Although made by independent Liberty Pictures, Paramount bought the film and distributed it as a Paramount production. According to director William Beaudine, Paramount recut the film so badly that it made little if any sense, contributing to the generally bad reviews it received. See more »
The wenches in the trenches meet the bitches in the ditches.
MGM's war drama 'The Big Parade' was the single biggest money-maker of Hollywood's silent-film period. (Actually, 'The Birth of a Nation' made more money, but the profits were divided among several different distributors.) Consequently, there were several unrelated movies -- such as 'The Wet Parade' -- with titles evoking that box-office bonanza. 'The Mad Parade' was one of them, and (unlike 'The Wet Parade') it resembles 'The Big Parade' to the extent that it's also about the Great War ... but this time from a female viewpoint.
The film which 'The Mad Parade' most nearly resembles is 'The Women', in which an all-female cast spent most of their time obsessing over men who remained just offscreen. But that movie took place in a female universe of salons and boutiques. 'The Mad Parade' sets a bigger challenge: it's a war movie (traditionally male territory) with an all-female cast. It would be very contrived to keep men entirely absent from this setting, so (unlike in 'The Women') we do hear men's offscreen voices, occasionally seeing a man's shadow outlined on the wall, or glimpsing a man's shoulder at the edge of the frame.
The setting is a military canteen during the Great War, staffed by women so that men will be available for combat duty. The commander is Schuyler, played by the underrated character actress Irene Rich. Each of the young women on her staff has a distinctly different personality, and much of the drama (with some comedy relief) comes from the clash of these personalities under the pressure of war.
Monica Dale is nicknamed 'the Duchess' for her reserved manner. She's romantically involved with Tony, a handsome young aviator. One drawback of this film's all-female conceit is that we know we're never going to see Tony even though we keep hearing about him. Monica's co-worker Janice is jealous and wants Tony for herself. Lilyan Tashman (whom I've never liked) supplies some bad comedy relief; Louise Fazenda's comic playing is more welcome. Fazenda's character is cried Fanny Smithers, a name which would provoke unintended laughter in British cinemas.
The film takes pains to establish that these women are in physical danger, just like the men they cater for. A German bombing raid hits the canteen. Monica finds a dud German grenade, and chucks it at a rat ... but the grenade explodes and kills her co-worker Prudence.
One thing I found immensely annoying about this movie is that most of the women are constantly obsessing about romantic entanglements with men, even though they've got far more pressing matters. In fairness, I'm sure that plenty of men in combat zones were thinking about women during lulls in the battle ... but I'm also sure they put aside those thoughts and got to work when the shooting started. Most of the characters in 'The Mad Parade' live utterly for male attention. Marceline Day's dialogue reveals her bizarre enunciation. Bill Beaudine's directorial efforts are -- as usual for him -- workmanlike and unimaginative. The editing is poor. But there aren't many films with an all-woman cast, and still fewer of those are war movies. This film's unusual setting and casting go far to raise it above the mundane. Despite its flaws and its derivative title, I'll rate 'The Mad Parade' 8 points out of 10.
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