Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) and his good friend and attorney Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton) are sitting in a Parisien nightclub enjoying the show, although Egbert has trouble making the little doll he has been given by one of the waitresses dance. They both will have bigger problems when they discover they have forgotten to carry their wallets, and the head waiter comes over to hear their excuses. Eventually, they strike a deal and professional dancer Guy will perform a few steps in return for their bill, relcutant as he is, so what a pity that Egbert had his cash with him all along!
So begins one of the finest musicals of the thirties and one which many feel has dated badly, in the shadow of other Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals Top Hat and Swing Time. It was the duo's first starring role after stealing the show in Flying Down to Rio and if in some ways it was calculatedly trivial, it elevated itself not only in the dance numbers but in the daft humour that only the stoniest of hearts could fail to elicit chuckles from. Based on a Cole Porter musical that Astaire had starred in, just one of the original songs was held over for this version.
The Gay Divorcee of the title (the censors objected the first title, The Gay Divorce: nothing cheery about that subject, they protested) is Mimi, played by Ginger Rogers already in her blowing hot and cold characterisation. Perhaps a better name would have been The Grumpy Divorcee, because there's not much gay (in its blithely happy sense) about her, and after a meeting cute with Guy at British customs where her dress is caught by the luggage of her Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) and he accidentally rips it trying to free her, she makes up her mind never to see him again.
It wouldn't be much of a film if that happened, so smitten Guy does his best to stroll the streets of London in search of the object of his affection. He eventually finds her while out driving and a car chase develops, only ending when he blocks her path. Producing a picnic does not thaw Mimi's frosty demeanour, showing how the tough-minded Rogers could be an intimidating presence if the script demanded it. Guy persuades her to take his telephone number on the second attempt, but will she call? How lucky it is that Egbert and Hortense have a history together and she has hired him to look after Mimi's divorce proceedings.
But first they must convince the husband to go through with it, so a ridiculous scheme is hatched involving professional "correspondent" Tonetti (the great Erik Rhodes), who claims "Your wife is safe with Tonetti - he prefers spaghetti!". All that need happen is for him to spend the night with Mimi in her Brighton hotel room and allow the husband to catch them together, although Tonetti will not actually lay a finger on her. However, what happens if Mimi mistakes Guy for her correspondent? Some complain that there is not enough dancing in this film, but what there is here is of such terrific quality that you can overlook it. Astaire and Rogers' Night and Day dance is a perfect moment of movie romance - look how enchanted Rogers appears - and the climactic Continental, which goes on for over fifteen minutes, is suitably dazzling and exuberant. The whole bubbly affair is a tonic from start to finish, as light as a feather and it tickles, too.