Synopsis/Commentary

Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co. for release by Paramount Pictures

CAST: Cleo Ridgely (Mary Denby), Wallace Reid (Roger Manning), H.B. Carpenter (Steve Denby), Raymond Hatton (Jimmy "The Rat"), Ernest Joy (Mr. Hillary), Edythe Chapman (Mrs. Hillary)

Synopsis

Five years earlier, Mary left her upper class life to marry Steve Denby who is a drunk and crook. Living in poverty without money for food or rent, she finds small jobs to keep a home together. She answers an ad for a seamstress at the home of the wealthy Hillarys. That same evening, the Hillarys are planning a dinner party with the goal of using a pretty young lady to help them convince millionaire Roger Manning to join Hillary in an investment scheme. However, when, at the last minute, the young lady can't come due to an illness, Mrs. Hillary decides to ask Mary to fill in. Unaware of the business scheme, Mary is introduced to Manning and both are immediately enamored with each other. Mary goes back home where her abusive husband takes the money she earned and tries to beat her because he suspects she has been out seeing another man. Still unsuccessful in convincing Manning to join him in the business deal, Hillary and is wife decide to hold a weekend party and invite both Manning and Mary. Mrs. Manning goes to Mary's tenement apartment and convinces her to play the role of rich young socialite for the weekend. On her last night there, her husband, thinking his wife is working at a laundry in Newark, breaks into the Hillary home. He first discovers Mary in the bedroom, and then goes downstairs to continue his thievery. He encounters Manning who overcomes him. When everyone gathers downstairs due to the commotion, Mary at first denies Denby is her husband, but later confesses to Manning. He spurns her, and she returns home to her life of destitution. However, Denby and his friend, Jimmy "The Rat" have a plan to get Manning in the apartment and blackmail him. Jimmy carries a note to Manning on which they signed Mary's name asking him to come to the apartment at 10 o'clock that night. Manning agrees, even though he knows he's risking his life.

Commentary

"A moving, engrossing story, a strong cast and good production values"

Another surprise! The Image Entertainment release of this DVD heralds "Cecil B. DeMille's 'Don't Change Your Husband' starring Gloria Swanson" and then adds in small letters at the bottom "plus Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Golden Chance'" almost as if it were an afterthought. However, don't be fooled that the small letters mean an insignificant film. "The Golden Chance" (1916) was filmed by DeMille simultaneously with his most famous film from this period, "The Cheat" (1915), and although not quite the minor masterpiece that the latter film has come to be regarded, it is nevertheless an excellent film with a moving and engrossing story, a strong cast and good production values.

Before making his name with sex, religion and spectacles in later years, DeMille was turning out some of the most entertaining films of the 'teens with good, solid stories and better-than-average cinematography. The viewer is at once struck with the effective lighting techniques he employed in this film, beginning with the introduction of the characters. Mr. and Mrs. Hillary open the film sitting at a small chess table engaged in their contest with only a large vase on a stand in the background. The rest of the set is dark with only the couple and the few props illuminated. Later we see Steve Denby, Mary's alcoholic husband, introduced most appropriately as a silhouette against a window emblazoned with one word, "Beer," on it. As he raises his head, he is illuminated while he drunkenly lights a cigar butt. The illumination then disappears so we only see the rear-lit window once again Very effective!

The subdued lighting also works well to emphasize the shabbiness of Mary and Steve's tenement apartment. The sets for the night scenes in the Hillary home are lit perfectly indicating the small amount of light that would emanate from a single lamp. When Denby breaks into Mary's room at the Hillary home in the middle of the night, even the flashlight is used to great advantage as it moves about the room and eventually - to the viewers' dismay - across Mary's face. How much more effective this scene is with that one small beam of light guiding the viewer's attention along with the thieving Denby's prowling!

Motion Picture Directing critic Peter Milne, praised the subdued backgrounds observing that "the characters in the foreground stand out in stereoscopic relation." Moving Picture World critic W. Stephen Bush said, "Never before have the lighting effects, i.e., the skillful play with light and shade, been used to such marvelous advantage. The highly critical spectators who saw the first display of the film were betrayed into loud approval by the many and novel effects."

"It's not the most original story, but . . ."

Although visually pleasing, the story and acting are exemplary, as well. It's not the most original story, but it succeeds on those levels that are required to give the viewer an enjoyable dramatic experience.

Lives are interwoven so that we see how Fate can suddenly intervene in one's life and either bring about tragedy or joy - and it does both in "The Golden Chance" with a touch of a moral dilemma thrown in for good measure.

Mary lives in a run-down tenement apartment with her abusive and drunken husband. She reads a faded newspaper clipping with the headline, "Marries Against Parents Wishes." The article goes on to say, "Friends of Mary McCall, only daughter of old Judge McCall, were surprised yesterday to learn of her elopment with Stephen Denby, a young city man of questionable reputation who has been spending his vacation here . . ." This is sufficient to establish the background of our heroine - she's from a well-to-do home, the marriage was on an impulse from a summer romance, and she has now been disowned by her family.

