The Big Parade (1925)

130 mins | Drama | November 1925

Director:

King Vidor

Cinematographer:

John Arnold

Editor:

Hugh Wynn

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The following written statement appears in the onscreen credits: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gratefully acknowledges the splendid cooperation of the Second Division, United States Army and Air Service Units, Kelly Field." The copyright notice for the film indicates that some sequences in the film were tinted in color, but there were no tinted sequences in the viewed print. The titles in the viewed print listed Western Electric Sound System, suggesting the titles were from a re-release print.
       The Big Parade had its world premiere in Hollywood, CA at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on 5 Nov 1925. The film opened at the Astor Theater in New York City on 19 Nov 1925 and ran there for nearly two years. According to the Var review of the film, some of the title cards featuring soldier "Jim Apperson" cursing in despair upon the death of his buddy "Slim" were dropped for the New York screening. A brief scene in which Jim touches a German soldier's face with a cigarette to ascertain that the German is dead was also reportedly deleted.
       Pre-release sources list the film's length as 13 reels, 12,550 feet. In his autobiography, director King Vidor indicated that, following the film's Los Angeles premiere, New York distributors requested that he cut one reel to allow them to fit in additional daily screenings. Rather than remove any one scene, Vidor went through each of the film's thirteen reels and excised several frames throughout until he had removed 800 feet.
       The Big Parade was written by Laurence Stallings, a veteran of World War I, who, like the film's ... More Less

