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U.S. Marine Sergeant O'Hara has his hands full training raw recruits, one of whom, 'Skeets' Burns, is a particular thorn in his side. If Burns's lackadaisical approach to the military were not bad enough, he also makes advances on nurse Nora Dale, whom Sergeant O'Hara secretly loves. Nora is oblivious to O'Hara's feelings and is attracted to the handsome 'Skeet.' But an indiscretion turns her against him, and it takes an expedition to China and a battle with a warlord's bandit brigade to sort things out among the nurse and her two Marines. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
TELL IT TO THE MARINES (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1926) directed by George Hill, stars Lon Chaney, best known as 'The Man of a Thousand Faces' in one of his rare on screen performances where one of his thousand faces happens to be his own. With such classic film roles as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" or "The Phantom of the Opera" over at Universal, Chaney remains the master of many disguises. For this military theme, Chaney assumes star billing while William Haines takes control of the story from start to finish.
The plot unfolds through title card introduction: "Almost every train bound for the Marine base at San Diego, California, carries a prospective Marine ... some fellow fresh from the country or fresher from some city." The fresh fellow in question is George Burns, better known as "Skeet" (William Haines), first seen sleeping in his berth on a train bound for San Diego. On a pretext of joining the Marines so to get free travel connection to Tijuana, Skeet encounters Sergeant O'Hara (Lon Chaney) at the train station, but manages to break away from being recruited by being chased to the next train out. Returning from Tijuana to San Diego without any money, Skeet, in need of food and shelter, heads over to the base where he enlists, thus, marking the start of his four year stretch with the Leathernecks. Failing to take the Marines seriously, Skeet, the nervy misfit, eventually makes a play for Norma Dale (Eleanor Boardman), a nurse who's "one of the few people who had seen Sergeant O'Hara smile." In spite of his devotion to Norma, it is up to O'Hara to discipline this new recruit every which way he can.
Being the first motion picture made with full cooperation of the United States Marine Corps, TELL IT TO THE MARINES ranks one of the finer motion pictures of this nature. A fine mix of comedy, romance and military action, the film set the pattern for William Haines' character. Becoming an overnight star as the wisecracking recruit, his latter roles would become similar portrayals to what was performed here, especially that as a cadet in WEST POINT (MGM, 1927) opposite Joan Crawford, or as a sailor in NAVY BLUES (MGM, 1929). Haines would conclude his movie career in an independent production of THE MARINES ARE COMING (Mascot, 1935). Regardless of brash recruit vs. tough sergeant (Conrad Nagel), the latter film was neither a remake nor a sequel to TELL IT TO THE MARINES, though it could had been one or the other. Not all Haines movies have military setting, but many of his characters portrayed could very well be Skeet Burns recycled. As for Lon Chaney, he always managed to make his characters likable and believable. TELL IT TO THE MARINES is further indication to what Chaney can do, being an actor of many roles. His facial expressions says everything about the character he plays, especially that one scene where he wipes away his tear, looks around, then resumes his rough and tough exterior. He and Haines work well together for their last time on screen. They initially appeared in the now lost movie, THE TOWER OF LIES (1925) starring the up-and-coming Norma Shearer.
Other members of the cast include Carmel Myers as Zaya, a native girl with flirtatious intentions during the Singapore sequence; Warner Oland (best known as 'Charlie Chan' in the popular film series of the 1930s) as the Chinese bandit leader; Frank Currier as General Wilcox; and Eddie Gribbon as Corporal Madden.
Long unseen for several decades, TELL IT TO THE MARINES finally sufficed on cable TV's Turner Classic Movies where it premiered October 24, 2000. Its newly composed and excellent orchestral score by Robert Israel makes this 105 minute silent movie presentation worth watching. Highly recommended. Tell it to the Marines. (***)
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