A House Divided (1931)

Film Review


Release Date: 4 December, 1931

Studio: Universal

Director: William Wyler

Starring: Walter Huston, Kent Douglass (Douglass Montgomery), Helen Chandler

Related Discussion Topic: The Hays Code

Learn about the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, in the Discussion Topics section.


Widowed fisherman Seth Law dominates his sensitive son, Matt. Needing a permanent domestic, Seth sends for a mail order bride. Unexpectedly, the bride turns out to be a pretty young woman, Ruth Evans. After the wedding ceremony, Matt realizes that his brutal father cannot take the inexperienced and frightened young woman into his bed. A fight between father and son leaves Seth crippled. The guilt ridden young people take care of the callous and domineering father. One stormy night, Ruth and Matt decide to run away on the fishing boat. In the storm, the boat is swept out to sea with Ruth on board. Matt and Seth, who is lashed to the seat of a rowboat, attempt to rescue her. Ruth is clinging to the side of the fishing boat, and as father and son row toward her, Matt leaps into the tempestuous sea and swims to her. He holds her above the waves. He looks for his father in the rowboat and realizes that the boat has capsized in the rough surf. His father has drowned. On a later day, the young people, standing at the edge of the sea, gaze at each other in peace.


The transition from silent to sound films was still taking place in 1931. Many films made in that year are slow, stilted, and poorly acted. Many silent film directors were having difficulty adjusting to the changes in approach required to put together a good talking film. This film shows that William Wyler had little difficulty adapting to sound. The pacing is smooth, the dialogue confidently spoken, and the acting is sharp. Of course, it helps that the lead actor is Walter Houston who gives a powerful performance as the brutal and lusty fisherman.