Thursday, December 27, 2007

Will Hays was right

Last night I learned something. I watched two old silent filns directex by Cecil B. Demille, The Whispering Shadow and Old Wives For New. They were both made in the 1917 - 1918 time frame but they couldn't have been more different. Whispering Shadow was a typical for the time moralistic melodrama with a convoluted plot which climaxes in a man being executed for his own murder to protect his wife who had unknowingly become a bigamist by marrying the state's governor. Old Wives was another proposition entirely, a movie that proves it wasn't just off screen scandals that brought about the institution of the Production Code and the Hays Office in 1920.

It was the story of a successful man with a fat, lazy wife who falls in love with the pretty owner of a dress shop. There was little conventional morally about this film. In the course of things a man is shot by a jealous girlfriend. She is given some money and sent away by the hero and there is no hint she ever pays for her crime. The man's widow shows no sadness even as she shops for her mourning wardrobe. Another "professional mistress" is paid off. The fat wife eventually divorces her husband and marries a goldigger. There's even a bit of women runnging around in scantily clad nightgowns. There is no hint whatsoever of any remorse or "home and hearth" stuff. DeMille did things like this in the 20's but it was shock to see it starting this early especially without a trace of moralizing.

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