Wednesday, March 11, 2015


This silent romantic comedy based on a play by Somerset Maugham begins with this bit of wisdom: "A man may select a wife—but he should be careful whose wife he selects." At Cheney Castle, Lady Catherine, wife of Lord Clive, is entertaining their friend Lord Hugh whom, we are told, was best man at their wedding "and still was as far as Lady Catherine was concerned." In fact, the two run off together, leaving her young son Arnold with the forlorn Clive. Thirty years later, Arnold lives at the Castle with his wife Elizabeth. He has grown into a rather droopy, stuffy man—his wife calls him a "thorough old woman," and it seems as if history is about to repeat itself as Elizabeth is considering running off with a handsome admirer named Teddy. On this day, Catherine is returning for a visit for the first time since she left, and bringing Hugh. Elizabeth is anxious to find out from her if "runaway love" can last. As fate would have it, Clive picks the same day to visit. At first, they all think there will be trouble, and in an almost slapstick scene, they try to get Clive's hunting gun away from him before he sees Catherine. But everyone is very civilized, and despite constant bickering between Hugh and Catherine, Elizabeth discovers they have actually been very happy. But does that mean Elizabeth and Teddy should be together? And will Arnold ever stand up for himself?

For a story that is heavily reliant on dialogue, this works surprisingly well as a silent movie, though I did miss hearing the sarcastic intonations that would have been appropriate for some of the lines. For the most part, the acting is subtle with much less gesturing and eye-rolling than you might expect in a silent comedy. The big draw here for some will be a very young Joan Crawford in the small role of Lady Catherine in her youth, but Eleanor Boardman and Malcolm McGregor (pictured above) are very good as Elizabeth and Teddy. I found the ending unsatisfying in a number of ways [SPOILER ALERT!]: Clive (Creighton Hale) is never portrayed sympathetically yet it's when he acts like a brute near the end to get Elizabeth back that he succeeds, though honestly she doesn't seem completely certain that she wants him, and I like to imagine that the next day, she comes to her senses and goes back to Teddy. Still, an enjoyable comedy. [Warner Archive Instant]

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