The Battle of the Sexes (D.W. Griffith / U.S., 1928):

The battle, "always fought and never won," is played by a doughy, married industrialist (Jean Hersholt) and a gold-digger (Phyllis Haver) who reads Louisa May Alcott for giggles. He is a lumbering family man, sturdy but susceptible to Napoleonic flattery, the flapper gives him a sample of her undulations and he's soon adorning her curls with rolled-up dollars -- a new life for him but for her purely a transaction, "he's fat and dumb but he gives me diamonds." D.W. Griffith looks at the Jazz Age, and sees a dazzling void: He has too much feeling for the characters and family to play caprices fast and insouciantly like Lubitsch, so when Hersholt's wife (Belle Bennett) catches him at the nightclub with Haver, the blithe machinations of The Marriage Circle turn harrowing. Comedy is a serious business, a note from Death in Venice is adduced as the husband attempts to squeeze himself into a corset or gets nearly strangled by a slimming machine's vibrating belt; Bennett remembers the couple's courtship as a gauzy pastoral and, distraught, wanders the roofs (Griffith cuts to an overhead shot to spot her at the edge of the abyss). Haver alternates between her sugar-daddy and a rakish scoundrel (Don Alvarado as "perfumed ice"), it falls to Hersholt's feisty daughter (Sally O'Neill) to grab a gun and storm the hussy's lair -- Hersholt's indignation at seeing O'Neill in the boudoir ("You're disgracing the family!") illustrates what Adela Rogers St. Johns would dub The Single Standard, and follows into a punchline unexpectedly evocative of So This Is Paris. The affair comes to a brisk but rueful end, colored by the emotional toll of the characters' sudden desires and the melancholy of an artist who could never adapt to the changing times. With William Bakewell, and John Batten. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home