Although you might hear a lot of folks talk about the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa or Alfred Hitchcock being the best directors of all time, to me this title could easily be claimed by the far less famous William Wyler. While his name is not so familiar today, you'd have a hard time finding any director who could come close to approaching the number of huge hits he helmed. Think about it...this guy made "Ben Hur", "The Best Years of Our Lives", "The Big Country", "Dodsworth", "Jezebel", "The Letter", "Little Foxes", "Mrs. Miniver", "The Heiress" and many other great films. He also received the Best Director Oscar three times! Talk about a great track record. However, in 1931, Wyler was still a relative unknown--working here for a second-rate studio (Universal) and with a B-movie script. And, his directing the film was THE reason I chose to see "A House Divided".
When the film begins, the seaman, Seth Law (Walter Huston), has just buried his wife. Instead of mourning, this cold-hearted beast goes to the nearby bar to celebrate...a berates his less rugged son Matt (Douglass Montgomery) for being a sissy because he's sad about this death! Then, showing the depth of his awfulness, Seth then almost immediately buys a mail-order wife. After all, he needs someone to clean, cook and take care of him. Matt is appalled. However, when the new bride to be arrives, she's not the lady he ordered. Instead, Ruth (Helen Chandler) is very young, small and pretty. She agrees to marry Seth anyway but soon he regrets it because Seth is a nasty pig who seems an awful lot like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons! In addition, she soon finds herself attracted not to Seth but Matt!
So why does the film only merit a 5? Well, the pacing is a serious problem. Since it's essentially a B-movie, the director was forced to have the film run at only about 60 minutes--and this meant cutting corners. So, Ruth changes her mind way, way too fast about Seth as well as Matt and it all just seemed rushed and, as a result, difficult to believe. Not a bad film but it misses the mark too often to be of any interest except to nuts like me who love Wyler's work...even his lesser stuff.
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