The Big Parade Blu-ray
1917. We are informed via title cards that America is made up of different kinds of men. We look in on Slim (Dane), driving rivets on an under-construction skyscraper. And there’s Bull, a wise-talking bartender. Finally we meet Jim. Jim’s family is wealthy and as we meet him he is getting a shave. When the barber asks Jim if he will someday work for his father, Jim laughs. “Work?” But all three men will soon be equals when America enters World War I. And such begins the story of THE BIG PARADE.
Released in 1925, THE BIG PARADE is truly one of the best films ever made to show the real wages of war. Where Slim and Bull readily enlist to fight for their country, Jim has no intention of going. Even when his mother and fiancé’ urge him to (how patriotic the times must have been when loved ones were insisting you go off to war). His father is shamed by his refusal. Yet when he comes across some of his wealthy pals taking part in a parade to celebrate the military he joins them. Soon Jim, Slim and Bull find themselves in France, where their current routine consists of washing clothes and waiting. One day Jim makes the acquaintance of a local town girl, Melisande (Renee Adoree). They don’t speak the other’s language but it’s clear that the language they share is love. Things develop nicely until Jim’s group is called up to the front, where they learn that war surely is hell!
I sometimes marvel when I’m given the opportunity to watch some of the classic films from the early days of cinema. THE BIG PARADE is an epic achievement, especially for a silent film that runs almost two and a half hours long. Gilbert proves why he was the most sought after actor of the day. He has a commanding on-screen presence yet also shows a gift for comedy and, of course, romance. I’d liken him to a 1920’s era Warren Beatty. Sadly Gilbert did not make the successful jump to talkies, with rumors running the gammit of a high pitched voice to a broken heart after Greta Garbo left him at the altar, and died of a heart attack at the young age of 38. The other actors also do well, which is praise indeed in a medium where you conveyed the story through your eyes and your gestures. One thing of note is that this film was made before the censorship code. I was surprised to see some naked male buttocks as well as the words “God D***” on screen. That being said, they did censor the word “bastards,” having it appear on the title card as “b——-.” THE BIG PARADE holds the distinction of being the highest grossing silent film ever released and it’s an honor it truly deserves, if only for an amazing shot of Jim’s division marching off to war which includes an amazing 3,000 soldiers, 200 trucks and 100 airplanes. This is the “big parade” of the title and is definitely a must see!
THE BIG PARADE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the print has been well transferred. The images are sharp with only a little loss of detail during the “night” scenes, which seem to have been shot through a blue filter. Due to the age of the film there are some “jumpy” spots…either torn sprockets or bad splices, but these aren’t enough to take away from your enjoyment of the picture.
Audio: Presented in DTS HD Master Audio 2.0. As this is a silent film there is no dialogue to listen to. That being said, composer Carl Davis’ 1988 score, which used elements from the original release score by William Axt and David Mendoza, is one of the highlights of this production and it comes through loud and clear, setting just the right tone for the picture.
Commentary with Film Historian Jeffrey Vance and Director King Vidor: In the early 1970s King Vidor sat down with the Director’s Guild of America and recorded, basically, a commentary of his filmmaking life. It’s from these recordings that Vidor contributes. Vance is a walking film encyclopedia and talks about the production from its inception to the premiere. Vance also had the great opportunity to know Vidor in the director’s later years and he introduces Vidor’s “commentary” tracks.
1925 Studio Tour (32:01): A very in-depth tour of MGM’s Culver City Studios, visiting every department and featuring some of the talent, both in front of and behind the cameras. Ironically I was doing some research on another project dealing with Lon Chaney, Sr and this short was mentioned. As the camera visits with the current stars of the studio, one actor has his back to the camera, talking with others. That man is Chaney. It is said that he cherished his privacy and did not want to be seen without any of his famous make ups. Also featured, as an actress and in a wardrobe test, is a young Lucille LeSueur, better known today as Joan Crawford.
Theatrical Trailer (2:29): Possibly a re-issue trailer.
Digibook: A great addition to Blu-ray releases has been the digibook. This one numbers 64 pages and includes commentary by film scholar Kevin Brownlow. Also included are many production stills and a full reproduction of the film’s lobby program.