We are also shown the home of the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Hillary. Hillary is trying to convince the handsome, young millionaire Roger Manning to invest a half million dollars in "the Baldwin contract," to which Manning declines saying he is leaving for the West in the morning. Intent on gaining Manning's cooperation, Mr. and Mrs. Hillary scheme to keep Manning from leaving on his trip. Their plan includes a party that evening with an attractive girl to change his mind.

Somehow we know the paths of Mary and Roger are going to cross, but, the moral dilemma is already established. What good will it do? She's married. In stories such as these, it's not so much that we question whether it will happen or not - that is, the ultimate joining of these two at the end of the film - it's just a matter of how. That's what holds our interest.

After the rent collector gives Mary two days to pay up, she searches the want ads for a job. She finds one as a seamstress at 27 Harrington Drive, which, coincidentally, is the Hillary home. She is interviewed by Mrs. Hillary who notices that Mary's manner is not what she would have expected from her address, but Mary assures her employer that she did not always live there.

But we still are waiting to see what turn of events will bring Mary and Roger together - and, once again, Fate jumps in. It's getting late in the day - about 6:30 p.m. Mary is getting ready to go home after her first day of work at the Hillarys. Downstairs, Mrs. Hillary reports to her husband that the planned date for Roger Manning is ill and can't come to the party. Where will they find someone at this late hour?

Of course, Mrs. Hillary thinks of Mary, dresses her in a fine gown and puts all of her jewels at Mary's disposal as the mail prepares her hair. As expected, when Mary descends the staircase, well after the party has started, all heads turn and stare - especially Roger Manning.

"Effectively engages the viewer to the point that one is unable to turn away"

As noted, this is not the most original story, but it has effectively engaged the viewer to the point that one is unable to turn away until we see how the sequence of events leading up to their union will play out. But director Cecil B. DeMille, who wrote the story along with Jeanie MacPherson, throws in another twist or two before the climax.

Mary declines to allow Roger to take her home . . . for obvious reasons. So, even though he has had a romantic evening with her, he apparently doesn't feel he has impressed her sufficiently to delay his trip West. Since Roger still declines to join in the business deal, Mrs. Hillary has an idea and tells Roger that she is having a weekend party with Mary in attendance. The young man cannot resist, and says he will remain for the party.

The next day, Mrs. Hillary visits Mary's apartment, pays the rent when the collector stops by and gives her $100 to come for the weekend. More intrigued with the prospect of seeing Roger again than the money, she agrees. Later, when she must make an excuse to her husband for her absence, she says she has a three-day job at a laundry in Newark, which he does not question.

As mentioned before, there is a moral dilemma here that compels us to face our own sense of values. Certainly we want Mary to find happiness with Roger, but how can that happen without a divorce or Denby's death? Are we comfortable with either? Does Denby deserve one or the other? Are we comfortable with Mary's charade? Is she a "bad person" for participating in this? Is it fair to Roger? Do we condone the methods the Hillary's are using for financial gain? We have no indication that they are trying to deceive Roger about the investment, but they certainly are using questionable means to gain his cooperation.

As the end of the weekend nears, Roger can contain his feelings no longer and tells Mary, "Can't you see I'm falling in love with you?" And later, more determined, "You're going to be my wife. You can't tell me you don't love me," and he kisses her - which she allows - but then she runs away to her room. In the room, she is torn between her love for Roger and the realization that this dream can't come true.

"Fate steps in once again"

Fate steps in once again as Denby's insidious friend, Jimmy "The Rat," reports the presence of "a swell dame" at 27 Harrington Drive who has "sparklers as big as your head." With this information, the two plan a second story job that evening.

Later we see Denby being lowered on a rope from a roof and climbing into an upstairs bedroom window. This is Mary's room at the Hillarys' home, and as she sleeps, he boldly searches around the room with his flashlight looking for something to steal. D.W. Griffith was the director who was most cognizant of the effect of small actions or "bits of business." DeMille apparently was, too, are maybe he learned from watching Griffiths' films. Either way, our disgust is heightened when we see Denby not only search for jewelry, but take the time to pick up and fondle the fine "personal" items of clothing while leering at the feminine form lying in the bed. Since this sleeping person has her back to him, he can't stand it any longer and has to see her face - the very thing we, as a spectator to this intrusion, don't want to happen. He leans over her and points the flashlight at her face, realizing it's his wife. It takes her a moment, but she awakens, and he clasps his hand over her mouth.

Realizing there must be a man involved in all of this, Denby demands, "Who's the guy?" The two struggle, and Mrs. Hillary, hearing the noise, knocks at the door. Denby hides behind Mary on the bed, and when Mrs. Hillary opens the door, Mary assures her everything is OK.

