D. W. Griffith is properly esteemed as "The Father of Film" from his years of discovery making short films at the pioneer Biograph Company and for such pioneering features as "The Birth of a Nation," "Intolerance," "Broken... more » Blossoms," Way Down East" and "Orphans of the Storm" (all available on DVD from Image Entertainment), but his later films--several of them lost or almost unavailable--were far less critically hailed. Griffith's 1928 comedy-drama "The Battle of the Sexes" proves to be the exception. It is the story of a middle-aged magnate (Jean Hersholt) who makes a fool of himself when he strays from his loving but frowsy wife (Belle Bennett) and children (Billy Bakewell and Sally O'Neil) into the cynical arms of a gold-digger (Phyllis Haver) and her dishonest lover (Don Alvarado). As these characters are hurt and healed, Griffith expertly draws fine lines between tragedy and comedy, and his skill makes all the difference between emotional satisfaction and formulaic melodrama.A middle-aged magnate strays from his loving but frowsy wife and children into the cynical arms of a gold-digger and her dishonest lover in D.W. Griffith's silent comedy-drama.D.W. GriffithSally O'Neil, Jean Hersholt, Belle Bennett, Billy Bakewell, Phyllis Haver, Don Alvarado00000000000001« less
Polkadotty | Mountains of Western North Carolina | 09/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A wealthy middle-aged businessman with the perfect family submits to the charms and the flattery of a gold digging flapper. But who's playing whom?
Certainly Marie the gold digger (Phyllis Haver) has an agenda with Mr. Judson (a blindsided, smitten Jean Hersholt). But no more than does oily, conniving Babe Winsor (Don Alverado) with his ladyfriend Marie. Babe is well aware of Marie's winning ways but doesn't care to submit to them personally. (Marie charmingly refers to him as 'perfumed ice'). The plan is to bilk the unsuspecting Mr. Judson out of a small fortune, then go their merry way.
As this plays out under Griffith's hand we're treated to high hilarity, moving pathos, tense melodrama, insightful confrontations and more. Griffith's timing is terrific. Comedy is balanced with serious moments, actions have interesting repercussions. There's a few double entendres and one or two lusty love scenes, but also some downright touching moments of honest, true affection and familial closeness.
Preconceptions fly out the window. With whom should we sympathize? The bamboozled Mr. Judson who battles middle-aged spread and falls for lines like, 'you remind me of Napoleon, from the eyebrows up'? Perhaps, until he tosses aside his family in order to 'live his life his own way' (very Dr. Phil sounding) and make an absolute fool of himself over Marie, devastating his family in the process. His elegant, softhearted wife (Belle Bennett) considers suicide, driving his distraught teenaged daughter (Sally O'Neill) to confront Marie and beg her to 'leave Daddy alone' while pointing a revolver in her general direction. And should we hate Marie for the damage she's done? Despite her questionable ethics she's an engaging, independent soul with a keen sense of humor, a charming offhand manner, and an endearing weakness for her wily no-good boyfriend. Then it's Babe's fault, him with his corrupting influence ...? But he's so suave and ultra smooth women WOULD fawn all over him while jumping to do his bidding.
This less than cut and dry, non-stereotypical approach to a story of faithlessness and deception prompted mixed reactions among the critics of the day. Photoplay called THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES a 'light-heavyweight drama' adding that it was 'worthwhile'. Louella Parsons said it was 'a popular success,' and Film Daily said, 'Griffith's reputation as a box-office director can stand more like this one.' Welford Beaton in The Film Spectator remarked, 'I think it is the best picture he (Griffith) has ever made. The picture is a splendid one, human and entertaining, and that is all that matters.' However the Herald-Tribune did not agree, calling it a 'third-rate sex drama'; Variety warned viewers that they 'are slated for disappointment, almost shock'; and Motion Picture Classic's comment was (you've got to love this) 'it's all about triangles gone whoopee'.
I believe Motion Picture Magazine summed it up best. Their comment: 'there is plenty to amuse and interest you.' That's about all you can ask of a movie. "
One of D.W. Griffith's most entertaining films
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 04/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is perhaps the most elegant film D.W. Griffith directed in his legendary career which began at the dawn of cinema in 1908, and ended a few years into the sound era in the early 1930s. Praised as `the Father of Film' for his pioneering of the `narrative film' in the early days, to setting the standard of the great epics such as "Intolerance" in 1916, Griffith still kept up with the changing styles of the 1920s, even though he no longer influenced the course of the film industry as much by this time. Made near the end of the silent era in 1928, "The Battle of the Sexes" is on the cutting edge of the style and sophistication audiences had come to expect by this time, showing that Griffith had the ability to change and adapt to audience taste and fashionable styles in filmmaking. Furthermore, his experience and knowledge of human emotions and relationships are evident in the way he directed the actors in this film, making "The Battle of the Sexes" quite an emotional story on a level most viewers can readily understand. Another finely-tuned skill is Griffith's balance of drama, humour and excitement or suspense, and this film has all the ingredients in a very pleasing and entertaining package. Unlike earlier well-known Griffith films which were fast-paced with many short scenes, which was the standard some 10 years earlier, "The Battle of the Sexes" moves much more slowly to linger on characters, their feelings and interactions with one another, such as the opening scenes introducing the ruthless blonde gold-digger, then the idyllic happy family which is about to be torn apart by the dangerous blonde. All actors are perfectly cast, from Danish-born Jean Hersholt playing the wealthy middle-aged husband and father who easily falls into the gold digger's trap, to Phyllis Haver, who started in Mack Sennett's productions and was quite popular in the 1920s, playing the role of the seductive blonde with energy, humour and conviction. Emotions are meticulously captured by Griffith to show the effects of the father's affair on the family in such a way that can only be expressed in the silent medium. Although the characters and even the plot may seem very stereotyped, it is still a very entertaining film made even more enjoyable due to perfect picture quality and a most exceptional musical score. In fact, the music is one of the best silent film accompaniments I've ever heard, and is a highlight of this DVD. A bonus feature on this DVD lists 32 pieces of music from the score, along with names of its original composers who wrote the music to "The Battle of the Sexes" which can be listened to one by one in this feature. While the original soundtrack to this film is lost, this beautiful new recording by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is a real pleasure to listen to, and anyone who appreciates fine, quality music surely won't be disappointed. Whether interested in D.W. Griffith's work or not, this film is simply a pleasure to watch, and is also a fine example of cinema styles of 1928.
