Silent Film Wednesdays at the Stanford Theatre 8: For Alimony Only

Wednesday the 8th was the final night of the silent film series at The Stanford Theatre. It has been so fun seeing and writing about these films…I just wish I had made it to all 10 nights! The next full calendar hasn’t been published yet, but for the next two weeks, the Stanford will be paying tribute to the late Lauren Bacall with the following schedule:

I’m going to briefly touch on the second half of Wednesday’s program, which was a series of serials, none of which were particularly my cup of tea. We started with episode 5 of The Son of Tarzan from 1920. Other than the most unconvincing ape costumes ever (this film could certainly have used green screen + Andy Serkis!), the most remarkable features were Manilla Martan’s bare breasts. Martan played the female companion of Tarzan’s son, who loves him like an older brother, according to the title cards. Martan’s acting was so over the top that she looked insane. At the end of the episode, it looks as though she’s going to be raped by the apes. I don’t know what else to say about this short film, except that I’m not in any kind of hurry to see the rest of the episodes.

The second serial was episode 9 of Sunken Silver from 1925 the plot of which had something to do with a bunch of silver coins being off the coast of Florida during the Louisiana Purchase. Obviously. This film didn’t have much to recommend itself to me, but it might be different if I were to see the entire series.

The final serial, Daredevil Jack (1920), was clearly designed as a star vehicle for Jack Dempsey. The film was actually several chapters of the serial cobbled together because most of this serial has been lost. The storyline focused on Dempsey’s fighting skills and not much else. I might have been getting a little tired by the end, but I have a hard time remembering anything but Dempsey knocking out a bunch of guys who were after his girlfriend’s bracelet. The most surprising thing about this film was the director: W. S. Van Dyke, director of a film I have seen at least 20 times and haven’t tired of yet: The Thin Man!

All in all, the serials were the least interesting part of this film series for me. I’m not that into action/adventure, for one thing, but it also may be that the films haven’t aged well or that they’d be more fun for kids. I love that the Stanford is restoring them and making them available, though. As a film lover, I’m interested in as much preservation as possible.

Far more interesting to me was this week’s feature, For Alimony Only (1926), starring Leatrice Joy and Clive Brook. We’ve seen both of these actors earlier in the series: Joy was the boyish ingenue of Eve’s Leaves, and Brook played the clerk turned house husband in The Home Maker. At the beginning of the film, we see Brook’s character, Peter Williams, fighting with his wife. The only reason that they’re still married is that he doesn’t want to pay alimony. Finally, he becomes so annoyed with his wife, Narcissa, played by Lilyan Tashman, that he agrees to pay any amount she wants, just to get rid of her.

The former Mrs. Williams quickly finds herself a new man, Bertie Waring, played by Casson Ferguson. Waring is a bit of a gigolo, and he and Narcissa are in agreement that they won’t marry, as that would make the alimony that is supporting them both disappear.

We soon see Mr. Williams at a bookstore, making small talk with a smart young man about the evils of women. To his embarrassment, the young man turns out to be a boyish young woman, Mary Martin, played by Leatrice Joy, looking almost as boyish as she did in Eve’s Leaves. Williams and Miss Martin fall in love during the next few scenes and get married. The proposal scene, pictured above, is very sweet.

Unfortunately for the newlyweds, business isn’t great at Mr. Williams’s parking garage, and he gets so behind on his alimony payments to Mrs. Williams #1 that Mrs. Williams #2 has to get a job. As part of her job in an interior decorating shop, she ends up at Mrs. Williams #1’s apartment at the same time as Mr. Williams is there to make some new alimony arrangements. Misunderstandings and double crosses ensue, and the ending of the film, while predictable, was satisfying.

By the way, when I searched online for images from For Alimony Only, I found scads of MRA blogs. There certainly appear to be a lot of upset little boys out there, stamping their feet over the audacity of man-hating women taking their toys away. Ugh.  Over the past several weeks, watching this film series, I have seen some disturbing scenes of male privilege, mainly showing men assuming that it’s acceptable to paw at strange women almost to the point of assault, and what I’ve seen in the news recently doesn’t give me any confidence that the world is changing as much as we’d like to think. These “men’s rights activists” dummy-spitting blogs are telling examples.

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