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Image Entertainment presents
Why Change Your Wife? / Miss Lulu Bett (1920/1921)

"The more I see of men, the better I like dogs."
- Beth Gordon (Gloria Swanson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 28, 2005

Stars: Thomas Meighan, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, Theodore Roberts, Lois Wilson, Milton Sills
Other Stars: Theodore Kosloff, Helen Ferguson, May Giraci, Mabel Van Buren, Taylor Graves, Ethel Wales, Clarence Burton, Charles Ogle
Director: Cecil B. DeMille, William C. de Mille

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:42m:20s
Release Date: November 29, 2005
UPC: 014381199024
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BA- B+

DVD Review

Cecil B. DeMille, long before he became known for biblical extravaganzas, made his name with a series of marital comedy/dramas for Famous Players-Lasky in the late teens and early 1920s. Three of these are being released as a "marital trilogy" consisting of Old Wives for New (1918), Don't Change Your Husband (1919) and Why Change Your Wife? (1920). As the liner notes indicate, this third leg of the trilogy almost came about by accident and resulted after Jesse Lasky begged Cecil to take on the project, which had been written originally by brother William C. de Mille. The result, the second pairing of DeMille and Gloria Swanson, is a provocatively clever tale that is in many ways a reverse of Don't Change Your Husband, with Swanson this time getting the brunt of the trouble.

Robert Gordon (Thomas Meighan) is starting to get tired of the nagging of his wife Beth (Swanson), who is getting increasingly prudish and determined to improve his mind as well as hers. Alienated by her attentions to long-hair violinist Radinoff (Theodore Kosloff), Robert spends the evening at a show with lingerie model Sally Clark (Bebe Daniels). When Beth discovers the infidelity, she not only divorces Robert but takes up the flapper life herself. Robert marries Sally, who in turn seems to be increasingly like Beth used to be, leading him to wonder whether he has made the right choices.

Since this is just the reverse of the situation in Don't Change Your Husband, one would expect it to be somewhat repetitive. But thanks to some sardonically witty title cards, the film still feels quite fresh. Swanson really gets to demonstrate some range, from the bookish prude to the libertine to the woman determined to get her husband back. Daniels, who had for several years been Harold Lloyd's leading lady, gets the finest role of her career in this picture, giving her a chance to be more than "the Girl" in Lloyd's comedies. She demonstrates a decent range of her own, far beyond the mere charming qualities needed in those pictures. The sexual rivalry between her and Swanson is pretty steamy, and the final confrontation is a memorable one.

The picture is quite well structured, with numerous parallel sequences of comparison: Robert shaving while he deals with each wife, their disparate treatment of his dog, and Radinoff's romancing of both of the women. The script really takes the somewhat scanty material and makes the most of it. There's a fair amount of humor as well, such as the scene with Robert in the lingerie department wanting to get something for Beth, alternating between hilarity and horror. The old device of a slip on a banana peel is used for decidedly non-humorous effect here, making for something of a unique twist. Interestingly, the script makes a point of Sally being a young widow; apparently this was by design so that Robert wouldn't be seen as taking advantage of a young innocent.

That sort of inter-gender relationship and way of perception is at the heart of Miss Lulu Bett (1921), directed by William C. de Mille. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Zona Gale, from her own novel, it's an often heart-rending look at the difficult situations that women of the period could find themselves in and a powerful statement for the rights of women. One of the few surviving of de Mille's fifty or so silent features, it's the one by which he is best known today.

The Deacon family, headed by Dwight (Theodore Roberts) and his wife Ina (Mabel Van Buren) is devoted to keeping up appearances. But that doesn't keep them from using Ina's sister Lulu Bett (Lois Wilson) as a scullery maid. When Dwight's brother Ninian (Clarence Burton) comes to visit after 20 years' absence, as a joke he holds a fake marriage ceremony with Lulu. What they didn't take into account was that Dwight is a justice of the peace and that by exchanging their vows in front of him, they're actually married. Still, that affords Lulu something of an escape from drudgery, and she accepts her new life as a wife. That only lasts for a week or so, however, until she learns that Ninian may still be married to another woman. Returning home to the Deacon household, she finds new shame and oppression since Dwight will not allow her to besmirch the family name by telling the truth.

It's a fairly tragic story for the most part, though Lulu doesn't take things lying down either. She is bound by convention, however, and it thus takes her a while to see what options she may have. Dwight is quite unsympathetic, thinking only of himself. It's almost cartoonish how vile he is, thundering over the outrage that Lulu brings upon the household while taking her back because then he doesn't have to pay a housekeeper. It's a power struggle that has deep emotional currents, helped by a great performance by Wilson. She looks utterly defeated by drudgework when we first see her, and a week of kindness rejuvenates her and makes her an entirely different woman. So much so, that Dwight soon learns that where he could push the old Lulu around, the new one is willing and able to push back.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Wife is sepia toned for the most part, and both films are windowboxed. They show signs of wear with speckles and scratches, but the transfer is fine and there's plenty of detail and reasonably good greyscale. Some flicker is inherent in the films. Wife features gorgeous decorative intertitles, but the intertitles on Miss Lulu Bett have been replaced with utilitarian ones.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no


Audio Transfer Review: The Mont Alto Orchestra provides scores for both films, and they're quite appropriate. Why Change Your Wife? features a number of songs on phonograph record that they play faithfully. The sound is a bit bright but it has very nice presence; one can hear the musicians breathing at times, giving the audio a theatrical immediacy, as if one were hearing them perform live before you.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:22m:53s

Extras Review: A four-page booklet includes some substantial production notes by Robert Birchard (unfortunately set in tiny type). Chaptering is a bit thin but there is an option to play both films as a double feature. DVD producer David Shepard advises us that, notwithstanding this "play both" button, Miss Lulu Bett was intended to be considered an extra bonus feature attraction. Since it's such a high quality picture that has historical importance as well, the Extras grade is boosted substantially as a result.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Domestic comedy and drama interweave in this classic pairing from the brothers DeMille (or de Mille, if you favor William's spelling of the name). The transfers are fine and the Mont Alto Orchestra provides their usual fine accompaniment stylings.

 


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