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Film / Divorce In The Family

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A little boy is emotionally abused for 80 minutes

Divorce in the Family is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film directed by Charles Reisner and written by Delmer Daves. The film stars Jackie Cooper, Conrad Nagel, Lewis Stone, Lois Wilson and Jean Parker. It was released on August 27, 1932, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

It follows a young boy named Terry, who comes home from a visit with his father to find his mother has remarried. A doctor named Dr. Shumaker, who is cold and strict with Terry.

Terry tries to stay out of trouble, but to no avail. His new stepfather makes rules the rambunctious boy cannot follow, and restricts his diet. Terry holds out hope that when his brother Allen comes home from Military school, he will protect him and force the doctor to go easier on him.

However, Terry becomes jealous of Al's new girlfriend and the fact that he would rather spend time with her than him. This drives a wedge between Terry and Allen. When Terry complains to Lucile's younger brother that she ruined his day with Al by showing up, Lucile's father forbids Al from seeing her again.

While this is happening, Terry comes home late and is forbidden from eating his tiny dinner of milk and crackers. He talks back to his stepfather, who drags him to his room and beats him. When Al comes home, Terry begs him to take him away from Dr. Shumaker. But Al, having just been forbidden from seeing his girlfriend, tells Terry he deserved his punishment.

Terry runs away to go and find his father. When he tells his dad what the doctor did to him, his father agrees to take him to live with him. Al, meanwhile, has gone looking for Terry in a canoe and winds up being hit by a boat. Terry agrees to stay with Dr. Shumaker if he will save Al's life, which he does, and Terry is forced to separate from his father.


  • Adventurer Archaeologist: John Parker, Al and Terry's biological dad is this.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Terry is this to Al. For example, when Terry, Al and Al's girlfriend are out on a canoe together, Terry uses the ore to drip water on them both, and eventually knocks the girl into the water.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Jackie Cooper nearly always played these, and Terry Parker is no exception.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Terry uses his step-father's medical chart to make a kite, let's his toads loose in the house and talks back to his parents and brother.
  • Big Brother Worship: Terry towards Al.
  • Blood Transfusion Plot: Al needs one at the end of the film. His father John wants to donate his blood, but he is not a match.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Terry is sent to bed without dinner.
  • Dinner and a Show: Terry is punished at dinner for complaining about only getting milk and crackers, then for his pet toads getting loose in the kitchen, and finally for coming home late. The latter starts the argument that ends with Terry being beaten by his stepfather.
  • Disappointing Older Sibling: Terry hoped Al would protect him, but he lets him down.
  • Domestic Abuse: Dr. Shumaker, who hits Terry and ultimately ends up beating him.
  • Downer Ending: Terry stays with his abusive step-father instead of his biological dad.
  • Disneyland Dad: Terry's father, John Parker. He loves Terry and Al and takes them on his archeological digs. When Terry tells him he's being mistreated at home, he tries to run away with his son.
  • Honor Thy Abuser: The doctor saving Allen's life is framed as his redemption, and he vows not to hit Terry anymore. Terry comes to respect him for saving his brother's life, and is removed from his loving and patient biological father, who is framed as eccentric and weak willed.
  • Girls Have Cooties:
    Terry: Women are worse than poison oak!
  • Mammy: Rosetta, the family's maid.
  • Melodrama
  • Tough Love: Shumaker's approach to parenting Terry.
  • Troubled Child: Terry writes to his father and tells him he wants to die.
  • The Un Favourite: Terry can't seem to go five minutes without being yelled at or punished.
  • Useless Bystander Parent: Terry's mother cries when she hears her husband beating her son, but doesn't actually do anything to stop it.
  • You're Not My Father: Terry tells Shumaker this.