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Silent Sunday Nights - September 2012
Remind Me
 Battle of the Sexes, The,The Battle of the Sexes

The Battle of the Sexes

A family is torn apart when a calculating gold digger, Marie Skinner (Phyllis Haver), seduces a father, J.C. Judson (Jean Hersholt), away from his loving wife and children in The Battle of the Sexes (1928).

With the aid of her beautiful, decadent lover Babe Winsor (Don Alvarado), Marie sets out to make Judson her sugar daddy. She moves into his apartment building and has soon lured the middle aged man away from his devoted wife and two grown children Ruth (Sally O'Neil) and Billy (William Bakewell). The family is devastated by their father's defection when the lovers are seen dancing and kissing at a nightclub and Judson later announces his decision to leave his wife for Marie.

D. W. Griffith's emotionally charged 1928 mortality tale was a remake of his 1914 five reel feature of the same title. That 1914 feature was filmed in only five days time and centered on Lillian Gish as the daughter shocked by her father's infidelity.

The Kentucky-born Griffith was renowned for creating engrossing melodramas like The Battle of the Sexes which often feature telltale signs of the sentimentality, moral absolutes and anger over injustice that came to define such notable films as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916) and Orphans of the Storm (1921).

D.W. Griffith was described by the actors, cameramen and directors he worked with as a generous and kind man with little business sense, whose art always came first. He referred to his actors as his "children." Actress Miriam Cooper called him "the Victorian father none of us had."

But his devotion to his art also led him to occasional cruelties as when Cooper could not summon up the necessary tears for a scene. Griffith cleared the set and told Cooper that her mother had died, inspiring the required tears. It was only later that Cooper learned her mother was still alive. (In those days, it wasn't unusual for directors to receive mail and telegrams for their actors when they were on set).

Griffith was greatly admired among his fellow filmmakers for his role in evolving contemporary cinema with artistically innovative films like The Birth of a Nation. As Mack Sennett noted "D.W. Griffith, when you come right down to it, invented motion pictures." Charlie Chaplin called Griffith "a genius of the silent cinema" and directors like Cecil B. De Mille echoed that sentiment.

Despite his acknowledged genius, including his innovations in parallel cutting to increase the dynamism of film, his innovations in changing camera angles, dramatic lighting, close-ups and his virtual reinvention of the language of film, Griffith's gift was eventually lost in the changing times of Hollywood. The financial failure of Intolerance has been seen as one harbinger of Griffith's declining status in the industry, and the anticlimactic films that came later.

Intolerance> was followed by Griffith's move, after making Broken Blossoms (1919), of his production facilities from Hollywood to Mamaroneck, New York. The eventual failure of that studio led to jumps between other studios, including Paramount and Universal and then back again to United Artists, the company he helped found. Douglas Fairbanks helped usher Griffith away from United Artists. "The procession passed him by," declared Adolph Zukor. "He couldn't keep up with the pace." Griffith's preference for stilted Victorian melodramas may have been partly to blame. Others claimed it was a callous Hollywood, with little regard for the man who helped define the art of cinema, referred to as the "Shakespeare of the screen," which inspired Griffith's sad, idle distance from the moviemaking industry he loved in the last fifteen years of his life. It was the lack of opportunities, and not the loss of his innate talent, many said, that led to Griffith's decline in the industry.

Director: D.W. Griffith
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Screenplay: Adaptation by Gerrit Lloyd from a short story "The Single Standard" by Daniel Carson Goodman
Cinematography: Karl Struss, Billy Bitzer
Music: R. Schildkret, Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: Jean Hersholt (J.C. Judson), Phyllis Haver (Marie Skinner), Belle Bennett (Mrs. Judson), Don Alvarado (Babe Winsor), Sally O'Neil (Ruth Judson), William Bakewell (Billy Judson).

by Felicia Feaster



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