The following written statement appears in the onscreen credits: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gratefully acknowledges the splendid cooperation of the Second Division, United States Army and Air Service Units, Kelly Field." The copyright notice for the film indicates that some sequences in the film were tinted in color, but there were no tinted sequences in the viewed print. The titles in the viewed print listed Western Electric Sound System, suggesting the titles were from a re-release print.
       The Big Parade had its world premiere in Hollywood, CA at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on 5 Nov 1925. The film opened at the Astor Theater in New York City on 19 Nov 1925 and ran there for nearly two years. According to the Var review of the film, some of the title cards featuring soldier "Jim Apperson" cursing in despair upon the death of his buddy "Slim" were dropped for the New York screening. A brief scene in which Jim touches a German soldier's face with a cigarette to ascertain that the German is dead was also reportedly deleted.
       Pre-release sources list the film's length as 13 reels, 12,550 feet. In his autobiography, director King Vidor indicated that, following the film's Los Angeles premiere, New York distributors requested that he cut one reel to allow them to fit in additional daily screenings. Rather than remove any one scene, Vidor went through each of the film's thirteen reels and excised several frames throughout until he had removed 800 feet.
       The Big Parade was written by Laurence Stallings, a veteran of World War I, who, like the film's hero, lost a leg as a result of war wounds. In 1924, Stallings co-wrote the successful war-themed play What Price Glory? , which was later filmed by Fox Film, Inc. in 1926 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). In his autobiography, Vidor stated that In 1924 he had asked M-G-M's head of production, Irving Thalberg for the opportunity to make a "serious" picture. The men agreed to search for an appropriate war story, and when Stallings’ play caught Thalberg’s attention, the writer was hired. Vidor added that after Thalberg approved Stallings’ story synopsis of The Big Parade , Vidor prepared himself for the subject by screening numerous documentary films made by the U. S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. Upon viewing footage of a group of soldiers solemnly escorting a funeral cortege, Vidor was inspired to choreograph the filming of the American forces' march through Belleau Wood to the beat of a metronome amplified by a bass drum to heighten the sense of foreboding and death.
       Vidor also stated that several American and British veterans hired for the film considered Vidor's directions of moving to the drum beat ludicrous. During the film's premiere at the Egyptian Theatre, Vidor requested that the orchestra remain silent during the sequence to allow the visual cadence to become apparent to the audience. The sequence went on to become one of the film's signature pieces and one of the most famous of the silent era. Vidor revealed that another of the film's most famous scenes, in which Jim teaches his French girl friend "Melisande" how to chew gum, was inspired by chance when playwright Donald Ogden Stewart visited the set just as Vidor was struggling with how to stage Jim and Melisande's first innocent love scene. Stewart was chewing gum and Vidor realized that gum would be completely unfamiliar to a French country girl.
       According to Var , electrician Carl Barlow died during the filming when he fell from a platform. Additional information from Vidor's autobiography indicated that the film was shot on location at Griffith Park and Elysian Park in Los Angeles. An ETR news item reported that portions of the film were shot on location at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.
       The Big Parade is frequently described as the most successful silent film of all time and according to information in the Eddie Mannix Collection at the AMPAS Library, at the time of its initial release the film earned over six million dollars, second only to M-G-M's 1925 production of Ben-Hur (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). NYT placed The Big Parade at the top of its list of best films for 1925, praising it as "the top-notch photoplay of the year" and "unusually original in detail." The Var review of the film called it "the best of the war pictures" and praised John Gilbert's performance as "superb" and a "triumph for [director King] Vidor." The review went on to commend the musical score by David Mendzoa and William Axt as rivaling that of D. W. Griffith's 1915 production, Birth of a Nation. An Aug 1967 Var article indicates that Janus Films was to cut the 130 minute film down to 52 minutes for release to collegiate film groups. The viewed print ran approximately 124 minutes. In 1988 The Big Parade was one of the silent films selected by British Thames television to receive a new score composed by Carl Davis.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Exhibitors Trade Review
5 Sep 1925
p. 18.
Exhibitors Trade Review
28 Nov 1925
p. 31.
Film Daily
22 Nov 1926
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 1992.
---
Life
10 Dec 1925
pp. 24-25.
Literary Digest
6 Mar 1926.
---
Motion Picture News
28 Nov 1925
p. 2566.
Moving Picture World
5 Dec 1925
p. 481.
New York Times
20 Nov 1925
p. 18.
Photoplay
1 Jun 1926
p. 117.
Variety
11 Nov 1925
p. 36.
Variety
2 Dec 1925
p. 40.
Variety
23 Aug 1967
p. 17.
DETAILS
Release Date:
November 1925
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 5 November 1925
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Distributing Corp.
Copyright Date:
10 September 1927
Copyright Number:
LP24384
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
130
Length(in feet):
11,519
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the spring of 1917, America enjoys peaceful prosperity, while war rages in Europe. In New York, laborer Slim Jensen toils on a skyscraper, while in the Bowery, Michael “Bull” O’Hara tends bar. On the other side of town, wealthy idler James Apperson scoffs at the idea of working in his father’s factory. All three men’s lives are interrupted by the news of America’s declaration of war against Germany. Disinterested in the war news, Jim is bewildered by the patriotic fervor that stirs the crowds and inspires an enthusiastic parade. When a group of Jim’s buddies excitedly tell him that they are enlisting, Jim impulsively joins them. That evening, Jim avoids telling his family he has enlisted, so as not to worry his anxious mother. Jim’s father berates him for his indolence and points out that Jim’s brother Harry has already placed the family factory in war production. Jim’s proud fiancée, Justyn Reed, then accidentally reveals Jim’s enlistment, which dismays Mrs. Apperson, but cheers Mr. Apperson. Several days later in boot camp, Jim meets Slim and Bull. After a hasty training period, Bull is made sergeant and the company is shipped to France where, after several days march into the countryside, set up camp in the farming village of Champillon and are welcomed by the villagers. A few days later, Jim receives a cake from Justyn that he shares with Bull and Slim. To break up the monotony of camp life, Jim decides to rig a shower for the men near the river and searches for a barrel in the village. There, he is spotted by ... +


