(1928)2Hans J. WollsteinIn 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.