Sunday, August 27, 2017

Male and Female (USA, 1919)

Cecil B. de Mille being himself in a film that turns extravagant –and also with sceneries of great proportions at some moments - and a young Gloria Swanson. Although unknown for many people, Swanson started her career very young being an actress in slapstick comedies (she even worked for Keystone studios, which produced some of the most frantic comedies of silent era), but she had dramatic ambitions all along and by the time this film was made she started pursuing them.
An adaptation of the play “The Admirable Crichton” by J.M. Barrie, the film approaches differences of classes with subtle humor and sometimes audiences do not even feel time pass because the film has a very relaxed vibe. How a British aristocrat (Gloria Swanson) connected with her butler gives room to some original gags, especially after they both get involved in a shipwreck. Needless to say that none of those rich aristocrats have the required skills to survive in a stranded land, but it turned out that the butler could handle the situation. It also comes from this film the famous scene where Swanson is lying down with a real lion around her. 
In the beginning of the film lives of rich people are depicted as opulent and empty. The scenes are funny with the futility of people`s requests towards the servants and we can also see Gloria Swanson in beautiful clothes. The servants are shown as slightly more grounded people, as their lives are closer to realism. A maid is in love with the butler, who is in love with Swanson. On the other hand, Swanson has a friend who married her chauffeur and had to face lots of social difficulties because of that. Needless to say that Swanson disapproved the marriage, which made her butler heartbroken.
The scenes of those people mingling together while stranded in the islands are entertaining, even though they are far from realistic. Clothes were always in good conservation state, they never faced real famine and could even have access to some comforts, such as books. This gives a touch of involuntary humor to the film, which makes it even more enjoyable to modern audiences.  Although the plot is sometimes exaggerated, the acting of main actors remain relatively self-controlled and subtle and it reinforces the good portrait of lives of educated and refined characters.
There is also the interesting approach of not sugar coating the difference of classes and that love does not always overcome it. No, the plot is not about the so-called battle of the sexes. Intertitles can be witty but they are also sometimes a bit too long, even tiresome. If they were kept simpler, it would be perhaps easier for audiences to understand the subtle humor and it is also a factor that makes the film seem outdated nowadays.
The Babylonian sequence may be a feast for the eyes, but it is not really necessary to the development of the plot. By the way, a Babylonian king having a Christian slave? Perhaps it is a little historically inaccurate? We can see here the famous sequence of Swanson with a real lion (who was presumably dangerous) and legend has it that she insisted on doing that scene herself. This might be true, because if we analyze the comedy films Gloria Swanson made earlier in her career we can observe that she have already done a plenty of relatively dangerous stunts already in her teens. 

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