For movie marriages, breaking up is (engrossingly) hard to do

Moviemakers tend to focus on the ”I do’s” rather than the ”I don’ts,” and who can blame them? Marital discord is so messy, so painful, so uncommercial. But with divorce practically a Hollywood blood sport, it’s not surprising that some memorable films have been made on the subject. In chronological order, here are 11 hits about splits, all on video.

Dodsworth (1936) Industrialist Walter Huston (Anjelica’s granddad) has to retire and travel the world to see how hollow his marriage to ninny Ruth Chatterton is. He finds love with younger Mary Astor in a grown-up film (from Sinclair Lewis’ novel) that’s still ahead of its time. A

The Awful Truth (1937) Divorce as an enchanting, screwball game of one-upmanship. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne bust up, bicker over who gets the dog, then become so horrified over each other’s new mates that they simply have to get back together. A+

Divorce; His/Divorce; Hers (1973) A two-part TV movie that looks at Splitsville through first his eyes, then her eyes-he being Richard Burton and she being Elizabeth Taylor (oh, they’re playing fictional characters, but don’t let that stop you). Yes, it’s trashy. Yes, it’s irresistible. C

Scenes From A Marriage (1973) Ingmar Bergman’s detailed look atthe dissolution of Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson’s union would be unbearably clinical if it weren’t so deeply human. The U.S. cut available on video runs nearly three hours; the original, made-for-Swedish-TV version is twice that length, but, hey, how much unrelenting domestic stress can you stand? A+

An Unmarried Woman (1978) Paul Mazursky’s look at life after marriage remains earnest, moving, and gently funny. Blow for the New Realism: Jill Clayburgh learns over lunch that her husband is leaving her, walks out of the restaurant, and throws up on the sidewalk. B+

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) More proto-yuppie Manhattan marital angst, but served with heart, wit, and understanding. Dustin Hoffman is terrific as the adman who must learn to be Dad-man; Meryl Streep acts shrewish and cries, cries, cries. B+

Shoot The Moon (1982) Divorce, Alan Parker-style. Albert Finney and Diane Keaton turn in explosive performances as a Marin County couple smashing up on the rocks. Even more impressive, this is the rare film to examine a breakup’s effect on the kids. A-

Twice in a Lifetime (1985) Gene Hackman leaves wife and family for a (somewhat) younger woman. It’s an overlooked but solid working-class weeper, and check out that supporting cast: Ellen Burstyn, Ann-Margret, Brian Dennehy, Ally Sheedy, and a ferocious Amy Madigan as Hackman’s pissed-off daughter. B

Always (1985) Henry Jaglom’s movies ask where autobiography ends and fiction takes up, and this is no exception. Among the three couples sharing a long weekend is a newly divorced pair played by Jaglom and his own ex, Patrice Townsend. If you can handle touchy-feely dialogue, it’s surprisingly deft. B

The Good Father (1987) You think Anthony Hopkins was a monster in The Silence of the Lambs? Wait till you see him as a modern British ex-husband who, splenetic over custody loss, takes out his venom by “helping” a buddy through his own breakup. Nasty but acute, it’s probably the scariest film here. B+

The War of the Roses (1989) Divorce as a Haunted House ride, and one of the bleaker comedies ever to come out of Hollywood. Before the film turns into a community-property demolition derby, Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas show real depth: There’s a time bomb like this couple in every town, just waiting to explode. B