Film, History Class, Uncategorized, World War I, Writing

The Big Parade: A Silent Story

Staying up later than I should have watching a movie last night, waiting to find out which members of the uninspiring love triangle would survive the War, I began thinking about films that would have been more worth  my time. Here, in one of last year’s posts, is one of the many options! 

Big parade posterI’ll admit, I was skeptical of my husband’s interest in silent films.

I had never seen one, but I thought I knew what to expect. Silent films equaled the jangle of organ-grinder style music, makeup resembling cake icing, and overacting reminiscent of the comedic scenes with Lena Lamont in Singing in the Rain.

With such low expectations, the Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd films he played for our family were a pleasant surprise. The comedy bits were engaging and creative, and the music was well-orchestrated. Best of all, the kids found the movies fascinating- this was something we could ALL enjoy!

By the time I unwrapped The Big Parade, I was prepared to give silent films the benefit of the doubt. Still, King Vidor’s serious film was a departure from Keaton’s comedic Steam Boat Bill Jr. How would a film about an American soldier’s experiences in France during World War 1 play out as a silent film?

I didn’t expect to find a new favorite movie.

The leading man, John Gilbert, plays a wealthy American with no real idea of war, who grows into a protagonist we can root for and weep for. Renee Adoree plays his love interest in France. The two of them pull the viewer inexorably into the story until one can almost forget that in the entire film they haven’t spoken a word.
the big parade 2

While a silent film must lean heavily on the skills of its actors, creating one must have also posed interesting challenges for the writers.

I wonder how much time it took to distill the text that occasionally appears on the screen to its barest elements, highlighting the key points of the story without bogging down the pacing.

In addition to brevity, the writers must have had to choose the words with care, to tell the story, but also to avoid a fuss from the censors. (For instance, I suspect that the words to the song “In the Army Now” may have been edited for the film. “Rich” and “Son-of-a-gun” don’t quite rhyme…)

However long it took, it was time well spent.

The attention to the story shines through the filming of each scene. One of the most powerful sequences is Gilbert’s introduction to battle. The following quote from describes it very well.

“King Vidor recalled, “I timed the march of the US youth into battle and possible death as a slow, measured cadence with the muffled beat of brass drums heralding doom–a metronome to simulate exactly the gait of the soldiers”.

The sequence is eerie and tense and tragic, without the need for flashy special effects or gore. The story carries the emotional impact, even through a black and white movie made 92 years ago.

I could go on, but as The Big Parade demonstrates, sometimes fewer words make more impact!


Writers, Readers, and Movie Viewers: Have you found other areas in writing and filming where ‘less is more’?

Many thanks for visiting!


2 thoughts on “The Big Parade: A Silent Story”

  1. Ah, lovely post! Yes, Bo just had some Buster Keaton on this weekend and the kids LOVE it. While I still don’t have much patience to sit and watch, I am still deeply impressed with the level of physical comedy Keaton did, throwing life and limb to the wind for the sake of telling a visual joke. Wow! I wonder if Bo knows The Big Parade…hmm, he might…

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s