Sunday, February 3, 2013

Silent Sundays: Why Change Your Wife (1920)



“When a woman meets her ex-husband she realizes all she has lost: when she meets the wife she realizes all he has lost”

            Why Change Your Wife? is the first silent film I have seen from Cecil B. DeMille. I hate to say I was expecting a better film after seeing some his later more popular films. I was also expecting a bit better because Gloria Swanson is the star and she was one of the biggest things in the silent era. The film was not totally awful it had its moments that were funny and interesting.
            Robert Gordon has been married to Beth (Swanson). Beth “gladly gave up her husband’s liberty when she married him.” The poor man is trying to shave and she just keeps bothering him. In fact Beth just bothers Robert. He tries to love her and wants her to be more of a woman rather than a dowdy one who is perfectly boring.
            One day Robert decides to buy Beth some risqué lingerie. He is embarrassed beyond belief seeing the models barely dressed. One of the models Sally Clark (Bebe Daniels) recognizes him from when she was younger back home. She puts on the most exotic of the lingerie dresses the store has as well as some exotic smelling perfume. Robert of course does not recognize her. He likes the way Sally looks in the negligee and orders one for Ruth. Sally is upset when she sees Robert write on the card “Mrs. Robert Gordon.”
            That night Robert tries to lighten the mood. He puts on a Fox Trot but Beth immediately walks over and puts an opera on. She does not want to dance with him she wants to listen to more cultivated music. The negligee comes. Robert tells Beth to put it on and come out when she is dressed. Beth in all her prudishness hates the negligee and does not want to come out. Robert is furious that she does not like it.
            The next day Robert gets tickets for a play in town. He calls Ruth to meet him in the city for dinner and the show. Ruth tells him she is having people over and some violin player will be there as well. He gets disgusted and tells her he will dine at his club that night and go to the show himself. After he hangs up Sally comes in. The store forgot to include a piece of the negligee in the box and has brought the piece. Robert takes Sally out to the show and to dinner. After the show he goes back to her apartment. They talk and listen to the latest music on her record player.
            Beth tries to wait up for Robert to come home. He had kissed Sally before he left and feels guilty for doing so. Beth wakes up when he gets home. He tells her he went out with a friend. She smells Sally’s perfume on him. The next morning Robert leaves. He tells Beth he wanted to marry a sweetheart not a judge and to live in a home not a convent.
            On the day the divorce goes through Beth goes out dress shopping with her aunt. Beth overhears two of the shop girls talk about her how she dressed more like Robert’s aunt than his wife and did not play with him like she should have and he wanted her to. Beth gets furious and rips up all her old clothes. She wants all her clothes to be indecent now.
            Robert marries Sally. He is stuck in the same pattern with Sally. He tries to shave without ripping his throat open and his wife is right there bothering him. Sally asks him to take her on vacation to Atlantic City for a few days. They get to the hotel and they see men flocking around a woman. Robert comes to find the woman all the men are breaking their necks to get a look at is Beth. She has had a great make over both physically and in attitude. All that night and the rest of the vacation his mind is on his former wife.
            To make a ridiculously long story short Robert and Beth do get back together and do get remarried.
            Gloria Swanson was twenty-one when she made this film. She looked stunning. Even as the frumpy wife at the beginning she just captures your attention and does not let go. I loved the scene where Beth realizes she needed to change. Swanson played that very well. Bebe Daniels was alright. I liked her more at the beginning of the film than throughout the rest.

            Why Change Your Wife? was alright. I got bored with it pretty quick. I really liked seeing all the clothes it is fascinating to see what was fashionable in the 1920s (and come on who does not like the style of the 1920s?). DeMille’s direction is nothing to write home about. The title cards were are worth a ton mentions. They were hysterical and extremely witty. Why Change Your Wife? is worth seeing at least once. It is available to view on Youtube