As mentioned before, DeMille takes the story up a notch with a more complicated set of events that appear to put Mary in a "no-win" situation. When Denby orders her to get ready to leave with him, what else can she do?

While she's getting ready, he goes downstairs to find more "loot" and runs into Roger who is unable to go to sleep thinking about Mary. Roger easily overtakes the burglar, and Mr. and Mrs. Hillary and Mary appear at the foot of the stairs. Roger has taken Denby's gun away, and the thief cowers as he is questioned by his subduer. Logically enough, he says, "I just came to see my wife," and Mary is startled, not knowing what to do. Finally she says, "I never saw that man before," and Roger goes to call the police while Hillary holds the gun on the intruder.

"Once again DeMille's story has woven itself into more complications"

Once again, DeMille's story has woven itself into more complications. Sure, Mary's denial of knowing Denby works for Roger, but, knowing Mary is NOT a socialite, the Hillarys can only assume one thing - "All the time you were working the 'inside' so that he could rob us," they tell her. Mary has no defense, but tells them they can't let Roger know because it will ruin their plans for the business deal.

It is decided to stage an escape for Denby while Roger is on the phone. An element of fear, coupled with tension for the viewer, is added when Denby sneers at Mary, "Tell your rich friend he won't know you after I get through with you," as he goes out the window.

She cries, and Roger, thinking it's the stress of the evening, offers comfort. Obviously wanting to take care of her, he asks, "Why won't you marry me?" Mary can't play the charade any longer. "Because that man was my husband." Mary pleads with him to understand and not hate her, but he recoils, unable to embrace her any longer.

Mary goes upstairs, puts on her clothes, and when next we see her, she's standing in the pouring rain outside watching Roger leave in his chauffeur-driven limousine.

DeMille offers us a rousing climax when Roger is tricked into coming to Mary and Denby's apartment by Jimmy "The Rat" with the intention of blackmail - and at the risk of his life. This includes a well-staged fight scene and police rushing in, and, as expected from this period I film history, firing their guns and asking questions later.

Yet, even though events work out in the end for Mary and Roger to get together, DeMille spares us the fade out with the couple married and living blissfully some years later. No, the film ends on the sordid note with the conflagration in the apartment - Roger bloody but having survived and Mary somewhat in shock - a much more effective close to the film than one coated with sentimentality.

"This is a marvelous picture"

In his review in Moving Picture World (January 8, 1916), Bush said, "This is a marvelous picture. It is an ordeal for the reviewer. The gloss on all the superlatives has been worn off by the ruthless hand of he press agent, and superlatives, after all, are the only terms in which justice can be done to this picture."

The reviewer for The New York Dramatic Mirror (January 29, 1916) said, "The master hand of Cecil B. DeMille is evident throughout the whole picture. His is the bigness of vision that can see and appreciate the value and importance of little things, and irrespective of the dramatic intensity of the story, it is the attention to seemingly inconsequential details that makes 'The Golden Chance' a big, gripping, human picture."

DeMille began filming "The Golden Chance" on October 26, 1915, with Edna Goodrich in the leading role. However, filming was delayed due to an unsatisfactory script and trouble with the leading lady. Jesse Lasky, who produced the film, quoted DeMille as saying, "Goodrich is often under the influence of liquor and is altogether very stupid." Filming with Ridgely took place between November 5 and November 26.

Ridgely was born in 1893 and appeared in a number of short films beginning in 1911. Of the approximately 50 films to her credit between 1911 and 1917, 15 were features. Probably due to her marriage to director James Horne and the birth of their twin children, June and James Jr. (b. 28 March 1917), she disappeared from the screen from 1917 until 1920 when she played bit parts in a half dozen films during the next two years. The remainder of her film career consists of four uncredited parts in Juvenile Court (1938), Born to Sing (1942), I Remember Mama (1948), and Hollywood Story (1951). Horne died in 1942, and she died in 1962.

Ridgely does a commendable job in "The Golden Chance." She was not a great actress nor a great beauty, but she exudes the innocence the part requires. She also does a superb job of displaying the agonizing, and sometimes conflicting, emotions of a woman caught in the seemingly unsolvable plight of falling in love with a good man while being married to an abusive and shiftless spouse.

Wallace Reid is his usual, restrained, dignified, debonair self - playing the part of the lovesick suitor and the confident, strapping young man who is not intimidated by the seedy characters who are out to do him harm. Reid makes us believe he can handle any threats that may come his way when he risks his life to go to Mary's apartment - and when he literally picks Jimmy "The Rat" up over his head and throws him across the room, it's obvious there was no cutting of the film while a dummy was substituted. Reid apparently DID pick Raymond Hatton up and throw him across the room.

Of course, buying the Image Entertainment DVD for DeMille's classic "Don't Change Your Wife" is well worth the price, but once you see "The Golden Chance" on the same disc for no more cost, you'll know your money was well spent.


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