Male and Female (1919)
“Male and Female,” a 1919 silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, is a lavish and ambitious production that showcases the grandeur of the silent film era.
This cinematic adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s play “The Admirable Crichton” explores themes of class, social hierarchy, and human survival in the face of adversity.
The film’s narrative centers around a wealthy British family, the Venables, who find themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island while on a pleasure cruise. Their opulent yacht, the “Male and Female,” is a symbol of their aristocratic status, and the subsequent disaster forces them to confront the realities of their situation.
Gloria Swanson, one of the most iconic stars of the silent era, plays Lady Mary, the headstrong and privileged daughter of the Venables. Lady Mary’s character is a reflection of the upper-class attitudes of the time, as she initially refuses to accept the gravity of their situation. Thomas Meighan portrays Crichton, the resourceful butler to the Venables, who rises to the occasion and takes charge of their survival on the island.
“Male and Female” is celebrated for its elaborate sets, costumes, and special effects, which were groundbreaking for the era. The film’s opulence is evident in the depiction of the Venables’ grand mansion and the elaborate island sets, creating a stark contrast between the two worlds.
Cecil B. DeMille’s direction is characterized by his attention to detail and his ability to convey complex narratives through visual storytelling. The film’s portrayal of class distinctions and social hierarchy is a central theme, as it explores how these hierarchies are challenged and transformed in the face of adversity.
One of the most memorable scenes in “Male and Female” is the evolution of Crichton’s character from a subservient butler to a confident and capable leader. This transformation challenges the traditional social order, as he becomes the protector and provider for the castaways on the island.
The film’s visual effects and innovative use of technology are noteworthy for the time. DeMille’s depiction of the shipwreck is a stunning spectacle, and the creation of a live-action lion for a critical scene was a remarkable achievement in early cinema.
“Male and Female” is also notable for its intertitles, which include humorous and satirical commentary, adding a touch of irony to the story and providing social commentary on the class divisions of the time.
In conclusion, “Male and Female” is a grand and ambitious silent film that reflects the opulence and storytelling prowess of the silent film era. The film’s exploration of class, social hierarchy, and survival in the face of adversity adds depth to the narrative, and the performances of Gloria Swanson and Thomas Meighan, along with Cecil B. DeMille’s direction, contribute to its enduring appeal. “Male and Female” is a testament to the artistry and innovation of early cinema, showcasing the ability of filmmakers to create elaborate and visually stunning productions that continue to captivate audiences a century later.
Release Date: November 23rd, 1919
Main Cast Members
Thomas Meighan (William Crichton, the butler)
Gloria Swanson (Lady Mary Lasenby)
Lila Lee (Tweeny, the scullery maid)
Theodore Roberts (Lord Loam)
Robert Cain (Lord Brockelhurst)
Raymond Hatton (Honorable Ernest ‘Ernie’ Wolley)
Bebe Daniels (The King’s favorite)
Julia Faye (Susan – Maid #2)
Mildred Reardon (Lady Agatha Lasenby)