#4 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era
The Big Parade (1925) - Standard-setting war movie from MGM and director King Vidor. John Gilbert stars as James Apperson, the spoiled layabout son of a wealthy business leader. When America enters World War 1, James's father insists he enlist and learn some strength of character. He very reluctantly agrees, leaving behind a sweetheart (Claire Adams). In the Army, James makes unlikely friends with blue-collar high-rise worker Slim (Karl Dane) and street-smart bartender Bull (Tom O'Brien). The three try to make sure they all get through alive. James also meets French girl Melisande (Renee Adoree), complicating his lovelife. Also featuring Hobart Bosworth, Claire McDowell, Robert Ober, Rosita Marstini, and Julanne Johnston.
Brothers-in-arms, the hell of battle, the difficulty in readjusting to home life stateside; all of these future war movie cliches came together first here. Gilbert, sans mustache, gets to play a real character arc, from callow youth to hardened yet enlightened veteran. Dane and O'Brien are both terrific as his war buddies, and Adoree is adorable. Vidor shows the many facets of war, from the uncertain terror of waiting at night in your foxhole knowing that a bomb could drop at any moment, to the epic scale panorama of marching troops, tanks and bi-wing airplanes blazing from the skies above. One particularly nerve-wracking sequence sees the American soldiers slowly making their way through a dense forest as German snipers pick them off one by one. This movie was a real revelation to me when I saw it the first time many years ago, as it showed me that a silent film could be just as mature, sophisticated and compelling as those from the sound era. 9/10
Source: Warner Bros DVD, featuring audio commentary from historian Jeffrey Vance, and a short silent look at the MGM backlot circa 1925.