Friday, November 13, 2009

WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE? (1920) Gloria Swanson

"Why Change Your Wife?" (1920) is my favorite of the romantic comedies that Cecil B. DeMille directed with Gloria Swanson as the star. In this film, Swanson plays Beth Gordon and Thomas Meighan plays Robert Gordon, a married couple who have begun to grow apart. Robert is growing tired of Beth putting down his ways, which include his extravagant wine cellar, his smoking, and his love for his dog. Beth prefers classical music to his fox trots and rejects his advances. Robert wants fun and romance so he goes to "Le Maison Chic," a dress shop, to purchase Beth a negligee to spice up the marriage. While Robert is at the dress shop, one of the models, Sally Clark, played by Bebe Daniels, sets her eyes on him. When Beth ignores Robert's gift he becomes depressed. The next day Sally shows up in Robert's office with a missing article from his previous day's purchase. Robert had just been turned down by Beth for a night on the town minutes before Sally's arrival. He takes Sally out instead and finds out they have much in common. Eventually, Robert divorces his stern wife and marries Sally. After a few months, Robert learns that Sally is not all that he thought her to be and feels trapped in a loveless marriage. Can Robert ever be happily married? You will have to watch the film to find out. "Why Change Your Wife?" is somewhat of a sequel to "Don't Change Your Husband" but it is more entertaining. There are so many funny moments in this film. In the first scenes the viewer is introduced to Robert shaving and Beth getting dressed in the bathroom. While Robert shaves, Beth nags him into buttoning the back of her dress. Both of them are amusing as they frustrate each other. These bathroom scenes became a Swanson/DeMille trademark. Another comical scene is when after the divorce Beth overhears two women gossiping about her wardrobe in the next changing room at the dress shop. She decides to get rid of her frumpy clothes and instructs the dressmaker to give her something "sleeveless, backless, transparent, and indecent."

My favorite scene is when Robert and Beth end up at the same Atlantic City resort where Beth is trying out her new stylish appearance. Viewers today should take a look at the 1920's style bathing suits which were considered daring for their day. "Why Change Your Wife?"is really about three things: sex, women, and clothes. It seems that Swanson was primarily used as a clotheshorse. However, it is well directed, brilliantly produced and the performances by Swanson, Meighan, and Daniels are simply top-notch. The witty subtitles are so fun to read. Like the other DeMille romantic comedies, "Why Change Your Wife?" is very much a product of its time and may not be appealing to many modern viewers. On the other hand, this sophisticated comedy challenges the assumption that silent film is just slapstick and melodrama. What I love about the film is that Gloria Swanson represents in her role as Beth the modern female of the post World War I years in America who was worldly wise and sophisticated.


  1. Wow! this really sounds like a "chick flick". I love romantic comedies. Combined with the fancy women's fashions of the 1920's,(which I find quite amazing.) I think I'm becoming a Gloria Swanson fan,too.

  2. I love this movie too! Love the review for it also! Keep up the good work! We need more silent film fans to discuss these types of films!


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