D. W. Griffith is properly esteemed as "The Father of Film" from his years of discovery making short films at the pioneer Biograph Company and for such pioneering features as The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm (all available from Image Entertainment), but his later films--several of them lost or almost unavailable--were far less critically hailed. Griffith's 1928 comedy-drama THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES proves to be the exception. It is the story of a middle-aged magnate (Jean Hersholt) who makes a fool of himself when he strays from his loving but frowsy wife (Belle Bennett) and children (Billy Bakewell and Sally O'Neil) into the cynical arms of a gold-digger (Phyllis Haver) and her dishonest lover (Don Alvarado). As these characters are hurt and healed, Griffith expertly draws fine lines between tragedy and comedy, and his skill makes all the difference between emotional satisfaction and formulaic melodrama.
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D.W. Griffith is hardly known for his light touch or his sense of humor, but both of these hidden talents are evident in this sexy romantic comedy. Griffith shows a smooth, fluid style and a sophisticated hand in the story of a middle-aged family man entranced by a gold-digging jazz baby. Character actor Jean Hersholt (yes, the same one the Oscars named the Humanitarian Award for) is a frumpy, bespectacled middle class husband and an unassuming Wall Street bigwig wooed by blond floozy Phyllis Haver. He's got a family and she has a boyfriend (an oily gigolo described as "the wrong answer to a maiden's prayer"), but why should that stop a little after-hours fun? This being a Griffith film, the story winds up with a melodramatic climax, but he also displays a sly wit and the winking, thoroughly modern sensibility reminiscent of Ernst Lubitsch's cultured Continental touch. From the clever and elegant introductory scene to the carnivalesque treatment of a lover's tiff to the sentimental coda, Griffith's jazz age sex comedy is lovely, luscious, and more wry than you'd expect from the old man of Victorian melodrama. --Sean Axmaker
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