Decades before Gloria Swanson played Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," she starred in six films directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The first of the six films, "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919), was a great success and helped make Gloria Swanson a major star. In this romantic comedy, Swanson plays Leila Porter, a young wife who becomes dissatisfied with the sloppy habits of her wealthy businessman husband, James Porter, played by Elliott Dexter. The man Leila fell in love with and married was not a man who smoked smelly cigars, ate raw onions, and forgot their anniversary. Her husband has become a workaholic who has lost his romance along with his waistline. Leila tries to get her husband to straighten out to no avail. One night at a dinner party at her home, Leila meets the charming Schuyler Van Sutphen, the playboy nephew of her socialite friend Mrs. Huckney. She invites Leila to her home for the weekend to make James miss her. While Leila is in Mrs. Huckney's home, Schuyler begins the chase, promising her pleasure, wealth, and love if she leaves her husband and marries him. Ultimately, Leila divorces her boring husband and marries the playboy. It is not long before Leila discovers all is not rosy with her new marriage. She finds out that Schuyler likes to gamble and is having an affair with Nanette, the maid. Schuyler eventually loses all his money to gambling and steals Leila's diamond ring to cover his losses. Can Leila ever be happily married? You will have to watch the film to find out.
"Don't Change Your Husband" could have been one of those over the top melodramas that were quite common in the teen years. Instead, it is a film that takes some interesting twists and turns and is so fun to watch. It is better that the film is light-hearted rather than preachy. Typical of a DeMille film, "Don't Change Your Husband" is visually pretty with lush interiors, haute couture dresses, and long necklaces. It is a film with lots of color tints in different scenes. I love how DeMille held Swanson in lengthy close-ups at key moments and to clarify the story visually. It is quite impressive how the camera captures Swanson's subtle gestures and facial expressions. Swanson and Dexter gave fine performances and had wonderful chemistry together. What I love the most about the film is that DeMille provides modern audiences an insight into the manners and morals of its time. It reflects a flirtation with a new morality. Divorce was still quite shocking in 1919, but the film dared to show that it was possible. The roaring twenties were just ahead and the moral climate was changing.