In the spring of 1917, America enjoys peaceful prosperity, while war rages in Europe. In New York, laborer Slim Jensen toils on a skyscraper, while in the Bowery, Michael “Bull” O’Hara tends bar. On the other side of town, wealthy idler James Apperson scoffs at the idea of working in his father’s factory. All three men’s lives are interrupted by the news of America’s declaration of war against Germany. Disinterested in the war news, Jim is bewildered by the patriotic fervor that stirs the crowds and inspires an enthusiastic parade. When a group of Jim’s buddies excitedly tell him that they are enlisting, Jim impulsively joins them. That evening, Jim avoids telling his family he has enlisted, so as not to worry his anxious mother. Jim’s father berates him for his indolence and points out that Jim’s brother Harry has already placed the family factory in war production. Jim’s proud fiancée, Justyn Reed, then accidentally reveals Jim’s enlistment, which dismays Mrs. Apperson, but cheers Mr. Apperson. Several days later in boot camp, Jim meets Slim and Bull. After a hasty training period, Bull is made sergeant and the company is shipped to France where, after several days march into the countryside, set up camp in the farming village of Champillon and are welcomed by the villagers. A few days later, Jim receives a cake from Justyn that he shares with Bull and Slim. To break up the monotony of camp life, Jim decides to rig a shower for the men near the river and searches for a barrel in the village. There, he is spotted by farm girl Melisande, who lives alone with her mother. Curious about Jim’s actions, Melisande follows him back to the river and watches Bull and Slim try out the primitive shower. Jim then introduces himself to Melisande, although he speaks no French and she does not understand English. Jim is annoyed when Bull and Slim also show interest in Melisande, but she rejects them in favor of Jim. That evening, Jim waits for Melisande in front of her home and when she appears, shyly offers her a stick of gum and shows her how to chew it. Using a French dictionary, Jim and Melisande manage to communicate their mutual attraction to each other and over the next several weeks, Jim sees Melisande as often as possible, despite constant teasing from Bull and Slim. At mail call, some days later, Bull is angry when someone playfully takes his letter, causing Bull to mistakenly attack an officer he believes responsible. The officer angrily then angrily demotes Bull. Upon retrieving the letter, Bull is taken aback to learn that he is going to be a father. Meanwhile, Jim is overcome by guilt when he receives a letter and photo from Justyn, who frets at not hearing from him. Melisande finds Jim and the two quarrel when she realizes that Jim is engaged. Despite Jim’s insistence that he genuinely cares for her, Melisande is hurt and departs in tears. Moments later, the company receives orders to move to the front immediately and Jim hurries to gather his equipment. The villagers rush to bid the soldiers farewell as trucks and equipment begin speeding through Champillion. After hastily packing, Jim searches frantically for Melisande, but is forced to join his unit. Attracted by the bustle of the army’s sudden departure, Melisande anxiously joins the crowd of soldiers marching through the village, desperately hoping to find Jim. Jim finally spots Melisande and, rushing to her, vows that he will return. An officer orders Jim to return to his truck and as the transport moves off, Melisande frantically hangs on to the truck’s side in a vain effort to stop its departure. When she is forced to let go, Jim throws Melisande a necklace and a shoe, which she clings to as the caravan of soldiers speeds away. Jim, Bull, Slim and the company then proceed toward enemy lines under the protection of fighter planes. When the company must continue on foot, the men are strafed by a German planes and Jim sees his first wounded and dead. Jim and his company are then ordered to spread out to march through a forest filled with German snipers. Continuing on, the men are bombed by shells and gas and, putting on their masks, seek shelter in the trenches. After surviving an afternoon-long attack, night falls and Jim, Slim and Bull take turns napping and eating canned ham. While the Germans lob shells over the trenches every few minutes, Jim tries some of Slim’s chewing tobacco for the first time. Later, an officer creeps into their trench to order one of them to destroy the German cannon. Knowing that he is the best spitter, Slim suggests a spitting contest to see who will take on the dangerous mission. After winning the contest, Slim slowly crawls through the dirt, hiding behind dead bodies until he reaches the German cannon nest, which he destroys with a hand grenade. As he crawls back, however, flares illuminate Slim, and German machine gunners shoot at him as Jim and Bull listen tensely from their trench. When Slim does not return, Jim and Bull begin calling for him anxiously, until they are reprimanded by an officer. A little later, Jim and Bull hear Slim feebly calling for help and, frantic, Jim disobeys orders and leaves the fox hole to rescue Slim. Bull joins Jim and upon finding Slim dead, both men grieve, then, in a fury, destroy the German machine gun nest. While moving in on a second nest, Bull is killed and Jim wounded in the leg. Jim attacks a German with his bayonet and the two tumble into a shell hole together. His rage abruptly spent, Jim cannot kill the young soldier and instead offers him a cigarette, but the soldier dies minutes later. A few days later, Jim awakens in a church turned into a makeshift infirmary. A fellow patient tells Jim that he was wounded in nearby Champillon which was subsequently overrun by the Germans. Alarmed, Jim escapes from the hospital on crutches to go in search of Melisande, unaware that the village has been evacuated. Jim collapses upon arriving at the shattered village, where he is later found by a medical unit. Upon the declaration of peace, Jim returns home, an amputee as a result of his wounds. Although Justyn and Harry have become involved in Jim’s absence, she is determined to maintain her engagement to Jim. Despite his family’s sincere relief at his return, Jim realizes that they can never understand how his war experiences have changed him. When he later confesses to his mother that he is in love with Melisande, she encourages him to find her. Much later in France, Melisande and her mother are working in the fields when Melisande spots a distant figure coming across the hills towards them slowly. Incredulous, Melisande recognizes Jim and the two are reunited.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.