My favourite Cecil B DeMille
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 01/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the last of three DVDs showcasing Cecil B DeMille's early work in silent films from around 1918 to 1920, and as I generally prefer pre-1920 films, I was especially delighted with this great DeMille double feature: two 1918 films on the one DVD with good (though not actually great) picture quality and very good musical accompaniment. My favourite DeMille film has always been "The Whispering Chorus", the second film on this DVD, and while it is much the same as my old VHS version, I thoroughly enjoyed it once again, mostly for its more complicated plot and rather dramatic story about a man whose one seemingly small mistake leads him to ever bigger problems. As in many pre-1920 films, I also enjoy some of the points or principles the film tries to show or teach the audience, such as in this case the man's financial struggle which tempts him to first gamble, then steal money from his workplace because he listened to those voices in his head - that `whispering chorus' of first temptation and then our conscience speaking to us as we try to make a decision.
"Old Wives for New" is very similar in many ways to "The Whispering Chorus" in that it has a more complex plot than one might expect, especially after viewing the other two DeMille productions which also focussed on the theme of husbands and wives (namely "Why Change your Wife?" and "Don't Change Your Husband", both with Gloria Swanson) Like these other two, "Old Wives" lingers on a few details in the beginning to show the husband's unhappiness and displeasure with his wife's messy, slovenly habits. Once a pretty slim girl, we now see her plump, mean and bossy, and always with a tray of chocolates at hand. As expected, the husband meets a much more attractive woman, but is trapped in his marriage. But just when you think you can work out the rest of the story, the plot takes an unexpected twist involving scandals and even murder. Not only does DeMille once again balance suspense and drama perfectly, but his attention to details reveals a lot about the characters and their emotions, and DeMille's penchant for elaborate sets and costumes didn't escape my attention in this film either: I was particularly enthralled to see the ladies fine fashions of 1918, as well as the furnishings of the sets. For good, serious dramas, especially if you like the more artistic style of the pre-1920s silent films (before DeMille went more commercial during the 1920s), this DVD has two very fine examples!
Class and quality
Mart Sander | www.martsander.com | 02/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, gorgeous costumes, broad acting, hearts exploding with passion, grief and rage - you get it all! Old Wives for New is quite an exciting pic, though it has its narrative flaws and not everything that is being shown can be accepted without questioning. It has a good (modern) soundtrack played on a movie organ and compiled of period songs (and uses one authentic recording for a record that is actually shown being played in a key scene). The print is in overall good quality, though it has been digitally sharpened a bit too much. The second film is a morality tale, and there's just so much suffering and sacrificing to make this film balancing on the razor's edge without quite falling into the category of camp. The picture quality is very good, smooth and stable, one of the best prints I've seen in a while. The small film orchestra does a very good job playing what sounds like an authentic period score. A very enjoyable double feature."
A Study In Contrasts.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 01/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This release marks the end of the recent silent Cecil B. DeMille double features for the time being and in many ways is the best of the lot thanks to the study in contrasts it provide. It features two films made back to back by DeMille in 1918. One is a moody psychological drama with expressionistic overtones while the other marks the beginning of a series of films which would explore the changes in society brought about by World War I.
OLD WIVES FOR NEW takes a look at postwar mores and suggests that the status quo is no longer so. As the title implies this is a film about divorce and divorce as a solution to marital problems, a then unheard of idea which clearly sets the stage for what took place during the 1920's regarding public morality. Basically a domestic drama with moments of comedy, WIVES charts the course of six characters whose interactions propel the story along while making shrewd observations that are still with us today. The scene where the lead character remembers his wife as she once was is both poignant and honest in its emotions. The cast is uniformly fine with Theodore Roberts a standout as the philandering business partner who comes to a bad end.
