Male And Female (1919)

Film Review

MALE AND FEMALE

Release Date: 23 November, 1919

Studio: Paramount

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Thomas Meighan, Theodore Roberts

Special Notes: Great American Films, 1911-1920

This film has been selected to our list of Great American Films, 1911-1920, which focuses on obscure and under-appreciated American film masterpieces.

Synopsis

The members of Lord Loam's household know their places. Lord Loam, his daughters and other family members are pampered and spoiled. Lady Mary is the most indulged of all. Numerous servants, under the direction of the butler Crichton, attend to the family. When Lord Loam and his family sail to the South Seas, Crichton and Tweeny, the parlor maid, accompany them. Lord Loam's yacht is wrecked, and the Loam family, Crichton and Tweeny straggle ashore on an unoccupied island. The aristocratic family expects that the social order on the island will be the same as that in London, but Crichton knows that nature will determine leadership under these new conditions. As the first day passes, only Crichton is able to provide food and shelter. Gradually, every family member, except Lady Mary, yields leadership to him. When darkness comes, Mary, hungry, cold, and afraid, gives up. She sits next to Crichton at the fire and asks for some of his soup.

Two years later, the group has settled into a comfortable existence. Each member has chores and duties that contribute to their general well-being. Crichton is their acknowledged king. Mary and Tweeny serve him and compete for his attention. After Mary and Crichton declare their love, everyone approves of the match. As the marriage ceremony begins, a ship is sighted. Although Mary protests, Crichton lights the signal fire. The arrival of the rescue party resets the social order. Lord Loam resumes leadership, and Crichton returns to his position as the deferential butler.

Back in England, Lord Loam's household reverts to its original form, except that Lady Mary and Crichton are still in love. Crichton, however, knows that a great lady cannot marry a butler. He takes the hand of a surprised, but very willing, Tweeny and announces that they are getting married and moving to America. Lady Mary will marry Lord Brockelhurst, a member of her own social class. In America, Crichton and Tweeny own a farm. At evening, they smile fondly at each other, embrace, and kiss.

Discussion

The film is based on The Admirable Crichton (1902), a play by James M. Barrie. The play and the film deal with issues of social class. The theme is that an individual's position in society depends on factors determined by the environment. This theme is illustrated by the differences in the group's leadership and social structure between urban, cultured London and the untamed, uninhabited island. The film contains two scenes that DeMille often added to his movies, a bathing scene and a fantasy scene. In this film, Swanson, attended by two maids, bathes in an elegant bathroom. In the fantasy scene, Crichton tells Mary a story derived from a poem with the line "When I was king of Babylon and you were a Christian slave." The Babylon tale is played out as he describes it to her.