In its day, D.W. Griffith's moralistic comedy-drama The Battle of the Sexes was not much liked and certainly not the artistic or commercial success he had hoped for and indeed badly needed. But, beautifully restored and awarded a highly appropriate new score by Rodney Sauer and Susan Hall of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, this once so maligned failure emerges as perhaps the legendary director's most approachable work. Much has been said through the years of Griffith's inability to handle sophisticated comedy but there are moments in this delightful film where all doubters are proven wrong. Yes, Griffith may have gone a bit overboard in the emotional climaxes -- he would hardly be Griffith had he not -- but early on in this story of middle-aged shame, Griffith's camera becomes positively Lubitschian. Most likely due to demands from producer Joseph Schenck, the cast is uniformly good -- Griffith's favorite actress at the time, the dour Carol Dempster, is happily absent -- and The Battle of the Sexes becomes an eye-opening tour de force for blonde Phyllis Haver, formerly of the Mack Sennett comedy brigade. Haver uses her comedy timing well, making one of the era's more devastating gold diggers alternately hilarious and pathetic. She is closely followed by Jean Hersholt -- whose battle with a girdle remains a highlight -- and the dignified, long-suffering Belle Bennett. The latter, who earlier played Stella Dallas for Samuel Goldwyn, comes close to overacting a couple of times, but Griffith manages to reel her in just in time; her would-be suicide on a rooftop is a most telling moment in the film and perhaps a sly comment on their professional relationship. Said suicide scene, with its dizzying camera work by Karl Struss (or Billy Bitzer), remains perhaps the film's visual highlight but Griffith has many other tricks up his sleeve, including some very clever double exposures and dissolves. The Battle of the Sexes may not be great screen art, but as the film appears today, it emerges as one of the era's more entertaining period pieces.
A remake of a 1914 D.W. Griffith potboiler, The Battle of the Sexes is a highly entertaining, if cautionary, tale of a middle-aged family man, J.C. Judson (Jean Hersholt), who despite his devotion to wife and offspring falls for what is obviously a gold digger, Marie Skinner (Phyllis Haver). When Mrs. Judson (Belle Bennett) and her grown children, Ruth (Sally O'Neil) and Billy (William Bakewell), confront him with the awful truth, Judson refuses to give up his inamorata and instead moves out of the home. A desperate Ruth, gun in hand, seeks a showdown with Marie, but their confrontation is interrupted by the latter's handsome but feckless boyfriend, Babe Winsor (Don Alvarado), who in drunkenness begins to court the pretty Ruth. Judson walks in on this tender scene and immediately employs a double standard, condemning his daughter for bringing shame upon his house. A violent argument between a jealous Marie and Babe forces him to face the truth, however, and a chagrined Judson returns to home and hearth, begging for forgiveness. Beautifully restored and released on DVD in 2000, The Battle of the Sexes benefits from a wonderful new score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.