Monday, August 3, 2009

Battle of the Sexes (DW Griffith) **

Director: D.W. Griffith

Cast: Jean Hersholt, Phyllis Haver, Belle Bennet, Sally O' Neil, Don Alvarado, William Bakewell

Background: DW Griffith was already a Hollywood legend at this point, making a name for himself with period melodramas like Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and Way Down East. Battle of the Sexes would be a major departure from his usual style.

Story: A couple of con artists aim to bring down a wealthy middle-aged man (Hersholt) by enticing him to forget about his wife and family.

Thoughts: It is interesting to see Griffith attempt a departure from his usual fare, but he didn't really have the nerve to see it all the way through and it ends up not being as much of a departure as it should have been. Griffith doesn't have the light touch that someone like Lubitsch could bring to the table. Instead, he just gives us a remarkably unlikable main character, makng it very hard for the audience to root for this marriage to succeed. Hersholt is a splendid actor and gave a truly memorable performance the previous year's Student Prince in Old Heidelberg. That might be part of the problem. He plays this sad man's descent into mid-life crisis so well that it feels all too real to fit in with the ridiculous set of circumstances that Griffith throws us in the 3rd act.

Postscript: This did not end up as one of Griffith's memorable films. He would only go on to make three more, including an Abe Lincoln biopic.

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