Letterboxd Season Challenge: The Big Parade (1925)

Film 5 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The other films I plan to watch for the challenge are here.

Week 5: PUNQ Week
Challenge: Watch an unseen feature that ranked in the top ten on any of PUNQ’s pre-1940 lists.
Film I Chose: The Big Parade

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PUNQ is a Letterboxd user who’s concentrating on watching pre-1940s films, and he watches a LOT of them. This guy has Top 100s for every year from like 1896 to 1939. I watch a lot of old movies, but that’s crazy. Anyway, that gave me a bunch of options for this week, and initially I had chosen Fritz Lang’s Spies, which I still hope to watch soon if I get time, but it may not be this week. I ended up watching The Big Parade for an upcoming Flickchart blog post anyway, and since I’m short on time this week, decided to count it for the challenge as well.

I’m fascinated by WWI, so I’m surprised I’ve never gotten around to this before – I’ve seen both All Quiet on the Western Front and Wings multiple times, but this one has slipped by me (despite being on my DVR for the past like two years, no joke). In any case, I’m really glad I got to it now, because this is one great film.

In 1917, the US is about to enter the war, something Jim (John Gilbert) is not at all interested in, preferring to live off his father’s dough rather than even work in the factory he owns. He ends up enlisting after all, though (his girlfriend is way too excited about it all, incidentally). Almost the first half of the film is taken up with humorous army life – Jim getting to know and be friends with two of his bunkmates, meeting a French girl and falling for her, etc. It’s all very cute almost to a fault.

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Then the call to the front comes. I know WWI fairly well, at least in broad strokes, and still I’m never prepared for just how ridiculously tragic it was until I see it again. These boys just march in a line through woods, being picked off by snipers and then machine guns. Then they get to an open field and start charging across. Guys, that is not going to end well! That war is just so…horrible.

There are lots of really great moments and shots, including one of Jim stuck in a foxhole with a German (All Quiet has a suspiciously similar scene), long shots of lines upon lines of soldiers entering no man’s land and falling, refugees strung out on a road in silhouette (like The Seventh Seal, but with less dancing), etc. I’m not sure there are shots quite as iconic as I consider some from All Quiet, nor do the homecoming scenes have quite the power of that film, but it’s really darn close.

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It’s definitely right up there, making a solid trifecta of high silent/early sound WWI features with Wings and All Quiet. Excuse me now, I have to go read some Wilfred Owen and cry like a baby.

After watching a film, I always rank it on Flickchart, a movie website that pits movies against each other until you form your ranked list of favorite movies. Here’s how The Big Parade entered my chart:

The Big Parade > The Killers (1964)
The Big Parade > Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Big Parade > Goodbye Lenin!
The Big Parade < Black Swan The Big Parade > Pinocchio
The Big Parade < The Fifth Element The Big Parade > The English Patient
The Big Parade < The Great Escape The Big Parade > The Big Heat
The Big Parade > Akira
The Big Parade < A Man Escaped Final ranking #295 out of 3551 tf-bigparade