Owen Moore and Constance Bennett star as newlyweds who were only wedded due to the eccentric demands of an elderly sawmill owner. He’s an outdoorsy tough guy type and she’s a rich city girl whose all about flirtation and champagne. Will they find love?
Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.
He Came, He Saw…
Lumberjack pictures were huge in the silent era. With attractive forest locations like Lone Pine within easy distance of Hollywood and a public hungry for outdoor action and heroes in flannel, it was an obvious genre choice.
Married? made the somewhat interesting decision to combine a lumberjack picture with a rom-com trope that was a familiar sight even in the silent era: a bickering couple forced to wed and discovering that maybe it’s not so bad after all.
Owen Moore plays Dennis Shawn, the foreman of a lumber concern owned by Madame Du Pont (Julia Hurley). Some ne’er-do-wells want her to sell out to the competition but Du Pont is holding out because she is fond of Shawn. So fond, in fact, that she decides she simply must have him as an in-law. The heir to the Du Pont fortune and properties is Marcia Livingston (Constance Bennett), a flapper who loves to party and thinks marriage is for saps.
This is awkward because Shawn is kind of seeing Kate Pinto (Evangeline Russell), a Native American woman whose father, Joe Pinto (Nick Thomas), is one of the henchmen of the bad guys. However, Madame Du Pont threatens to sell out if Shawn doesn’t marry Marcia and the reluctant duo are wed by telephone.
(Shawn also has some college pals in the lumber camp but they pretty much disappear from the story after the first reel or so.)
And here is where we see yet another rom-com trope, one that seems to have disappeared these days, thank heaven. Silent era Hollywood romantic comedies were positively stuffed to the gills with coots obsessed with the quality and quantity of lovemaking going on between married couples. (Genuinely married or not.) Her Night of Romance and All Night both featured young men being forcibly shoved into bedrooms lest one night of fertility be wasted. I must emphasize that this is treated as an amusing and charming eccentricity rather than a deranged obsession.
Madame Du Pont does not take such a direct approach but instead demands that Shawn and Marcia spend three months under the same roof in order for the marriage to count. Now any sensible person would have a nice sit-down with their new spouse and try to work out an arrangement that would avoid driving one or both of them crazy. Shawn does not do this. Instead, he barges into Marcia’s home, acts like a bossy jerk and then eventually kidnaps her to the backwoods. And even though he employs a cook, he demands that she make him a sandwich.
(I try not to bring the personal lives of silent stars into my reviews but it’s a little difficult this time seeing as how Owen Moore demanded that then-wife Mary Pickford make his breakfast with her own hand every morning even though she was one of the highest paid film stars. It was a pure power play and an obnoxious one.)
Now, from here on out there are some spoilers but they also explain why you should bother watching this movie so here goes…
In the midst of all this, Kate is understandably upset that she has been dumped for some random city girl and so she hatches a plan. She will help Marcia escape and then Shawn will come back to her. I have no idea why she still wants him. In fact, I would have been perfectly happy to see this movie turn into the Kate and Marcia show.
But while the ladies are making their escape on horseback, the baddies lure Shawn to a sawmill, tie him to a log and turn on the rotating sawblade. Kate rushes to try to save Shawn’s life while Marcia goes to get the rest of the lumber crew to help in the rescue.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, an honest-to-goodness sawmill peril scene with the man as the victim and women racing to the rescue!
Now, if you’ve read my writing for any amount of time, you know that I get very annoyed when people who have not seen silent films dismiss silents as “those movies where women were tied to the tracks all the time.” This cliché diminishes the artistry of an era and it’s not even true. When women were tied to tracks in the silent era, it was almost always a broad spoof of old stage chestnuts (Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, Teddy at the Throttle) and most of the scenes that use the trope seriously featured men as the victims. (You can read my article on the topic here.)
The sawmill peril trope was likely popularized by Blue Jeans, a play that was later adapted to the screen and which featured a man imperiled and a woman racing to the rescue. Like the “tied to the tracks” trope, it has been attached to silent era heroines.
So, now you can imagine how unspeakably satisfying this scene in Married? was. Another piece of evidence showing that the silent era was a lot more complex and interesting than a screaming damsel imperiled by heavy machinery. In this case, the “damsel” is swimming through heavy rapids and stopping up the waterworks and the other “damsel” is riding hell for leather to summon backup.
Alas, Kate dies from injuries sustained during her swim and Marcia falls in love with Shawn and they live happily ever after now that the inconvenient non-white lady is out of the picture. I never said silent movies were perfect, did I? I personally would have much rather have followed the Kate and Marcia story as they escape from the odious Shawn and have lots of adventures.
I should note that Bennett and Moore had starred in an adaptation of Zane Grey’s Code of the West the previous year. That story concerns a modern flapper who goes west, flirts outrageously and then is kidnapped and forced to marry a manly man before finally falling for him in the face of disaster. So, the order is a bit different but Married? seems to be following that same plot in a kind of off-brand remake.
Code of the West is missing and presumed lost, so I cannot comment on its quality. I would be quite curious to know how the chemistry between the leads worked out in that picture because in Married? it’s kind of not there.
The main issue is that the romance isn’t built on any wildly passionate scenes or quiet and gentle moments of love. Rather, Moore and Bennett seem to get together because their paychecks had the largest number of zeroes and their names were highest up in the credits. It all feels very perfunctory and unsatisfying. They have all the chemistry of two people waiting in line together at the post office. And for a movie that relies solely on romance for its overall appeal, that is an unforgivable sin.
Married? is not a very good movie but the unexpected climax makes it worth seeing at least once. Who doesn’t love to see a myth busted before their very eyes? It makes the other hour of runtime almost seem well-spent. Almost.
Where can I see it?
Married? has been released on DVD by Grapevine.
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