Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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After the US enters World War I, the feckless son (John Gilbert) of a wealthy industrialist impulsively joins the Army and is shipped off to France, where he falls in love with a peasant girl (Renée Adorée) and is tested in battle. I last saw this classic film some 20 years ago, late at night on TCM; the 2013 Blu Ray was a gift to myself when I recently received a big screen TV and, my God, this movie still holds up as a masterpiece of cinema! The most profitable film of the silent era, it was the Star Wars/Titanic of its day, reportedly taking in around $20 million -- adjusted for inflation, that's about $700 million in 2019 dollars! -- and it's easy to see why: for one thing, the story is simple but solidly constructed -- loosely based on Laurence Stalling's autobiographical novel Plumes, Harry Behn's scenario gradually establishes the characters, rather than go straight into any elaborate plot; director Vidor keeps things humming along, emphasizing humor and humanity, with a series of set-pieces that are thoroughly charming and often laugh-out-loud hilarious (the "departure of the soldiers" sequence, with Adorée chasing after Gilbert as his platoon marches to the front, is undeniably one of the great moments in cinema history) before shifting into a somber mode as the soldiers meet their respective fates on the battlefield, a piece of spectacle and suspense that still dazzles; and there's the great cast, led by Gilbert in his prime -- easy to see why he was one of the biggest stars of the silent era -- as he marvelously portrays the arc of a callow youth growing into a bitter but still hopeful manhood, and he's perfectly matched with the delightfully determined Adorée and, as Gilbert's soldier pals, the amusing Karl Dane and Tom O'Brien. The Blu Ray retains Carl Davis' magnificent 1988 score, a symphonic work that enhances the story and visuals and never detracts. The Big Parade is a must for students of cinema, and a grand treat for anyone curious to explore silent film.
Obviously designed as a studio epic from the get-go, this is a large scale production with a message (as large productions usually go), this one primarily being anti-war. It takes an hour though, only half way, for the director, King Vidor, to establish his characters, and that begins to feel like quite a slog before he gets to the war itself. And there it feels as if he gets his feet under him as it's there that the two sequences this work is known for take place. Those sequences are indeed impressive, but feel stand alone compared to the rest of the work, which is maudlin at best.
Well done silent film from 1925. I've always found it difficult to watch these silent movies, but this one comes close to being top of the genre.
The best, GREATEST thrilling epic romance movie ever made!
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.
1001 movies to see before you die. A sobering WWI drama with a fun 20s feel and cast.
The Big Parade is overlong, not entirely involving and sometimes not as well constructed, but it is a very good anti-war film with excellent action sequences, beautiful cinematography with some wonderful imagery and excellent direction and acting. But the highlights were those romantic scenes which were heartwarming, funny and immensely charming.
What a movie! What a storytelling, what a love story! And those nightmarish battle scenes. Watching this movie you keep thinking what's happened to the modern cinema. They just don't make movies like that anymore.
A wonderful film on its own merits and one that is a must-see for any fans of classic cinema. What makes the movie work so well is the relationship between the three main characters. The actors all manage to convey a fully three-dimensional bond that is funny, heartwarming, and gut-wrenching. Their onscreen energy is magnetic and, despite having to overact to compensate for a lack of sound, hardly comes across as silly. One other thing that needs to be said is the sheer size of this film. The battle scenes in this are huge and surprisingly brutal. This can be a very violent movie when it needs to be and its sudden bursts are very jarring but effective. One can easily see where many war movies, from All Quiet on the Western Front to Saving Private Ryan, took their visual and storytelling cues. This is a war film that, unfortunately, seems to be largely forgotten by the general public and it shouldn't be. Let it be celebrated.
Who'd like it: Film buffs will surely be engrossed. If you're looking for something for action-packed, then this isn't for you.
This is an extraordinary silent picture--2 hrs., 21 min. in length!--that is amazingly accurate in its depiction of the US army in WWI. It accurately depicts the horrors of war. Keep in mind it was filmed in 1925 only seven years following the Armistice! The version I saw on TCM was beautifully restored in HD and with a beautiful orchestral score. Don't miss it, if you get the chance to see this film. It was the most popular film of 1925 (there were no Academy Awards then). It was filmed at Kelly Field, the army base near San Antonio, the same location as the other great silent film Wings, the first Oscar winner.