(1932)3Craig ButlerKatharine Hepburn's powerhouse debut in A Bill of Divorcement bowled over critics and audiences and established a shimmering new star overnight. Even now, many decades later, there's still a raw freshness and energy to Hepburn's performance that is hard to resist. It's true that her work here is not particularly polished; there are moments when she clearly pushes too hard, and others when she sacrifices truth for effect. But there's a spirit and energy radiating from the actress that make the viewer forgive her these and other little sins, and she is so spot on in most of the sequences that there's no need to make excuses for this early performance. What's surprising is John Barrymore's performance, which was lauded at the time but has been overshadowed by Hepburn's through the years. The celebrated but uneven actor gives an exceptional performance, informed with telling detail and carefully nuanced, and there is a rare and essential rapport between him and Hepburn which goes a long way to smoothing over many of the rough patches of the dated and sometimes melodramatic screenplay. Also a surprise is Billie Burke, who gives her character an underlying melancholy and guilt, and who handles her dramatic scenes quite well. Divorcement doesn't stand up well as drama, and George Cukor's direction is often rudimentary, but it's a great showcase for its stars.