Monday, February 10, 2014
DVD: The Big Parade -- February 10, 2014
One of my Christmas presents was the Blu-Ray edition of King Vidor's The Big Parade. American studios made so many war movies during World War One that people became tired of them. In 1919, stories say that Cecil B DeMille had to change the title of The Admirable Crichton to Male and Female because Adolph Zukor thought people would assume it was about an admiral. This is probably not true, but it gives an idea of the way the market was running.
Jeffrey Vance's audio commentary talks about how in 1924, three Broadway plays about the war did good box office and inspired movie producers to take a another look at war films. On a side note, I looked up the three plays in the Internet Broadway Database (http://ibdb.com/). Nerves by John Farrar and Stephen Vincent Benet, with Humphrey Bogart, ran for 19 performances. Havoc by Harry Wall ran for 48 performances. What Price Glory by Maxwell Anerdson and Lawrence Stallings, ran for 435 performances. Fox optioned What Price Glory and made a successful movie out of it.
The recently-formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio could not get What Price Glory, so they got Lawrence Stallings. This helped to fulfill the wish of hot director King Vidor, who wanted to make a movie which would run for more than one week. Stallings, a Marine, had served at Belleau Wood. He brought a treatment called The Big Parade. Vidor developed it into a script, incorporating many stories that Stalling had him told about the military.
Jeffrey Vance's audio commentary includes long excerpts from recorded interviews that Vidor made for the Directors' Guild.
The Blu-Ray disc comes in a hard cover book, with biographies of King Vidor, stars John Gilbert, Karl Dane and Renée Adorée, and sections on the production of the film and the musical score. There are many nice photos.
The print is beautiful, derived from the original camera negative. The musical score worked very well for me, especially the repeated references to "My Buddy."
John Gilbert seemed like a real person, growing from a thoughtless playboy to a real friend to a wounded warrior. Karl Dane was funnier than I had remembered. Renée Adorée was adorable. The battle scenes started slowly and worked up to unbearable.
I liked the descriptions in the commentary and the book about Vidor's use of improvisation in the chewing gum and fox hole scenes.
The extras were the MGM studio tour and a theatrical trailer, both completely silent. I read somewhere that there should have been a documentary about King Vidor, but I couldn't find it.