Much Better Than Its Original Notices.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 10/23/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Conventional wisdom says that D.W. Griffith didn't make a good movie after he lost his Mamaroneck studio in 1924. Between SALLY OF THE SAWDUST with W.C. Fields (1925) and THE STRUGGLE (1931), Griffith made 6 feature films for United Artists and Paramount. Most of these have been dismissed out of hand since they first appeared and a few are no longer available. THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (1928) garnered him some of the worst notices of his career (to be outdone by his last film THE STRUGGLE) although preview audiences loved it. I have seen a restored version of the film and am hard pressed to understand all the negative reviews.
The settings by William Cameron Menzies are lavish, the photography by Karl Struss is top notch, and the editing, normally Griffith's achilles heel, is smooth and polished. It clearly shows that Griffith could take advantage of the Hollywood studio system when given the chance. So why all the bad press? Part of the problem lies in the way the film was promoted. BATTLE OF THE SEXES was billed as a Jazz Age comedy when it was actually a domestic drama with several comic moments. Although the story is melodramatic and features the required happy ending, the emotions of the characters ring true. This was Griffith's greatest strength as a filmmaker. No matter how trite or objectionable the plot you believe his characters even when you don't agree with them.
Best known for his epics, Griffith was essentially a miniaturist as his Biograph shorts clearly demonstrate. His feature films are more successful when done on a smaller scale and while dealing people and their relationships (BROKEN BLOSSOMS, ISN'T LIFE WONDERFUL). Jean Hersholt gives one of his finest performances as a philandering husband. His encounter with a reducing machine in order to make himself look younger is both comic and pathetic. Phyllis Haver is the ultimate Jazz Baby and she lights up the screen with a performance that is both funny AND sexy. The robe she wears to seduce Hersholt must be seen through to be believed. Belle Bennett (THE IRON MASK) as the spurned wife also deserves special mention. Her near suicide is one of the film's highlights. THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES proves that Griffith had not lost his touch after he lost his independence. Thanks to Image Entertainment for upgrading this title to DVD as part of their D.W. Griffith collection. Now if they could just rescue ISN'T LIFE WONDERFUL and THE STRUGGLE from VHS oblivion as well."
The Griffith Sensibility
Mark Pruett | 03/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is mature Griffith, an elegant and entertaining film. But despite the engaging performance of a vivacious Phyllis Haver, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES is not IT. Nor may it remind us of any single jazz-age movie as much as it does the plaintive songs of Henry Clay Work, in particular "Come Home Father," a piece far better suited to Griffith's nineteenth-century sensibility than the jittery dance music of the nightclub orchestra shown here. Did 1928 audiences yawn during this movie? Not a chance. But some women, accustomed to the grittier depictions of families in films by Lois Weber and others, may have walked out of the theater shaking their heads, unwilling to give Jean Hersholt's philandering husband the slack that Griffith believes he deserves.
But life, the film reminds us, is complicated. Hersholt is clearly a fool, and his scenes with Haver, the gold-digging neighbor, are exploited for comedy. The laughs don't follow him home, however. In the Hersholt apartment, Griffith surprises us by letting his camera linger with heartbreaking patience on the stilled expression of Belle Bennett, the betrayed wife, as her realization that her marriage is over moves her from bewilderment to despair. It's a devastating scene.
Such moments remind us not only of the curious power of Griffith's camera but of how far he had traveled in the days since Biograph. A flamboyant ham in his early stage work, he learned from Mary Pickford the lesson that only gradually transformed actors' performances on the silent screen: acting is best accomplished by not being acted. In THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES he is still the master, and we would all be poorer without this twilight demonstration of his incredible talent."
D.W. Griffith has a soul
Beth | Mesa, AZ United States | 12/15/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Though cynical, this shows D.W. Griffith had a soul. This movie shows the destruction of a family. Their middle aged father throws it all away for a pretty gold digger who obviously could care less about him. This role is deliciously played by Phyllis Haver and the scene with her and a piano has to be seen to believe. The best part of the movie is the hurt displayed by the family when they uncover their father's lies. The daughter (Sally O'Neil) is the best thing of this movie. She gives it the touch of innocence it needs. Looking at her in still photographs she looks like a Gloria Swanson look alike. Her type of beauty is not captured by photos."