Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The Big Parade (USA,1925)
There are not enough words to write about a such film. Its theme is more alive than ever, although it portrays a war back to an era when going to the war still had a somewhat romantic aura of dying for a cause in the name of your country. Although the horrors of WW2 could not even be predicted back then, WW1 brought enough tragedies and disrupted millions of lives.
Some of the best war films show the lives of unknown people, their dreams, ambitions, their normal pace of life being completely engulfed in a war and changed forever. Common people, whose names are not in history books, but who borne most of toll of war. Families separated, love stories brutally interrupted, entire youths torn apart forever for reasons that were completely out of their control. People who either perished or had to carry on despite a huge amount of pain. It’s impossible not feeling overwhelmed.
Back to late 1920s, the biggest Hollywood studios were already big and gave a plenty of examples of the sophistication that could be achieved with a high investment in both technology and human skills. John Gilbert and Renee Adoree provided beautiful pieces of acting without ever being over the top or stereotypical. Adoree is always a pleasant screen presence, showing lots of feelings in a restrained way, but really convincing, a type of acting that could resemble Lillian Gish in her heyday.
This film can perhaps be considered the best work of John Gilbert on screen. Although he is perhaps more famous today for his films with Greta Garbo (where he also worked quite well, by the way), the character Gilbert played in The Big Parade was full of complexities and dramatic nuances that gave him full room to show off his passionate, energetic, emotional acting. And Gilbert really did not disappoint. A complex role, which he ran smoothly, in such realistic way that he could say we are seeing a friend or a relative right in front of us, as if the audience was just taking a look at a situation from real life portrayed in a documentary.
Without focusing too much whether war was something justifiable or not, the film portrays the influence of facts out of ordinary people’s control into their lives. Although the plot could be quite sad there is a good balance between light comedy, fine irony, romance and drama. Although it is not uncommon to portray on screen the maturity of a young and careless young man into adulthood by suffering the horrors of war, this film shows it under a nice perspective. James Apperson (John Gilbert) not only endures terrible moments at war, but he also had a good time with his friends, found out true love in the arms of a French girl (Melisande, played by actress Renee Adoree), even though they both couldn’t speak each other’s language, for instance.
The end might have been relatively happy, but until a balance is accomplished, it is portrayed how much James struggled to handle the death and suffering of his friends, but also his own physical wounds. The lives of everyone involved in war, either directly or indirectly, was changed forever. Love might have been unexpectedly found, but the mental scars would have to be handled.
The “war to end all wars” turned out to be, both on screen and in real life, much more tragic and longer than expected. And many other wars would come. The Big Parade has the distinction of being the first great pacifist war film in the United States, even prior to famous All Quiet on the Western Front (USA,1930). Something that also unites both Adoree and Gilbert is not only the fact that this film brought them to stardom, but also that both of them would die young not too long after this film was released. It was also the first noteworthy picture of filmmaker King Vidor, who would have a successful directorial career ahead of him.