The Big Parade1925
The Big Parade (1925)
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Critic Reviews for The Big Parade
The Big Parade wasn't just an international hit; it immediately set the standard for Hollywood war movies.
Masterfully directed by King Vidor, this swings easily between comedy, romance and tragedy without missing a beat, and there are numerous set-pieces of enormous power -- even today, the harrowing battle scenes would rank among the best ever put on film.
Like All Quiet on the Western Front, The Big Parade gives a comprehensive look at then-modern warfare.
Audience Reviews for The Big Parade
I found it tough to rate this film, because the strength of its WWI action footage is offset by a weak build-up and silly romance. The film is commendable in showing us the horrors of war in a dramatic hellscape, but at 151 minutes, it's far too long, and would have been better if the 90 minute build-up had been edited down. It's to great fanfare that a rich young American (John Gilbert) enlists, and it is nice that the film (eventually) contrasts this tone of those scenes to the reality of war, since this is precisely the disillusionment the world went through. He befriends a couple of blue collar guys (Karl Dane and Tom O'Brien), and oddly enough, there's very little concept of military command early on. The men go to France, get settled into a village, and after inexplicably shoveling a manure pile the first night, they're free to carouse about and hit on the local women, one of whom is Renee Adoree. The film moves at a snail's pace, with drawn out scenes and gags that aren't funny, culminating in a highly melodramatic goodbye scene with Adoree when the men are finally called up to the front. Here is where the film gets interesting, though it's not until the 105 minute point before we see anything that resembles authenticity. At first our heroes are walking calmly through a forest while snipers shoot at them, advancing despite soldiers falling until they reach a tree line, at which point the Germans simply raise their hands in surrender. Good grief. Eventually they reach pockmarked, barren fields, and after facing explosions and chemical weapons, hunker down. The film's silly tone is finally broken when one of them is hit, and another screams out into the night "I came to fight - not to wait and rot in a lousy hole while they murder my pal! Waiting! Orders! Mud! Blood! Stinking stiffs! What the hell do we get out of this war anyway!" before crawling out and trying to save him. Upon finding him dead, he screams "They got him! They got him! GOD DAMN THEIR SOULS!" and then charges a machine gun nest. It's meant to have high emotional impact, and at least it's action, but it seems a little ridiculous. It does get better still though, and I have to give the film credit for showing the devastating impact of war. The cinematography is awe-inspiring and frightening. Men advance like ghostly zombies through smoke, gunfire, and explosions, emerging through haze in darkened scenes splashed with pyrotechnics. There is a touching scene with an enemy soldier in a pothole, impressive as it predates 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. The human empathy and feeling that we're all brothers resonates all the more, having come just moments after a murderous rage. The aftermath is also good. I loved the brief scene in the hospital, the shots of the French abandoning bombed out buildings, and later the family reunion. As mother and son embrace, director King Vidor overlays a powerful montage of maternal memories of the boy through the years, my favorite sequence. The last 45 minutes has gravitas, fantastic scenes, and a real message, and is easily 4 out of 5 stars. However, I can't overlook the first 105 minutes, and it's unlikely I would want to watch the film again because of them.
King Vidor's "The Big Parade" is the biggest blockbuster from the silent era, and became the gold standard to which all others were compared well into the 1930s. The story focuses on three American doughboys, fighting in Europe during WWI. Two are working class; a tobacco spitting riveter, Slim, a barkeep, Bull, and a ne'er-do-well son of wealth, Jim, who was shamed into enlisting by his family. These three go through the hardships of military training together, bond, and become fast friends. Their friendships deepen after they are shipped to France where Jim falls in love with a French farm girl. This comprises the first half of the 2 1/2 hour movie. The second half of the movie is the gritty reality of trench warfare. Some say that this is one of the first big-budget anti-war movies. I'd take issue with that, but the film does show the human cost of war without condemning it outright. Remember that WWI was 'the war to end all wars', and in 1925 this was still a possibility. But "The Big Parade" does take an unflinching look at the affect of war on both combatants and non-combatants. The performances and direction are excellent and silent or not, this is a movie well worth seeing.
it seems i watched nothing but silent films this week but this was among the best i have ever seen. king vidor's meditation on a young man's coming of age in the first world war holds up marvelously well. the first half is funny and romantic, with a good performance by john gilbert sans mustache. the scene where he takes leave of his french sweetheart had me laughing and crying simultaneously, not an experience i remember having before. the second half features some of the most poetic (anti) war footage ever filmed. i wonder what happened to vidor, such a master of the silents, whose career was never more than mediocre in the sound era. like 'the crowd' this is still not on dvd but absolutely worth seeking out. it turns up on tcm now and again. what a shame about that poster :(
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