Male and Female (1919)

A very enjoyable movie with fun qualities that captivated me at once. There’s a shipwreck in a scenic island, a kind of forbidden romance (that could be possible!), lavish sets, an annoying Lila Lee, and a very charismatic Gloria Swanson.

When I read Cecil B. DeMille was the director, I thought this was going to be a great Babylonian epic, according to what I saw in pictures. It wasn’t an epic like Intolerance, but the sequence did enough to impress me.

At first it is shown that Lady Mary (Gloria Swanson), who is the eldest daughter of a rich man, lives like a queen in England, along with her sister. She has maids attending to her every need and a butler hopelessly in love with her.

We are assured of her luxury in a part where she takes a bath as if she were bathing in a waterfall.

Gloria is spoiled and vain. She is appalled when her butler brings her wet toast and refuses it altogether. Her butler, Crichton, knows that she one day will repent this sort of treatment but at the same time feels a deep honest love for her. Throughout the movie he reads and remembers the lines of William Ernest Henley’s “Or Ever The Knightly Years Were Gone”:

Screenshot (1893)

She cannot love him because he is of lower social status. When discovering her friend is to marry a chauffeur, Gloria is astonished and thinks something like that is unimaginable.

But things soon change when the family chooses to go on a trip and they end up shipwrecked.

The poor butler rescues Gloria Swanson and I really start to feel the movie with this very shot.

Screenshot (1895)

Screenshot (1896)

They’re cold and they don’t know what to do. Crichton comforts Lady Mary with all his love. Lila Lee meanwhile is longing for his attentions; she is the maid.

Soon the rich people refuse to help around and Crichton is left by himself. Gloria gives him order and threatens to fire him. Crichton replies that social statuses don’t matter a bit when it comes to nature and survival. They decide to leave him.

He apparently knows how to survive well in the wild. He made a fire rather quickly and learned how to make soup from materials he gathered. Tom Hanks should have watched this movie before going to that island in Cast Away.

Everyone starves and beg Crichton to give them some soup. He accepts only if they agree to help around.

Two years pass and they live happily by really cooperating as humans. I assume they bond more. Gloria becomes besotted with Crichton, who is the leader (king) of the group, and so does Lila Lee.

When Gloria and Crichton embrace and she begs him for his love, he reminds her of the lines of the aforementioned poem and takes us to a sequence of his divine imagination.

As a Babylonian king, Crichton orders Gloria to approach the lions after she refuses his advances. She readies herself to face death bravely, even when she is descending down the stairs, in a full imperial manner. This is one of the most famous scenes of Gloria Swanson’s film career.

I found this to be rather unusual since this movie was a bit of a romantic comedy and I thought that the rest was just going to be an epic.

Male and Female is one of my favorite silent films. It is there on my top ten. I could say Gloria gave one hell of a performance, but I will not shut up about Thomas Meighan, who played Crichton. He looked like Charles Farrell. His performance was honest and the one of a man afflicted by lovelorn sentiment. I mean, this is really the only film that has shown me that being shipwrecked is fun, especially if you are around someone you love.

Lila Lee was incredibly annoying. She had a pretty face and a girlish air about her, but she was annoying just the same.

It’s not only about the shipwreck though. It has to do more with how humans are always regarded differently because of their monetary status. If money wouldn’t get in the way, people would be more at ease with one another and there would be less heartbreak and death. So many opportunities can be lost because of a value we give so much to a piece of paper. Sometimes those who don’t have enough of what has had defined us as people possess a grand spirit and heart.

Screenshot (1897)

Screenshot (1899)


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