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Why Change Your Wife/Miss Lulu Bett
Image has released their second disc of De Mille silent double features, and this one is even better than their first offering. Why Change Your Wife? stars Gloria Swanson and is directed by Cecil B. De Mille, and Miss Lulu Bett, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play, is directed by Cecil's older brother William. Both are amusing and entertaining films about women who change themselves in order to get what they want out of life.
Why Change Your Wife? (1920):
Cecil B. De Mille directed a good number of marital farces in his early career, and this is one of his best. Gloria Swanson plays Beth "whose virtues are her only vices and who willingly gave up her husband's liberty when she married him." She and her husband Robert (Thomas Meighan) are two different types of people. Beth is bookish and thoughtful, and he's more interested in the creature comforts. The result is that she ends up nagging him quite a bit. One evening Robert stops off to get a present for Beth and he meets Sally Clark (Bebe Daniels), an attractive model who works for a clothing store. Sally is more alive and exciting than his dull and staid wife, and Robert soon leaves Beth and marries his new flame. Beth isn't going to take that laying down though, and fights fire with fire by becoming more glamourous and vivacious than Robert's new wife.
This was a funny movie. This farce works very well with a good amount of humor and a fairly fast pace. Even the intertitle cards are amusing and well placed. I loved Sally's exclimation near the end: "Remember the Alimony!"
All three of the stars did a very good job with the material. It was nice seeing Bebe Daniels, who was Harold Lloyd's leading lady in his early pictures and was even engaged to him for a while, in this comedy. She does a fine job and the way she plays Sally adds a lot of comedy to the picture.
Though Daniels did a great job, Gloria Swanson really steals the picture. Her transformation from frumpy old housewife to dazzling apparition is wonderfully fun. Not only that, but she is very believable in the role. When she's nagging her husband at the beginning, she doesn't come across as a stereotypical overbearing oppressive woman, just as a real wife. (Not MY wife of course.) An excellent performance.
Miss Lulu Bett (1921):
This film was directed by Cecil B. De Mille's older brother William, and is one of only a couple of films that he made that still survives. (The only other that I'm aware of is The Secret Game (1917) which is available on World War I Films of the Silent Era.)
Lulu Bett (Lois Wilson) is a spinster. In her late 20's or early 30's, the timid lady has moved in with her sister, Diana (Helen Ferguson), and brother-in-law, Dwight (Theodore Roberts). In their home she cooks and cleans and keeps house for her room and board. Little more than a slave, Lulu trudges through life until Dwight's brother Ninian (Clarence Burton) shows up one day. Ninian takes a shine to the frumpy Lulu, and while they are at dinner, he pretends to marry the girl. Dwight, seeing a way to get Lulu out of his house, declares that the gag wedding is binding, and he should know, he's a Justice of the Peace. Ninian's happy with the situation and Lulu decides to go along with it to get out of her sister's household even though she doesn't love her groom. Things turns sticky soon though. No one realized that Lulu was the glue that keeps her sister's dysfunctional family going. Without her, things soon turn to anarchy, with comic results.
Though William deMille (he always spelled the 'de' with a lower case 'd') was greatly overshadowed by him younger brother, this films shows that he was a talented director in his own right. This dramatic comedy has a lot of charm to it, and it's presents a much more realistic look at life than Cecil's grand spectacles.
Lois Wilson does a very good job in the title role, breathing life into the role when she's an unattractive scullery maid and a fashionable and independent woman. Her transformation seem plausible and real. She really makes the film.
Though the synopsis make this sound like a melodrama, the film is actually fairly light. There are many comical moments to break up the drama, and these work well. I especially enjoyed the daughter practicing piano after Lulu left. A very enjoyable film.
Both of these films are accompanied by the Mont Alto Orchestra and they do a wonderful job, as always. This five piece group compiles their own scores from music of the time giving the films an authentic feel. The music is scene specific, of course, and played with much precision. This music really brings the films to life and adds a lot to the enjoyment of the film. (I especially liked the way they matched the child playing the piano in Miss Lulu Bett. The music itself made me laugh.)
The black and white and sepia toned image for Why Change Your Wife? was good though flawed. The detail level was fine, and the contrast was good, but the movie had a lot of edge enhancement added to the picture that is really distracting. It wasn't as heavy handed as on the earlier release of Don't Change Your Husband, but it was distracting. There was a lot of aliasing in the picture too.
The picture for Miss Lulu Bett was better. The sepia toned and tinted print used was in good shape, with few scratches and spots. The film was a little dark, with details lost in the shadows, but the contrast was pretty good. There was a nice amount of detail to the picture also. But most importantly there isn't any edge enhancement marring the image. A nice looking film.
There are no extras.
These are two very enjoyable films. Though the previous entry in this series, Don't Change Your Husband with Golden Chance, was nice, I can't see those films appealing to people who don't already enjoy silent films. That's not the case with these two. These funny and entertaining pictures should find a wide audience. A great pair of films that come with a high Recommendation.