Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why Change Your Wife (1920) / Mad Dog Morgan (1977)

(note: this is a ye olde review from 1 year ago that I forgot to post)

Mood whiplash double feature. First, a fluffy silent comedy about marital difficulties, followed by a piece of ozploitation.

Why Change Your Wife

Gloria Swanson (the wife), Thomas Meighan (the husband) and Bebe Daniels (the gold-digger who steals said husband) were utterly charming. So was the movie for that matter, what with all those silly fashions of 1920: patterned stocking and knee-length swimsuits and wrap around strapless negligees with fur trimmings.

It's similar in plot to director Cecil B. DeMille's previous Don't Change Your Husband (1919), another comedy of remarriage, and has the same basic outline, but gender flipped: married protagonist is unhappy with spouse, leaves spouse for another, seemingly more "romantic" alternative, turns out spouse #2 sucks, so protagonist returns to spouse #1, who in the meantime has loosened and glammed up, and they remarry happily.

In this one, the wife transforms from prim prude to saucy minx. The movie itself is a bit condescending towards women, not surprising considering the time period. Meighan is consistently presented as being a square guy practically pushed into the arms of Daniels by uptight Swanson's killjoying ways. But because this is a comedy, one overheard piece of gossip is enough for the newly divorced Swanson to completely overthrow her puritan ways and put on the plums.

But I couldn't dislike this movie. The plot itself is so simplified, the mood so lighthearted, and the sets and costumes so lovely, that I found it immensely enjoyable. DeMille movies, especially his silents, can have wonderful bits of understated humor - not much of the banana slipping variety (though we do get a banana peel here played for comedy and tragedy), but more humor created out of the facial expressions as they eye roll,  smell perfume,  and get put in inconvenient or awkward. A comedy of the senses, where everything works out and sorts out, with even the gold digger getting a new man.

Mad Dog Morgan

A lot of fake beards in this movie. Enough to make ZZ Top jealous.

Can't say that I'm in the proper position to make any sort of judgement, as the copy I saw was an obviously censored and scratched up pan-and-scan. Dennis Hooper was quite a.....presence, what with his 3 fake beards and Irish brogue. The film is disjointed, consisting of barely tied together ultra short vignettes. Morgan is humanized compared to the mean and sadistic trackers, though I guess it's to the filmmaker's credit that they don't glam him up too much, showing him to be a crook way over his head but too bullish to back down. (I wonder if anyone has done a comparison between American, English, and Australian outlaws of the 18th-19th century, and how they are portrayed, culturally and historically, in their respective countries.)

I'm undecided wether Mad Dog Morgan's frequent use of jump cuts made it avant-garde, or if was just sloppily put together.  The result felt simultaneously sleazy and pretentious, but either way I ended up rather bored.

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