Male and Female (1919)

“Would you put a Jack Daw and a Bird of Paradise in the same cage?”

Synopsis:
A butler (Thomas Meighan) with a crush on the aristocratic Lady (Gloria Swanson) he works for is given an unexpected chance to romance her when she and her family are shipwrecked on a deserted island, and Meighan becomes their de facto ruler.

Genres:

Review:
Despite Gloria Swanson’s status as one of the most popular and beloved actresses of the silent era, Peary only lists two of her pre-Sunset Boulevard titles in his GFTFF: Erich von Stroheim’s notoriously unfinished Queen Kelly (1929), and this much earlier Cecil B. DeMille title (which is credited with helping the 20-year-old Swanson achieve fame as a romantic lead). Adapted from J.M. Barrie’s play The Admirable Crichton, it tells a farcical fable about what might happen if all class-based trappings were suddenly stripped away, leaving both the nobility and the working class to fend for themselves in nature. Naturally, the aristocratic ninnies in this story haven’t the first clue how to survive, leaving it conveniently up to Meighan to take charge and show them how to build a fire, construct shelter, etc. Things turn undeniably silly when Meighan abuses his privileges to become a petty tyrant, fending off advances from not only the reformed Swanson, but a pretty young maid (Lila Lee) with a ferocious crush of her own on Meighan. However, while this film hasn’t dated well enough to remain must-see viewing on its own merits, it’s worth a look simply to see beautiful young Swanson in one her best-known early roles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An amusing exploration of class relations

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look to see young Swanson at the height of her beauty. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Male and Female (1919)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    It’s true – this film has not aged well at all. Moreover, the many fans of the extremely popular tv series ‘Gilligan’s Island’ (and that’s a lot of us) will see just how quickly ‘M&F’ becomes predictable. …Actually…anyone watching ‘M&F’ will realize the same thing.

    The film’s main selling point is the extended shipwreck sequence, which DeMille deftly handles in the typically large-scale DeMille manner.

    Once most of the cast are stranded on the island, however, things take something of a downward, tedious turn – with most scenes offering little of interest, focused as they are on ‘domestic squabbles’.

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