A Superlative War Picture.
An eloquent pictorial epic of the World War was presented last night at the Astor Theatre before a sophisticated gathering that was intermittently stirred to laughter and tears. This powerful photodrama is entitled “The Big Parade,” having been converted to the screen from a story by Laurence Stallings, co-author of “What Price Glory,” and directed by King Vidor. It is a subject so compelling and realistic that one feels impelled to approach a review of it with all the respect it deserves, for as a motion picture it is something beyond the fondest dreams of most people. The thunderous belching of guns follows on the heels of a delightful romance between a Yankee doughboy and a fascinating French farm girl. There are humor, sadness and love, and the suspense is maintained so well that blasé men last night actually were hoping that a German machine gun would not “get” one of the three buddies in this story.
At the outset there is as much fun as there is in a book of Bairnsfather drawings, and yet there is no borrowing from that artist. It is the natural comedy that came to the American troops in France, men who landed in a foreign country without the slightest idea of the lingo. The incidents have been painted skilfully, from the blowing of the whistles as the signal that America had entered the war to the skirmishing attack in a forest. And even in a large shell hole the three pals find something to joke about.
There are incidents in this film which obviously came from experience, as they are totally different from the usual jumble of war scenes in films. It is because of the realism that the details ring true and it grips the spectator. At this presentation there were men who were not easily moved, men who had seen many pictures and were familiar with all the tricks in making them. Yet these men in the lobby during the intermission spoke with loud enthusiasm about this, a production of one of their rivals.
Just as the scenes are as perfect as human imagination and intelligence could produce them, so the acting is flawless throughout. Nothing could be more true to life than the actions and the expressions of the three buddies in khaki. They are just ordinary United States citizens, one the son of a millionaire, another a rivetter and the third a bartender. John Gilbert enacts the part of the hero. Jim Apperson, the scion of a wealthy family. Tom O’Brien figures as Bull, the jovial Irishman who served drinks across a bar, and Karl Dane is seen as Slim, the fearless rivetter. Renee Adoree impersonates Melisande, the bewitching French girl, who falls in love with Jim, her affection, being surely and certainly reciprocated by that young gentleman, in spite of the fact that he had left a sweetheart in America.
Possible the scenes where Jim enjoys his flirtation are more delightful than any other part of the story, because it seems so natural for the couple to be f???nd of each other. They sit together. Jim,??? proud of his dexterity with his chewing gum, while Melisande, being ignorant of this jaw-exercising concoction. In endeavoring to imitate Jim swallows her piece of gum. When Jim wants to tell Melisande of the trouble that affects his capacious heart, he has to resort to a dictionary, and often he inserts English words to emphasize his utterances, as the foreign tongue strikes him as being so inadequate.
Bull and Slim decide that Melisande is too serious minded, too much infatuated with Jim, so they dodge the idea of romance and become extraordinarily practical. While Jim is upsta???rs with the French family, pretending to listen to the letters that have come from poilus at the front. Slim and Bull are enjoying themselves in the wine cellar, expressing surprise that any man who has such a wonderful cellar should be content to spend any time elsewhere.
Then comes the time when the call of battle tears Jim away from Melisande. There is a big parade—a parade of lorries filled with American doughboys bound for the fighting lines. Melisande clings to the vehicle carrying her Jim, until she falls in the street, pressing a shoe, he has given to her, to her bosom.
Mr. Vidor is painstaking in putting forth the best work possible, with all the artistry of which the camera is capable, and it is a touch worthy of any artist where Melisande is seen crouched on the straight French road.
Guns, guns and guns roar during most of the second part of this picture, and yet these chapters are flavored with touches that create laughter, coupled as they are with clever captions. For instance: Word is sent to the three buddies while they are in a great shell-hole that one of them must go out and silence that “toy gun.” Who will go is the question. This is smartly settled by Slim, the champion tobacco chewer and spitter of his contingent. He draws a circle on the wall of the hole and says that the one who spits nearest the centre will have the chance to go and put an end to the men with the “toy gun.” Slim wins easily, as he knew he would, and he drags himself over the top and along the undulating ground, torn with high explosives.
The very lights rend the heavens and he has to duck to save himself from being spotted. Eventually he is seen with gun-butt uplifted and later he crawls out from the mess with two German helmets. The machine guns are popping at him, making noise like a giant tearing calico, and he is wounded. Jim and Bull have to stay where they are, as it is declared that orders are orders. Eventually the two pals so after their friend, and they find he has been “done in.”
Jim sees red as he plunges toward the enemy lines, and there follows a striking human incident. He would kill one of the enemy, who is half gone. He is rough with him, but the German asks for a cigarette. Jim has one, only one, in his tin hat. He gives it to the German, who before he has a chance to take a puff breathes his last. Jim looks at the man, and, with that indifference that is bred by war, he takes the cigarette from the man’s lips and smokes it himself.
There is the big parade of hospital ???, the long stretches of cots in a church, the unending line of lorries, and all that breathes of the war as it was. The battle scenes excel anything that has been pictured on the screen, and Mr. Vidor and his assistants have ever seen fit to have the atmospheric effects as true as possible.
This is a pictorial effort of which the screen can well boast. It carries one from America to France, then back to America and finally to France again. And one feels as if a lot had happened in a single evening.
Morduant Hall, NY Times, November 20, 1925
1.99GB | 2h 31mn | 720×540 | mkv
Language(s):Silent dual audio with commentary
Subtitles:French muxed sub/idx