Just before WIVES DeMille released his most startling and revolutionary film THE WHISPERING CHORUS which shows him following D.W. Griffith's lead in trying to expand the boundaries of contemporary cinema. The story of a poor bookkeeper who embezzles funds to provide for his wife only to fake his death to avoid detection sets the stage for the cruel twist of fate that resolves the film. Along the way DeMille uses a number of stylistic tricks to enhance the downbeat elements most notably the use of multiple exposures to signify "the whispering chorus", those voices we all have inside our heads that tell us what and what not to do. Raymond Hatton is marvelous as the lowly clerk who undergoes a number of transformations before facing up to the aforementioned cruel twist of fate that brings the movie to a stunning conclusion. It's a pity that he was primarily used in supporting roles throughout his career.
CHORUS is my favorite among the early DeMille titles currently available. Although this transfer looks really good for the most part, the color tints are oversaturated in some places but that can be corrected by adjusting the color intensity on your set downward. WIVES looks better overall as it has only a few wear and tear problems at the very beginning. As a silent film enthusiast if you were to get only one of the DeMille twinbills then this is the one. It shows him at the top of his game as a silent film director and shows the direction that he was headed in, becoming the unofficial harbinger of public taste, something which rarely failed him over the rest of his remarkable career."
Two films ahead of their time
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 08/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Of the two films on this disc, my favorite was 'The Whispering Chorus.' It starts out seeming straightforward enough; John and Jane Trimble are having a lot of money problems, and, feeling unable to deal with the humiliation of poverty and the devil on his shoulder any longer, John goes for the short-term solution by embezzling some money from his company. Afraid that the investigation into the mysterious disappearance of this money will implicate him, John goes on the lam and finds a body in a creek, which he uses to fake his own murder, leaving a note which claims he was murdered by Edgar Smith, the man who supposedly made him falsify the books.
Things seem to go well for awhile, but John soon discovers that one problem leads to another, and that what started out as a relatively minor criminal matter (his embezzlement) is now a major catastrophe, as he has to tell lie after lie to stay one step ahead of the authorities and keep up the lie he's forced to live. It gets even worse when Jane eventually decides to remarry, in spite of John's mother believing her son is still alive. Things come to a dramatic head when John can't take it any longer and returns to town. After six years away, with his appearance so changed, with everyone believing he was murdered, is anyone going to recognise him or believe his incredible story? What will be the final outcome of the massive lie he's been living? What will happen to Jane's unknowingly bigamous remarriage? It's amazing that this film was only made in 1918, since it just seems so much more complex and modern than the typical film of the late Teens. It even has the feel of film noir, a genre which was some time yet in coming.
'Old Wives for New' is a much lighter picture, in spite of a dramatic turn the plot takes at one point. Like 'The Whispering Chorus,' it too seems ahead of its time, in this case because of the social and cultural values expressed. Though many people associate things such as flappers, a greater acceptance of divorce, and decadent night life with the Twenties, these things were already around and gaining greater prominence in the World War I era. Like the similar DeMille films 'Don't Change Your Husband' and 'Why Change Your Wife?,' it deals with the subject of spouses who have been together for long enough for at least one of them to have seriously slacked off. The moral of this story too is that you shouldn't let yourself go so much just because you've scored a spouse and don't need to constantly worry about keeping him or her interested in you. Sophy Murdock, the wife in this picture, has definitely let herself go. In a flashback, she appears as an attractive 18 year old girl, but now that she and her husband have two children who are almost grown, she's lazy, frumpy, and overweight, whereas her husband Charles is still youthful-looking and physically fit.
Urged by his son Charley to take a two-week vacation to get away from his failing marriage, Charles gets a fresh outlook on life and the boost of self-confidence he was lacking for so long. On this camping trip, he also falls for Juliet, who is young enough to be his daughter, and though she breaks things off when she discovers his true age and that he's already married, Charles continues to think about her after he returns home and gets his divorce. The plot thickens when he gets caught up in a scandal involving his friend Tom Berkeley, and Juliet's name comes up, even though she had nothing to do with this. How will Charles keep his would-be paramour's reputation clean, and will he reconcile with Sophy or decide to stay divorced and remarry a woman who's barely legal and young enough to be his own daughter?
While these films not be perfectly ideal first silents for someone new to this era, I would recommend the disc to someone interested in lesser-known films from the Teens, or someone who wants to see what Cecil B. DeMille was doing before he became associated with decadent epic films."