The Big Parade
|The Big Parade|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||King Vidor|
|Produced by||Irving Thalberg|
|Screenplay by||Harry Behn|
1925 autobiographical novel
by Laurence Stallings
|Music by||William Axt|
|Edited by||Hugh Wynn|
|Distributed by||Loew's Incorporated|
|Box office||$18–22 million (theatrical rental)|
The Big Parade is a 1925 American silent film directed by King Vidor and starring John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Hobart Bosworth, and Claire McDowell. Adapted by Harry Behn from the play by Joseph W. Farnham and the autobiographical novel Plumes by Laurence Stallings, the film is about an idle rich boy who joins the US Army's Rainbow Division and is sent to France to fight in World War I, becomes a friend of two working class men, experiences the horrors of trench warfare, and finds love with a French girl.
Although other anti-war films chronologically preceded it, The Big Parade is nevertheless an early film to have neither glorified the war nor ignored its human costs. It heavily influenced a great many subsequent war films, especially All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
In the United States in 1917, James "Jim" Apperson's (John Gilbert) idleness (in contrast to his hardworking brother) incurs the great displeasure of his wealthy businessman father. Then America enters World War I. Jim informs his worried mother that he has no intention of enlisting, and his father threatens to kick him out of the house if he does not join. However, when he runs into his patriotic friends at a send-off parade, he is persuaded to enlist, making his father very proud.
All three men are attracted to Melisande (Renée Adorée), whose mother owns the farm. She repulses all their advances, but gradually warms to Jim. They fall in love, despite not being able to speak each other's language. One day, however, Jim receives a letter and a photograph from Justyn (Claire Adams), which reveals that they are engaged. When Melisande sees the picture, she realizes the situation and runs off in tears. Before Jim can decide what to do, his unit is ordered to the front. Melisande hears the commotion and races back, just in time for the lovers to embrace and kiss.
The Americans march towards the front and are strafed by an enemy fighter before it is shot down. The unit is sent to the attack immediately, advancing against snipers and machine guns in the woods, then more machine guns, artillery, and poison gas in the open. They settle down in a makeshift line. Jim shelters in a shellhole with Slim (Karl Dane) and Bull (Tom O'Brien).
That night, orders come down for one man to go out and eliminate a troublesome mortar crew; Slim wins a spitting contest for the opportunity. He succeeds, but is spotted and wounded on the way back. After listening to Slim's pleas for help, Jim cannot stand it any longer and goes to his rescue against orders. Bull follows, but is shot and killed. By the time Jim reaches Slim, he is already dead. Jim is then shot in the leg. When a German comes to finish him off, Jim shoots and wounds him. The German starts crawling back to his line. Jim catches up to him in another shellhole, but, face to face, cannot bring himself to finish him off with his bayonet. Instead, he gives his erstwhile enemy a cigarette. Soon after, the German dies. Fortunately for Jim, he is not stuck in no man's land for long; the Americans attack, and he is taken away to a hospital.
From another patient, he learns that Champillon has changed hands four times. Worried about Melisande, Jim sneaks out of the hospital and hitches a ride. When he gets to the farmhouse, he finds it damaged and empty. Melisande and her mother have joined a stream of refugees. Jim collapses and is carried off in an ambulance by retreating soldiers.
After the war ends, Jim goes home to America. Before he arrives, his mother overhears Justyn and Jim's brother Harry (Robert Ober) discussing what to do; in Jim's absence, they have fallen in love. When Jim appears, it is revealed that he has had his leg amputated. Later, Jim tells his mother about Melisande; she tells him to go back and find her. When he returns to the farm, Melisande rushes into his arms.
- John Gilbert as James Apperson
- Renée Adorée as Melisande
- Hobart Bosworth as Mr. Apperson
- Claire McDowell as Mrs. Apperson
- Claire Adams as Justyn Reed
- Robert Ober as Harry
- Tom O'Brien as Bull
- Karl Dane as Slim
- Rosita Marstini as Melisande's mother
- Harry Crocker as Soldier (uncredited)
- Julanne Johnston as Justine Devereux
- Kathleen Key as Miss Apperson
- Carl Voss as Officer (uncredited)
- George Beranger
- Frank Currier
- Dan Mason
The Big Parade was one of the greatest hits of the 1920s earning gross rentals of $4,990,000 in North America and $1,141,000 overseas on a budget of $382,000 during its initial release, with MGM recording a profit of $3.4 million. It played in some larger cities continually for a year or more, boosting Gilbert's career and made Renée Adorée a major star, although Adorée would soon be diagnosed with tuberculosis and die only a few years later. The film ultimately grossed $18–$22 million in worldwide rentals and is sometimes proclaimed as the most successful film of the silent era, although it is most likely this record falls to The Birth of a Nation.
After the film's producers found a clause in Vidor's contract that entitled the director to 20% of the net profits, studio lawyers called for a meeting with him. At the meeting, accountants upgraded the costs of the picture and downgraded their forecast of its potential success. Vidor was thus persuaded to sell his stake in the film before he could receive his percentage. However, the film's tremendous success established Vidor as one of MGM's top directors for the rest of his career.
The film was re-issued in 1931 with a sound-track consisting of William Axt's score. Composer Carl Davis created a new orchestral score for the film in the 1980s (quoting the theme associated with Melisande in Axt's original setting), and it was restored and released on video in the late 1980s as part of the MGM and British television Thames Silents project. The original 35mm negative was subsequently discovered intact, and has been the source for theatrical showings and the DVD and Blu-ray editions (Blu-ray was released October 1, 2013). Davis' score has also been featured on these later editions.
The 2013 DVD and Blu-ray Warner Home Video release of The Big Parade contains an audio commentary track by film historian Jeffrey Vance (with excerpts from King Vidor's oral history with the Directors Guild of America).
- Variety film review; October 11, 1925, page 36.
- Variety film review; December 2, 1925, page 40.
- Harrison's Reports film review; December 5, 1925, page 195.
- Hall, Sheldon; Neale, Stephen (2010). Epics, spectacles, and blockbusters: a Hollywood history. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-3008-1.
Even then, at a time when the budget for a feature averaged at around $300,000, no more than $382,000 was spent on production...According to the Eddie Mannix Ledger at MGM, it grossed $4,990,000 domestically and $1,141,000 abroad.
- Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 112
- May, Richard P. (Fall 2005), "Restoring The Big Parade", The Moving Image, 5 (2): 140–146, doi:10.1353/mov.2005.0033, ISSN 1532-3978,
...earning somewhere between $18 and $22 million, depending on the figures consulted
- Robertson, Patrick (1991). Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats (4 ed.). Abbeville Publishing Group. p. 30. ISBN 9781558592360.
The top grossing silent film was King Vidor's The Big Parade (US 25), with worldwide rentals of $22 million.
- Everson, William K. (1998) [First published 1978]. American silent film. Da Capo Press. p. 374. ISBN 978-0-306-80876-0.
Putting The Birth of a Nation in fifth place is open to question, since it is generally conceded to be the top-grossing film of all time. However, it has always been difficult to obtain reliable box-office figures for this film, and it may have been even more difficult in the mid-1930's. After listing it until the mid-1970's as the top-grosser, though finding it impossible to quote exact figures, Variety, the trade journal, suddenly repudiated the claim but without giving specific details or reasons. On the basis of the number of paid admissions, and continuous exhibition, its number one position seems justified.