Sisif, a railwayman, and his son Elie fall in love with the beautiful Norma (who Sisif rescued from a train crash when a baby and raised as his daughter), with tragic results. Originally ... See full summary »
Gabriel de Gravone
The idle son of a rich businessman joins the army when the U.S.A. enters World War One. He is sent to France, where he becomes friends with two working-class soldiers. He also falls in love with a Frenchwoman, but has to leave her to move to the frontline.Written by
Philip Apps <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. See more »
Early in the movie, we see James Apperson announce that he has enlisted. His father, who had been sternly lecturing him moments before, comes up and congratulates him. Suddenly, the father now has a lit cigar in his mouth, with a long ash, indicating he's been smoking it for at least a while. But all the time prior, we saw no sign that the father had a lit cigar anywhere on him or near him. See more »
I could try and pick apart some things with King Vidor's The Big Parade - the fact that the resolution is a little hackneyed (not a little, actually, more than a lot being a "classic Hollywood Ending" as you'd hear in the cliché terms), or that the romance that blossoms between the American nice guy Jim (John Gilbert) and the French farm girl Melisande (Renee Adore) is all predicated on the fact that they both find each other charming visa-vi not knowing the other's language at all. Some of these things keep it from being in the 'All Time Super-Great Silent Films', and yet when it's wonderful and moving and spectacular and brutal it's all of those things times a hundred. It's both a tender romance and a earth-shattering and horrible story of World War 1 (were there any others that were compelling, I mean that as a compliment by the way, not the 'bad' horrible in terms of quality of the art).
Vidor knew how to get in Big Parade not even so much the greatness in the full scope of the story - if you're looking close enough there's some problems - but in all of the little moments and things that you remember, which are all done with truth to whatever the main feeling is, and it's shot and communicated in a way that's sophisticated for the time. Hours after seeing the movie (and I'm sure this will also be days and weeks later) I'll remember how Jim sort of first piques Melisande's attention by being stuck inside of a giant barrel and walking around in the mud unsure where to go; or when the cake that's sent to Jim is split by him in three parts, the others going to his new friends Slim and Bull and he getting the smallest piece (both of them from other, working class backgrounds, unlike Jim who is more upper-middle class, so to speak, meant to bridge the gap and show war makes everyone equal in the eyes of combat); that moment when the guys are walking in the woods and people behind them just start falling down, one by one, via sniper fire before the bigger strike happens; when Jim and Melisande use the little translation book to try and express their feelings of love and happiness to one another, which is charming in an unironic way.
So many scenes and things are choreographed to such a fine point that I want to love the movie even more than I do: there's a sequence where you get Jim and all the other soldiers, who have been sort of hanging out in this French village without any combat, called in to head to the frontlines finally, and as Melisande tries so desperately to find her love (as he is too), and that moment where they connect and can barely let go, that couldn't be done today. I'm sure most directors would look at a sequence such as that, which goes on for about 6 or 7 minutes (and this includes when the two lovers finally connect and can barely be pulled apart as she chases after his military truck driving away) that seems so earnest that it might look corny. You have to commit to that level of high emotional resonance, but Vidor does and the actors do, and if you happen to be watching the version with Carl Davis's musical score, which verges on the sentimental and even brings up military march music at times, you can't help but go for it 100%.
The Big Parade is a long movie, but not really too long, and when it flows from setting up our primary characters and then moves into the war scenarios it's natural and compelling. And there's some great conflict for Jim with his romance due to the lady-back-at-home (which is part of why later on the final five minutes is just OK instead of great, though not without some impactful images and grandeur). And all in all, Vidor and MGM succeed at making a war movie that is not exciting in such a way that it makes war look glorious. On the contrary this seems more like the first part of a double bill with All Quiet on the Western Front (I'd be curious if that ever actually happened in a theater), and by having us spend a lot of time with Jim and his friends, the latter of which get into some shenanigans and do some tomfoolery and all that which is genuinely funny (i.e. a scene in a wine cellar and a frustrated mail scene are the highlights), it makes what they go through all the richer and experience.
It's a kind of pure story of heaven and hell found in humanity, and if anything its imperfections make it more endearing than many other films slick surfaces.
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