Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 movie, “The Affairs of Anatol,” tells the story of a man who cannot seem to remain faithful to his wife. With complete rationalization, Anatol (Wallace Reid) goes about cavorting with 3 women while his suffering wife Vivian (Gloria Swanson) comforts herself with Anatol’s best friend. None of Anatol’s actions can possible lead the audience to sympathize with him, but he nevertheless reaches a mild redemption by the film’s end. Unfortunately for Vivian, she may suspect further wandering adventures from Anatol in the future.
Anatol and Vivian, a well-off couple with servants, are sweet to each other as they prepare for their day. Something seems to be off, though, and later Anatol runs into an old flame, Emilie (Wanda Hawley), at a nightclub. She’s convorting with the very rich but despicable Gordon Bronson (Theodore Roberts), and Anatol doesn’t like it. He convinces Vivian to let him set Emilie up in an apartment so she can dump Bronson for good. Vivian rolls her eyes up and lets Anatol go ahead with his scheme. While Anatol keeps Emilie, Vivian runs around with Anatol’s best friend Max (Elliott Dexter). Their relationship seems harmless enough, but Anatol’s neglect of Vivian threatens to bring her and Max closer together.
Anatol’s suspicions about Vivian and Max doesn’t really drive his behavior. He’s a wandering husband who doesn’t seem redeemable even after he learns that Emilie has gone back to the wisecracking and cigar chomping Gordon Bronson. Ready to repent for his indiscretions with Emilie, Anatol takes off for the countryside with Vivian to forget everything and patch things up with her. Soon, however, Anatol spots a lovely farm woman, Annie (Agnes Ayres), in the process of committing suicide by jumping off a bridge. She’s just spent the money belonging to the local church and faces prosecution and scandal unless she can pay it back. Anatol, by falling for her, unknowingly provides her the opportunity to get the money. Vivian sees Anatol kiss Annie and abruptly leaves for home. Anatol must make the long trek back home in shame.
The third Anatol affair involves an entertainer named Satan Synne (Bebe Daniels), who turns out to be surprisingly good despite her name. Satan desperately needs money for some medical problems and figures to use Anatol to get it. Eventually, this affair doesn’t turn out well for Anatol either, and he slinks back to Vivian. By now, Anatol strongly suspects Vivian’s having an affair with Max, and he engages a Hindu hypnotist to put her into a trance and blurt out the truth. The ending promises a brighter future for the relationship of Anatol and Vivian, but who would trust a man who continually exhibits such sordid behavior. I don’t think DeMille is implying that all is well and good at the end.