Cales: Encyclopedua

Most silent comedy is farce in the broadest sense of the term, since it is most often low and physical. What have been called the silent comedies of remarriage could better be described as toned-down sex farces, though their use of divorce reflects its increasing frequency in America at that historical moment. Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) made three such films: Old Wives for New (1918), Don’t Change Your Husband (1919), and Why Change Your Wife? (1920). As if to illustrate the difficulties of silent romantic comedy, these films, like many American silents, are heavily dependent on title cards, which present proverbial cynicism about marriage. In Why Change Your Wife?, marriage is illustrated by a scene repeated between the husband and each of his wives. As he tries to shave, his wife interrupts him repeatedly, refusing to acknowledge that finishing the shave might reasonably be something the husband should do prior to helping his mate. One expects, given this repetition, that when the husband remarries wife number one, she will revert to type, but the film ends with a title card expressing a previously absent faith in the ability of the romance to last. The new lesson is aimed at women: forget you are wives and continue to indulge your husband’s desires. In The Marriage Circle (1924), Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) used subtle gestures and expressions to convey complex emotions among six interrelated charac- ters. Here, irony replaces more overt mockery of mar- riage, and the film treats its subject without moralizing. Other silent films staged romantic comedy by importing conventions from slapstick comedy and melodrama, as does It (1927), which made Clara Bow (1905-1965) ever after the “It Girl.” The story of the ultimately successful cross-class courtship of Bow’s shop girl and her employer, the department store’s owner, the film uses its title to refer to a special sexual magnetism that a lucky few enjoy. It thus offered an attempt at explaining the power of romantic love, as well as its own improbable plot. The sound era brought a raft of romantic comedies adapted from the stage. In the pre-Code era (1928-1934),

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