Old Wives for New/The Whispering Chorus
Image // Unrated // $24.99 // December 26, 2005
Review by John Sinnott | posted January 9, 2006
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Graphical Version
The Movies:

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 the period.

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.

The 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.

Audio:

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 and composition.

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 no exception.

Video:

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 prints.

Extras:

There are no extras.

Final Thoughts:

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.



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