Ex-Lady is a 1933 American pre-Code comedy/drama film directed by Robert Florey. The screenplay by David Boehm is a remake of the Barbara Stanwyck film Illicit (1931), both crediting a story (actually a play)[2] by Edith Fitzgerald and Robert Riskin. The film focuses on a pair of lovers, commercial illustrator Helen Bauer (Bette Davis) and advertising writer Don Peterson (Gene Raymond), who have been living together quite happily (in separate apartments) for some time. One night, after hiding in Helen’s bedroom until their party guests have all left, Don announces that he is tired of sneaking around. He wants marriage—and possibly children—and Helen finally agrees, although she is afraid that it will wreck their relationship. Her predictions of trouble—increased by the stresses of opening their own advertising agency—come true, but in the end, with the serendipitous intervention of their perpetually inebriated friend, Van (Frank McHugh), they reconcile and resume the mixed blessings of wedded bliss.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Florey
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Written byDavid Boehm
StarringBette Davis
Gene Raymond
Frank McHugh
Monroe Owsley
Music byLeo F. Forbstein
CinematographyTony Gaudio
Edited byHarold McLernon
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • May 15, 1933 (1933-05-15)
Running time
67 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$283,000[1]


Helen Bauer (Bette Davis) is a glamorous, successful, headstrong, and very liberated New York graphic artist with modern ideas about romance. She is involved with Don Peterson (Gene Raymond) but is not prepared to sacrifice her independence by entering into matrimony. The two agree to wed only to pacify Helen's conventional immigrant father Adolphe (Alphonse Ethier), whose Old World views spur him to condemn their affair. They form a business partnership, but financial problems at their advertising agency put a strain on the marriage and Don begins seeing Peggy Smith (Kay Strozzi), one of his married clients. Convinced it was marriage that disrupted their relationship, Helen suggests they live apart but remain lovers. When Don discovers Helen is dating his business rival, playboy Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley), he returns to Peggy, but in reality his heart belongs to his wife. Agreeing their love will help their marriage survive its problems, the two reconcile and settle into domestic bliss.

The plot is unusual for its time in that Helen is not denigrated for her beliefs about marriage and Don is not depicted as being a cad.[3] In addition, although they are sleeping together and unmarried, neither is concerned about the possibility of children, and certain dialog could suggest that they are using birth control.[3]



The Warner Bros. film was a remake of the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Illicit, released two years earlier.[4]

Following the film's release, producer Darryl F. Zanuck resigned from Warners to form his own production company, 20th Century Pictures, which eventually merged with Fox to become 20th Century Fox.

The prologue to the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? includes a scene from Ex-Lady as an example of former child star Jane Hudson's failure to achieve screen success as an adult due to her lack of talent.

Critical reception

The New York Times in a contemporary review from 1933, described the film as "an honestly written and truthfully enacted picture of the domestic problems which harass two persons in love with one another".[5]

In contrast, a more recent review in TV Guide called it a "lame little melodrama notable chiefly for being the first film to have Bette Davis' name above the title".[6]

Box Office

According to Warner Bros the film earned $228,000 domestically and $55,000 foreign.[1]


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 13 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. "Ex-Lady (1933) - Trivia - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-10-03.
  3. Basinger, Jeanine (1995). A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930–1960. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. 385. ISBN 0-8195-6291-2.
  4. Ex-Lady at Turner Classic Movies
  5. New York Times review
  6. TV Guide review
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