Thomas Meighan

Male and Female (1919)

Male and Female 1919

Lady Mary Lasenby (Gloria Swanson) comes from a very wealthy, socially important family. She’s never had to work a day in her life and is used to having other people do everything for her. Her family’s butler William Crichton (Thomas Meighan) is in love with Mary, but Mary is a strong believer of marrying within one’s own class and is engaged to another upper class man. Tweeny (Lila Lee), one of the family’s maids, is in love with William, but he only seems to have eyes for Mary.

One day, Mary, her family, and their servants head out on a yachting trip and wind up getting shipwrecked on a deserted island. Naturally, the servants prove to be the most adept at survival while the wealthy family is completely clueless. With no money to divide the classes anymore, the tables quickly turn and the servants end up becoming the leaders. They are all left on the island for a couple of years and over time, Mary begins to fall in love with the William. They decide to get married in a simple little island ceremony, but right as they’re about to say their vows, a ship finally comes to rescue them.

When they return to home, everything goes back to the way it was. Mary and William still love each other, but when one of Mary’s friends visits, William begins to reconsider his decision to marry Mary. Mary’s friend has become a social outcast after marrying her chauffeur. William decides he’d rather marry Tweeny instead and move someplace where class isn’t so important.

I was really hoping to like this movie, but unfortunately, it just didn’t do anything for me. I’d heard so much about the famous scene where Gloria Swanson is together with the lions so I was hoping to like it if only for that. The story had a very interesting premise, but it just didn’t hold my interest. A little too slowly paced for my liking. It’s very typical of other Cecil B. DeMille movies from this era in that it takes a modern day social commentary and weave it in with a flashback to historical times; in this case, ancient Babylon. The Babylon scenes are classic Cecil B. DeMille with grand sets, Gloria Swanson in fabulous costumes, and those live lions which Gloria did, indeed, really lie down with. It’s ultimately unnecessary to the plot and slows down an already slowly paced movie, but it’s definitely a good example of what made DeMille the legend he is. A lot of other people seem to like this movie, but unfortunately, I just didn’t see the appeal.

The Real Hollywood Tough Guys (And Ladies)

In the 100+ year history of film, a lot of actors have wound up with tough guy images.  Mention tough guys to classic film fans, you’re probably going to hear a lot of James Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  If you were to talk to someone more into modern movies, you’d probably get Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Vin Diesel.  Personally, I’d be hard pressed to call any of them the toughest actors of all time.  To me, I think the most unsung tough people in film history have got to be silent film actors.  Seriously, you  had to be pretty tough and fearless if you were going to make some of the most beloved movies from the silent era.  I’m pretty sure if anyone went up to Bruce Willis and told him to do some of the things that a lot of silent film actors had to do, he would say, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what all these fine actors had to endure.

Harold Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger when a prop bomb he was holding accidentally exploded.

Dolores Costello liked to refer to 1928’s Noah’s Ark as “Mud, Blood, and Flood.”  In the documentary series “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film,” she recalled going to her dressing room on set one day and finding a very bandaged extra leaning outside of her door.  When she asked if she could help, he explained that an ambulance would come back for him since he was in better shape than most of the other extras.  A couple of extras were killed while filming the flood scene.

While filming the finale of Greed in Death Valley, director Erich von Stroheim insisted on actually filming in Death Valley.  In August.  Jean Hersholt had to be hospitalized after he lost 27 pounds from being in such extreme heat.

Lillian Gish’s hands really took a beating on sets.  While filming The Wind in the Mojave Desert, Lillian burnt one of her hands when she touched a doorknob in the 120 degree heat.  Earlier, when she was filming the famous ice floe scene in Way Down East, her right hand was permanently damaged from being left in the icy water for so long.

While making 1919’s Male and Female, Thomas Meighan carries a leopard that had recently killed a man in the zoo it was in.  Basically, Cecil B. DeMille said, “Hey, don’t put that leopard to sleep!  Let’s give it to Thomas Meighan instead!”  There is another famous scene in that movie of Gloria Swanson with real, live lions, which she insisted on doing herself.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s Buster Keaton.  I don’t think anyone loved doing stunt work more than Buster.  He insisted on doing his own stunts in all of his greatest silent movies.  Famously, he broke his neck while filming the water tank scene in Sherlock, Jr. but didn’t even know it until a long time after the fact.  The most famous scene of his entire career is probably from Steamboat Bill, Jr., where he stands in front of a house and the entire front side of the house falls down around him, but he happens to be standing where a window is.  That stunt involved a lot of precision because if his position was off by just a couple of inches, he would have been killed.  When Buster was signed to MGM, one of the things that upset him most was that MGM wouldn’t let him do his own dangerous stunts anymore.  And this is why I consider Buster Keaton to be the toughest guy to ever get in front of a movie camera.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

After a decade of marriage, Robert Gordon (Thomas Meighan) begins to realize that his wife Beth (Gloria Swanson) just isn’t the same woman he married.  She’s dowdy (yes, Gloria Swanson is the dowdy one here), preachy, and is always trying to force her more cultured tastes upon Robert.  Not willing to give up on their marriage just yet, Robert tries to liven things up by buying something nice and vampy for Beth.  Robert is pretty hilariously uncomfortable in the lingerie store, but he does meet Sally (Bebe Daniels), one of the store’s models, while he’s there.  Beth isn’t too happy about Robert’s gift and when she’d rather listen to a violinist than accompany him to the Ziegfeld Follies, Robert decides to invite Sally to go with him to the Follies.  Of course, Beth isn’t stupid, and when Robert comes home smelling of Sally’s perfume, she decides she wants a divorce.

After the divorce, Beth’s aunt takes her shopping to make her feel better.  However, they wind up at the same store that Sally works in and Beth overhears some of the models gossiping about how her lack of style is what must have caused the divorce.  Not willing to take this laying down, Beth decides then and there to spice up her image.  While things are looking up for Beth, they’re not looking as good for Robert.  He went ahead and married Sally, but is finding out that Sally can be just as annoying as Beth was.  Robert, Sally and Beth all run into each other when they all wind up being on vacation at the same resort together.  By now, Beth has truly become the life of the party and Robert definitely notices the change and likes what he sees.  Beth also realizes that she misses Robert, too.  Each of them wants to rekindle their relationship, but Robert is hesitant.

Later, Robert and Beth meet again on a train.  As they’re leaving the train, Robert slips on a banana peel and hits his head.  When doctors arrive, Beth tells them that she is his wife and they bring him to her place so he can lay still for twenty-four hours.  Beth calls Sally and the two of them get into a fight over Sally wanting to move Robert to their place.  But Beth wins that fight and when it becomes clear that Robert’s going to be just fine, he realizes that it’s Beth he wants, not Sally.

I really enjoyed Why Change Your Wife.  For a Cecil B. DeMille movie, this is a pretty small-scale movie, but it’s still great.  The cast is fantastic, I especially got a kick out of seeing Gloria Swanson as the uptight, plainly dressed one.  But of course, sticking Gloria Swanson in a conservative outfit is sort of like how in newer movies, they have nerds played by gorgeous actors who just happen to be wearing glasses.  I also really loved the intertitles, they were very sharply written.  It’s sort of hard to call silent movies “quotable,” but it’s hard to resist wanting to go around saying stuff like, “You know, the more I see of men, the better I like dogs,” or, “When a girl can wear a bathing suit like this, it is her duty to do so!”  It’s a very fun movie to watch.