Image continues their series of silent Cecil B. DeMille double features
with the release of Old Wives for New and The Whispering Chorus.
Though made back to back, the pair of movies are very different in tone
and style. Old Wives for New, the later of the two, is DeMille's
first romantic drama/comedy film and is historic for that reason though
the film itself is fairly forgettable. The Whispering Chorus
however is a much better film which uses some innovative camera work to
portray the inner voices of the main character. This disc is definitely
worth tracking down for this earlier film.
Old Wives for New:
This film is not only a comedy/drama, but also a cautionary tale for
women. As the introduction notes, the ladies "must remember to trim
out 'Votes for Women" with a little lace and ribbon..."
Millionaire Charles Murdock (Elliott Dexter) is stuck in an unhappy
marriage. His wife (Sylvia Ashton) has gone to pot, spending her
days sitting around the house and eating chocolates she's put on a lot
of weight and doesn't have much in common with her husband. While
on a trip, Murdock meets Juliet Raeburn (Florence Vidor), and the younger
and more lively woman is very appealing to the self-made man. He
divorces his wife and plans to marry the more attractive Juliet, but things
take a turn for the worse when she is implicated in a murder.
Though considered very shocking in its day (Paramount head Adolph Zukor
was opposed to releasing it until the reaction of test audience convinced
him otherwise) it is very tame by today's standards. It still works
as a light distraction though it isn't one of DeMille's best films from
Part of the problem is that the acting is just standard. It seems
that everyone is walking through their roles, and none of the characters
really come to life. The sets are also elaborately decorated, something
that was a bit of a distraction. I was often more interested in what
items were displayed on a fireplace mantle than I was in the action that
was taking place in the scene.
The plot is also needlessly complex. DeMille would soon learn
his lesson and start to pare his romantic comedy plot down quite a bit,
but this one has several twists and turns that are not really needed.
(Including a section where Charles leaves Juliet and marries another woman
only to have her dump him.) While this isn't a bad film, it is one
of DeMille's lesser works.
The Whispering Chorus:
After watching Old Wives for New, I wasn't expecting much from this
film. How surprised I was. This movie is much more artful and
edgy than just about all the other DeMille films. I held my interest
much better than the first film on this disc and was also more emotional.
John Tremble (Raymond Hatton) is an over worked and under-paid employee
at a construction company who has trouble making ends meet. He's
not able to support his wife Jane (Kathlyn Williams) and his mother, so
he comes up with a plan and steals some money from his company.
John is afraid that his theft will be noticed when politician George
Coggeswell (Elliott Dexter)starts looking at the company's books.
To avoid capture, John fakes his death and starts a new life. Jane
in the meantime, believing her husband is dead, marries Coggeswell, who
has become an important politician.
Things take a turn for the bizarre when John gets arrested for his own
murder. If he confesses to the lighter crime of theft though, Jane's
life will be ruined. Her marriage will be annuled and her unborn
child will be a bastard. To save his wife's dignity however will
mean his death.
This was a very good film. The narrative is quite unlike DeMille's
more commercial romantic comedies, both in style and substance. This
psychological drama had a lot of atmosphere that made the film more intense,
and the effects really added to the drama. The superimposition used
to illustrate the voices in Trimble's head worked very well, and the tinting,
based on the original prints, also served to set the mood. A very
fine piece of work. I'm surprised that this film wasn't the one that
received top billing on this DVD.
These two features appear on a single one-sided DVD that comes in a
standard keepcase. There is an informative 4 page booklet insert
that talks about both films.
Old Wives has a synthesized score (with sound effects) composed
and preformed by Eric Beheim. I'm not a huge fan of synthesizers on silent
film soundtracks, but Mr. Beheim does do a good job both with his playing
I much preferred the soundtrack to The Whispering Chorus by the
Mont Alto Orchestra. This small group does a great job. The
score was compiled by leader Rodney Sauer from contemporary music and fits
the movie well. I always enjoy Mont Alto's work, and this score is
Both films are presented with their original full frame aspect ratios
and didn't look too bad. Old Wives was definitely the lesser
of the two films, from a video quality standpoint. There is only
one print of this film left in existence, and it's not in the best shape.
Though film degradation wasn't a problem, this print does have washed out
highlights, a grainy picture, and not a lot of detail. To make up
for this (a mistake in my opinion) there was a fair amount of edge enhancement
added to the image. On larger displays this makes the picture look
worse, with false highlights added that are a bit distracting.
Whispering Chorus looked much better. This print has a
lot more detail, much better contrast, and a more even image. Edge
enhancement wasn't a problem either. This was a nice looking film.
Both films are tinted in accordance with the tinting scheme of the original
There are no extras.
I am surprised that Image is headlining Old Wives for New on
this disc. It's a minor work of DeMille's though it was his first
romantic comedy-drama and is important for that reason alone. The
Whispering Chorus was a much stronger film both in narrative and cinematically.
This story of a man who fakes his death and then stands trial for his own
murder was very interesting and, while not a masterpiece, one of DeMille's
stronger early works. Get this disc for that film, and consider Old
Wives a nice bonus. Recommended.