2 October 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Will Rogers gets lynched
Will Rogers wrote his own dialogue intertitles for the silent film "Almost a Husband". The plot of this movie is filled with all sorts of down-home events which might once have been common in small-town America (such as the forfeit game, the mock marriage and the midnight riders), but which are certainly not commonplace today. As a result, "Almost a Husband" evokes a bygone rural America that is idealised and sentimentalised, and which may never actually have existed ... almost a Norman Rockwell vision of America. It's a quaint film, but not without interest for modern viewers.
Zeb Sawyer, from a well-to-do local family, wants to court Eva McElwyn. Eva is the banker's daughter, but her father Ebenezer(!) isn't very wealthy, as the bank is in dire straits due to the fact that Ebenezer McElwyn would rather write romantic novels than tend to his financial ledgers. Ebenezer McElwyn wants his daughter to marry Zeb so that she can have financial security.
During a party at McElwyn's house, a parlour game is played in which the losers are Eva and the new schoolmaster Sam Lyman (Will Rogers). The rules of the game require a forfeit: Sam and Eva must embarrass themselves by asking the next man who enters the house to "marry" them in a mock wedding ceremony. John Carruthers (a stranger in these here parts) shows up a few minutes later; when Sam and Eva ask him to be the "preacher" and marry them, he shrugs and obliges ... with the townspeople as witnesses. Then it turns out that Carruthers is an ordained minister; Sam and Eva are legally married!
Sam offers to "fergit" about the wedding, but Eva insists that the marriage is valid: she sees this as a ploy against Zeb's unwelcome advances. Zeb organises a gang of "midnight riders" (a Klan-like vigilante group) to torment Sam, who eludes them on horseback. Zeb also starts rumours calculated to begin a run on Eb McElwyn's bank. But McElwyn has just written a novel which is sure to make him rich(!!!). The bank is saved, and Eva has decided that she's actually in love with Sam. Aw, shucks!
"Almost a Husband" is an interesting view of a society that no longer exists (if it ever did), and some of the comedy still works. I'll rate this movie 5 out of 10.