US Release Date: 05-21-1920
Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille
- Gloria Swanson, as
- Beth Gordon
- Thomas Meighan, as
- Robert Gordon
- Bebe Daniels, as
- Sally Clark
- Theodore Kosloff, as
- Sylvia Ashton, as
- Aunt Kate
- William Boyd as
- Naval Officer at Hotel
Her bathing suit is too sexy.
Thomas Meighan was 20 years older than Gloria Swanson. Luckily he did not look it, and the two shared some nice chemistry. This was their second teaming after Male and Female.
Swanson and Meighan are a married couple with different tastes. It causes problems in their marriage. He likes Jazz while she likes classical. She dislikes his dog being in the house, and objects to how he spends money on his wine cellar. He buys her (what is supposed to be) a sexy negligee, but Swanson is too uncomfortable to wear it. She tells Meighan, "Do you expect me to share your Oriental ideas? Do you want your wife to lure you like a - a - Oh why didn't you marry a Turk?"
He calls her from work the next day with tickets to the Follies. She would rather listen to a violinist at a friends house. Meighan tells her, "I'll dine at the club-I'm tired of hearing that wired haired foreigner torture a fiddle." He ends up taking Daniels, whom he met at the dress shop.
After coming home drunk, and smelling of Daniels perfume, Swanson and Meighan divorce. Swanson has a scene where she throws away his movie and baseball magazines. I can relate to this guy.
He marries Daniels, while Swanson pines for him. At a dress fitting, she hears some women gossiping, "No wonder she lost him. She just wouldn't play with him. Then she dressed as if she were his aunt not his wife."
Swanson decides to say good bye to Mary Pickford and hello to Theda Bara. She buys some (what is supposed to be) sexy clothes. She goes to a resort hotel where all the men are hot and bothered by her new bathing suit. She runs into her ex-husband, and his new wife. He is smitten with her new look, and the sexual tension gets them both worked up.
The cast is great. Meighan has a good scene where he is clearly uncomfortable in the dress shop, with all the ladies undergarments around. Daniels and Swanson get into a cat fight. Swanson has the best line in the movie, "Isn't he a darling? You know, the more I see of men the better I like dogs."
Why Change Your Wife is a good example that not all silent comedies were slapstick. It was also a message to wives of the time, that it is important to keep your husband sexually satisfied. The final line in the film is, "…Ladies; If you would be your husband's sweetheart, you simply must learn when to forget you're his wife." In some ways, this movie is funnier now, than it was then.
Nobody wore clothes better than Gloria Swanson.
Why Change Your Wife? is a reversal of the hit Don’t Change Your Husband which had been released in 1919. That picture was the first of six that Gloria Swanson starred in for director/producer Cecil B. DeMille. In that movie, as the title suggests, a wife tires of her husband and trades him in for a new model. DeMille made a movie for both spouses.
This movie proves that Gloria Swanson could wear clothes like no other female star of the silent era. She also looked better in profile than head on. DeMille knew this and uses her right profile often. Bebe Daniels was attractive but lacked the charisma and presence of Swanson.
There are many funny moments in this movie and Eric, I think you are right that it is funnier today than it was in 1920. We can still laugh at all the intended jokes but we can also enjoy the silly little titillations of the day, like the "sexy" negligee or Swanson’s "daring" swim suit.
My favorite subtitle is when Swanson decides to change her style at the dress shop. She tells the tailor, “Make it sleeveless, backless, transparent, indecent – go the limit.”
Why Change Your Wife? is a humorous look at the institution known as marriage. Nearly a century has passed since this movie came out. It proves that styles may come and go but some things never change.
Gloria Swanson in Why Change Your Wife?
One of the most interesting things about watching these old movies is seeing how different the people lived at that time. These movies not only have the power to entertain nearly 100 years after their release, but they also stand as historical records of the clothes, technology and attitudes of the time. And what's really interesting about them is when they show how little people have changed in the past century. The quarrels the couple have in this film and its predecessor (Don't Change Your Husband) aren't all that different than the marital spats that continue today.
Although it's crucial to the plot, the weakest moment in the film to me is when Beth (Swanson) decides to change and loosen up. She overhears one conversation in store dressing room (a plot device that would be used as recently as an episode of Sex and the City) and suddenly she changes her whole life. Obviously she has to change or the ending would never be reached, but couldn't they have made it slightly more gradual than that?
What struck me as funny in this movie is that most of Robert's problems with both his first and second wife is that he only ever owns one bathroom. He gets annoyed with both of them because they constantly get in his way when he's trying to shave. He could save a fortune in alimony if he'd just rent an apartment with two bathrooms.
Something else I found interesting is that despite the title, it is the wife who decides to end the marriage here as it was in Don't Change Your Husband. She just does it for opposite reasons. What the couple from this and that movie really need is to just swap spouses.
Although you both joke, Eric and Patrick, about the "sexiness" of Swanson's swimsuit, it is pretty revealing compared to what she normally wears. I mean it's slit up one leg all the way to her waist. And she is wearing it in public where earlier she wouldn't even let her husband see cleavage when they were alone together.
DeMille again impressed with his direction. Take note of the scene where Robert decides to take Sally with him on their first date. He gives her both tickets at first, but she gives them back. Robert then gives her one ticket and keeps the other for himself making it obvious that he means for them to go together and he does this without a title card or without lingering unnaturally on the movement of the tickets. It's nice bit of direction and acting that feels natural rather than a mime as too often silent films do.
Eric, you briefly mention the cat fight and I have to say it was one of the funniest moments to me. These two ladies aren't messing around, threatening to disfigure each other with acid (although it turns out to be merely eye wash) and throwing bottles at each other.
I'm still not a big silent movie fan, but I do think I have a finer appreciation of them now. At least enough to know that this is a good one.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1920)