Image, in association with Blackhawk films and David Shepard's Film
Preservation Associates, is planning on releasing a series of Cecil B.
DeMille double bills over the next few months. The first one is Don't
Change Your Husband (1919) starring Gloria Swanson with The Golden
Chance (1915). These two films are a nice chance to see DeMille's
style in the early days, before he started creating the religious spectacle
pictures that he's best known for.
Leila Porter (Gloria Swanson) is having a hard time with her husband James (Elliott Dexter). They've been married a while and the spark has gone out. He is a very successful industrialist and makes lots money, but he works all the time and he's also a bit of a slob. He puts his feet up on the furniture and *gasp* likes to eat green onions.
One night when James is working late, Leila meets Schuyler Van Sutphen (Lew Cody). He pays attention to her and makes her feel important and basically woos her off her feet. Leila decides that he's a much better husband and leaves the crass James. When she discovers that Schuyler isn't being faithful though, James starts looking better and better.
I was interested in seeing this movie since Lew Cody had a big part. He would marry Mabel Normand in 1926 and stay wed to her until her death in 1930. Not many of his silent films survive and this is a rare chance to see him in his prime.
As for the film itself, it was good but not more than that. The tone was light, but there weren't many actual jokes. The plot itself is rather straight forward and it's easy to see what's going to happen just from the title. The minute Schuyler appears on screen it's clear that he's a jerk, but Leila has to find that out for herself. The film unfolds in a predictable manner. A solid film, but not very memorable.
The Golden Chance:
Mary Denby (Cleo Ridgely) had the bad fortune to marry Steve (Horace B. Carpenter) who is a drunken lout and spends all of their money on booze. In order to keep body and soul together Mary goes to work as a seamstress for the rich Mrs. Hillary (Edythe Chapman). The Hillary's are throwing a fancy party in order to close a big business deal and when one of their guests cancel, Mrs. Hillary invites Mary so that the room will be filled. Dressed to the nines in a fancy dress and wearing some of Mrs. Hillary's jewels, Mary is a stunning sight and catches the eye of Roger Manning (Wallace Reid) a wealthy industrious man. Everything that her current husband isn't. They are both attracted to each other, but what can the married Mary do?
Originally starring Edna Goodrich, this film was half completed when the starlets alcoholism became too much of a problem. Arriving on the set drunk one day, DeMille fired her on the spot and shut down production. He then went looking for another leading lady. Eventually he settled on Cleo Ridgely, but by that time he had already started filming The Cheat. In order to finish both pictures, he made The Cheat during the day and re-filmed The Golden Chance at night.
Cleo Ridgely retired the year after this film was made after she married her second husband, director James W. Horne. It's a pity she did, because she does a nice job in this film. Even with her good performance, this is still a melodrama. The nicely appointed sets and fancy clothes that the characters wear can't make this film terribly interesting. While the viewers are carried along by Mary's plight, this reworking of the Cinderella story comes across as a bit trite and predictable for today's viewers. It is competently made, it doesn't have the emotional punch that DeMille's later films would have.
These two films come on one single sided DVD. There is an insert with a four page essay that discusses these two films and Cecil B. DeMille.
Don't Change Your Husband: The stereo music provided by the Mont Alto Orchestra is very good, as all of their scores are. The small group provides a nice atmosphere for the film, and their score is scene specific, of course. The reproduction was clean and clear as one would expect from a recent recording.
The Golden Chance: The score to this film was compiled from photoplay scores and performed on piano and accordion by Rodney Sauer, the nominal leader of the Mont Alto Orchestra. I didn't enjoy this score quite as much, but it was unique. At first I thought Mr. Sauer used a synthesizer, but he informed me that it was just piano and accordion. He gets some very interesting sounds out of these instruments, and it's worth listening to just for that. The bag-pipe like Irish tones that were played during the credits, for example, weren't anything that I would have chosen, but it was fairly amazing that the sound was made from the instruments he used. It was still scene specific and the musical choices were good. As with the first film, the reproduction was clean and clear and without audio defects.
Don't Change Your Husband: The video quality wasn't that great, even for a film this old. According to the DVD case, the print that this transfer was made from came from a preservation negative and was digitally restored. Apparently the negative had a fair amount of damage to it, since there are scratches and spots throughout the film. The contrast is only fair at best and there are a lot of details missing. Most faces look 2 dimensional and have no details at all, and the clothes have no texture. Highlights are washed out and the blacks are very pale.
The worst offense though is the ample edge enhancement, the "digital restoration" from the cover I'd guess. Everything has a halo around it which is very noticeable. This isn't a subtle or judicious use of the technique, it's very glaring. Even the candlesticks on a mantle are accented in one scene. Aliasing was another problem, with fine lines shimmering and diagonals having a stair step effect that can be rather annoying. Overall not the worst copy of a silent film that I've ever seen, but not a very good one either.
The Golden Chance: This film looked better than Don't Change Your Husband by a fair margin. Again, this film came from a preservation negative and was digitally restored and it looks like this negative has survived the years in better condition. There was better contrast and the image wasn't overly bright. More details could be seen, and the black levels were better, but still not as solid as they should have been. Scratches and spots were present, though not to a great extent, and there was a lot of grain in this film too. Once again edge enhancement has been applied with a heavy hand and it really harms the film. The bright highlights are really distracting and I'd assume even a modest sized display would show them off. Aliasing is present in this film to the same extent as in the first feature, which is too bad.
There are no extras included with this disc.
The picture quality of both of these films leaves a bit to be desired,
and I can't help thinking that these offerings would look better if they
had done less "digital restoration." Even so, these films are both
good examples of the typical movie of the time, though neither of them
are great. Silent film fans will enjoy seeing Lew Cody and Cleo Ridgely
on the screen and it is interesting to see DeMille's early work and for
them this disc gets a hesitant Recommendation. People with
only a casual interest in early film will likely find these dated and drab,
and they should skip it.