A Bill of Divorcement (1932) - Rotten Tomatoes

A Bill of Divorcement (1932)





Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

A Bill of Divorcement Photos

Movie Info

Katharine Hepburn made her auspicious film debut in the otherwise undistinguished A Bill of Divorcement. Based on a play by Clemence Dane, the film is set on the day that Hepburn's mother, Billie Burke, is to divorce her insane and long-institutionalized husband John Barrymore. But Barrymore escapes from the asylum and returns home, only vaguely aware of the passage of time (he was shell-shocked during WWI). His presence puts Burke in an uncomfortable spot, especially since she plans to wed Paul Cavanaugh. Pressured by her idiotically traditional family to renew her vows with her first husband, Burke is saved from a lifetime of misery by her spunky daughter Hepburn, who takes care of her child-like father. The film's attitude towards male-female relationships, not to mention its archaic approach to the problem of mental illness, make Bill of Divorcement a chore to sit through today. Its saving grace is the warm rapport between Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore (contrary to Hollywood legend, they did not despise one another). Even given its dated quality, Bill of Divorcement is more palatable than its empty 1940 remake, which starred Maureen O'Hara and Adolphe Menjou.
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
RKO Radio Pictures Inc.


Katharine Hepburn
as Sydney Fairfield
John Barrymore
as Hilary Fairfield
Billie Burke
as Meg Fairfield
David Manners
as Kit Humphreys
Henry Stephenson
as Doctor Alliot
Paul Cavanagh
as Gray Meredith
Elizabeth Patterson
as Aunt Hester
Gayle Evers
as Bassett
Julie Haydon
as Party guest
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for A Bill of Divorcement

All Critics (3)

The dramaturgy is pure 19th-century, yet Cukor gives you Barrymore and the debuting Hepburn cutting through it like a couple of long-stemmed knives

Full Review… | July 4, 2011

Outdated family drama about dealing with mental illness.

Full Review… | August 12, 2008
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Even in 1932, when the melodrama was made, the biological and moral issues of insanity were outdated, but Cukor's film features an original, striking turn from Katharine Hepburn in her screen debut.

Full Review… | July 10, 2006

Audience Reviews for A Bill of Divorcement

VERY stagy but interesting film served as Hepburn's screen bow. She's a trifle studied and Barrymore occasionally goes over the top but mixed in with that is some excellent acting by both. Billie Burke, more subdued than usual, delivers the film's best most consistent performance. She does a very fine job of showing the anguish of a life suddenly turned upside down.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer


What an interesting movie. Behind the scenes we have the sunset of one legend (John Barrymore) and the sunrise of another (Katharine Hepburn) and it is utterly amazing to see them together on screen. Both actors play perfectly off each other and their relationship will break your heart. The ending with the two of them at the piano had me crying for them both. John Barrymore plays a man escaped from the assylum that he'd been in since returning from WW1 a shell shocked man. We never are told how long he's been there, but it's long enough that his daughter (Hepburn) doesn't remember him (talks about him at the beginning as if he were dead) and his wife (Billie Burke in the only thing I've ever seen her in other than Wizard of Oz) has filed for divorce and taken up with another man. What proceeds is a dazzling family drama that ends with a family torn apart and his daughter's life resigned when she realizes that his madness could be hereditary- thus her blood damaged (Let's put on our 1930's hats people- insanity was a worse fate than death back then) and her upcoming nuptial plans are now in question. Granted, you have to conceit to the times to fully appreciate the weight of the decisions these characters make, but other than that a fine, fine little drama that will show you without a shadow of a doubt how Miss Kate Hepburn became a star and give you a chance to catch one of the great American actors: Barrymore in one of his last great roles.

Stephanie Merchant
Stephanie Merchant

A bit melodramatic, but still an excellent film. Katherine Hepburn's debut is a great one, but it is John Barrymore's performance is what makes the film. A fine classic, very well done.

James Higgins
James Higgins

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