of her body to paint next.- Logan
Modern woman has no loyalty, decency, or justice; no endurance, reticence, or self-control; no affection, fine feelings, or mercy. In short, she is unprincipled, relentless, and exacting; idle, unproductive, and tedious; unimaginative, humorless, and vain; vindictive, undignified, and weak. And the sooner man takes out his whip again, the better for sanity and progress.- Logan
The picture is not listed in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, nor was there a discernible copyright statement on the viewing print. Variety incorrectly attributed the screenplay to American dramatist Robert Sherwood and Biro, and identified Biro as the author of the play on which it was based as well. The film was a remake of the 1933 Alexander Korda production Counsel's Opinion, directed by Allan Dwan. In the 1933 version, Binnie Barnes, who plays Lady Mere in The Divorce of Lady X, played Leslie, and Arthur Wimperis co-wrote the screenplay. Modern sources note that Lazare Meerson and Ned Mann did the film's miniatures, John W. Mitchell was the boom operator and that it was made on a budget of £99,000 (about $500,000, based on the exchange rate in 1938).
Records on the film contained in the BFI library indicate that it was distributed in the United Kingdom by Ealing Distribution with a running time of 93 minutes and was 8,337 feet in length. A June 1936 Hollywood Reporter news item on the film mentioned that it was to be made that summer. The reason for the year-long delay in production has not been determined. Olivier and Oberon appeared in one additional film together, Wuthering Heights, made in the U.S. in 1939 (see below).