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The Big Parade Movie Review

film vidor john king

1925 – King Vidor –

Those who have never seen a silent movie might choose well to make The Big Parade their first. Those who have seen many will savor this masterpiece. King Vidor's film about John Apperson (John Gilbert) and his various adventures after enlisting in World War I holds up amazingly well. We think that the silent cinema is more primitive or at least more stylized and artificial than polished, modern films, but the surprising range of emotions in this movie and the sureness and subtlety of its blend of humor and drama make it a model of moviemaking for any era. The rhythm of the editing (something director King Vidor always did well), the placement of the camera, and the (mostly) natural acting all seem refreshingly modern. It is hard to imagine a contemporary audience not responding with pleasant surprise to The Big Parade, especially with the addition of Carl Davis’ recent orchestral score.

The film constantly surprises the viewer, especially in the first ninety minutes. After John has enlisted and arrives in France, the expected battle scene to acquaint the troops with the brutality of war fails to appear; instead, the doughboys, after a long day's hike, receive a command to shovel a pile of manure. The subsequent scenes capitalize on the humanity of the new friends Jim, Bull (Tom O'Brien), and Slim (Karl Dane) in unfamiliar surroundings doing mundane chores of washing clothes in a stream and rigging a makeshift shower. Jim acquires a French girlfriend (Renee Adoree) and teaches her to chew gum. As in sound films, the words (in the title cards) sometimes enrich the visuals by contrasting them. After the three friends are first buzzed by a German airplane, they take cover in a ditch. Slim asks Bull for a cigarette and they nervously joke about their plight. The looks on their faces, however, register their true feelings of uncertainty and dread. Ultimately, the film is better than All Quiet on the Western Front because it is less tied to its anti-war message. Whereas All Quiet intends to win converts to its message about the inhumanity of war and seems preachy at times, Vidor's film strives to capture the wartime experience in all its fullness and seems real. This 74-year-old film is as fresh, honest, and smoothly made as anything at the local multiplex.

Cast: John Gilbert (James Apperson), Renee Adoree (Melisande), Tom O'Brien (Bull), Karl Dane (Slim), Robert Ober (Harry), Hobart Bosworth (Mr. Apperson), Claire McDowell (Mrs. Apperson), Claire Adams (Justyn Reed), Rosita Marstini (Melisande's mother) Screenwriter: Harry Behn, King Vidor (uncredited) Cinematographer: John Arnold Composer: William Axt, David Mendoza Producer: Irving Thalberg for MGM Running Time: 141 minutes Format: VHS, LV Budget: $382,000 Box Office: $3.485M (reportedly, the top-grossing silent film).

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