James Cruze is one of the most under-rated Hollywood film directors, possibly the single most under-rated director of the silent era ... and any film directed by Cruze merits attention. Unfortunately, "Is Matrimony a Failure?" is definitely one of Cruze's lesser efforts.
This comedy is as unwieldy as its title. The movie features the hoary old plot of the long-time married couple who belatedly discover that their marriage was never legal. The only innovation here is that FOUR married couples, rather than one, discover they've become unmarried. This exact same premise was used years later in "We're Not Married", a much better and funnier movie.
The Hoyts, the Wilburs, the Saxbys and the Pearsons are all crotchety married couples, well into middle age. All four husbands are henpecked and wish they were single again. When they learn that a clerical error renders their marriages invalid, they enjoy a brief period of bachelor freedom but then, with predictable rapidity, they all decide to return to the stability of their long-term marriages ... making them legal this time. Of course, after a couple of months of wedded bliss, they're all wishing they were single again.
Handsome young T. Roy Barnes plays a young man in love with the daughter of one of these couples, played by the very beautiful Lila Lee. Barnes and Lee eagerly want to marry but are conveniently hindered by an implausible plot device, while Barnes has to listen to all the married men (including Lee's father) telling him how lucky he is to be single.
Adolphe Menjou (not yet famous) and Charles Ogle are good here in small roles. Tully Marshall, an excellent character actor in dramatic parts, overacts shamelessly in his comedy role as Lila Lee's father. ZaSu Pitts (as one of the wives) does her usual flutterbudget routine, which I find intensely annoying. The film's photography and lighting are excellent.
Lila Lee is extremely pretty here, with delightful screen presence. She starred in several of Cruze's films of this period, and it's obvious why he cast her in so many lead roles. She's a real pleasure to watch, and her work in several early talkies proves that Lila Lee could have had a significant sound-film career. For some reason, this didn't happen. After her death, her playwright son James Kirkwood Jnr wrote "A Chorus Line".
"Is Matrimony a Failure?" is a bog-standard sitcom, narrowly saved by Lila Lee's performance.
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