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The Big Parade Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray Warner
Oct 10 2013 07:52 PM | Ken_McAlinden in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
- Subtitles: English
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 2 Hr. 31 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray
- Case Type: Blu-ray Book Packaging
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: A
- Release Date: 10/01/2013
- MSRP: $27.98
The Production Rating: 4.5/5Directed by: King Vidor
Starring: John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Tom O'Brien, Karl Dane, Hobart Bosworth, Claire McDowell, Claire Adams, Robert Ober, Rosita Marstini
The Big Parade follows the exploits of Jim Apperson (Gilbert) the idle son of a wealthy New York Mill owner. Jim gets caught up in patriotic fervor when the US enters The Great War in 1917 and enlists in the Army, surprising his parents (Bosworth & McDowell) and his more industrious brother Harry (Ober) while inspiring the enthusiastic support of his fiancée, Justyn (Adams). While stationed behind the lines on a French farm in the village of Champillon, James forms a fast friendship with fellow Doughboys and New Yorkers Slim (Dane), a former riveter, and Bull (O’Brien), a former barkeep. Most of their time is spent trying to figure out ways to accomplish various menial tasks more efficiently, seeking what entertainment they can during their idle time, and pulling pranks on each other. This changes for Jim when he meets and falls for Melisande (Adorée) the daughter of the woman who owns the Farm. Jim and Melisande are tearfully separated when Jim is sent to the front lines, and the fierce combat Jim, Slim, and Bull face shoulder to shoulder marching through Belleau Wood casts doubt on whether Jim will ever see Melisande or his family again.
King Vidor’s The Big Parade was a smash hit in 1925 that managed to put Vidor, Producer Irving Thalberg, and the recently formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio on the map. It also cemented rising star John Gilbert as arguably the biggest matinee idol of his era (rivaled only by Rudolph Valentino who passed away a year later).
Vidor and Thalberg's ambition to make a prestige picture meshed nicely with a dramatic resurgence in the popularity of World War I dramas, which had fallen out of favor in the years immediately after the war due to audience fatigue with propaganda. In 1924 Broadway plays such as What Price Glory? and Nerves and books such as Plumes took a serious look at war and its costs. Thalberg and Vidor hired Laurence Stallings, the author of Plumes and co-writer of What Price Glory? to develop the story for The Big Parade. Beating the cinematic adaptation of What Price Glory? to the screen, The Big Parade was one of the first films about The Great War to convey the experience with any attempt at accuracy from the perspective of enlisted men.
The film takes its time to develop its characters, and never gives a hint as to how their orders may be part of any larger plan. No one knows or questions why they make camp in the village of Champillon any more than they know or question why they are asked to form a line and march through Belleau Wood under heavy fire from snipers, machine guns, artillery, and gas attacks. The romance with Melisande that intrudes on Jim's military experience, which would become a staple/cliche in future war films, does not feel out of perspective with larger events being depicted since the characters in the film are several levels removed from the larger perspective that is driving their military experience. Everything takes place on a personal and intimate level.
Vidor draws out nuanced performances from all of his cast who exhibit terrific chemistry whether romantic (Gilbert and Adorée) or "bromantic" (Gilbert, Dane, & O'Brien). Bravura scenes mix touching drama with comedy, sometimes simultaneously. The biggest risk Vidor takes is withholding any combat depictions until more than an hour and 20 minutes into the film. Early character development pays off as audience members feel every loss and cheer for any victory however small when the stakes become life and death for the characters they have been getting to know for over half the film's running time. Audience patience is also rewarded by the brilliant staging of the big military set-piece in Belleau Wood. While the sequence is thrilling, concern for the safety of the well-developed characters never makes it seem glamorous.
Note: While the idea of a grunt's eye view of camaraderie between men from all walks of life does not seem like a classic MGM approach to cinematic drama, the "Louis B. Mayer touch" is at least partially represented by making the main character of the film the scion of a glamorously wealthy family.
The Big Parade Playlist from Warner Home Video
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The film is encoded in 1080p/24 AVC encoded video, but due to periodic frame duplication, it is actually running at 20fps. The black and white source is tinted consistent with the film’s 1925 cutting continuity with one shot late in the film featuring an interesting hand colored effect ( I will not spoil it, but the disc's chapter menu will). Derived from a restoration made possible when Kevin Brownlow discovered the film's original negative mis-labeled in storage at the George Eastman House in 1997, this presentation features natural film-like grain and much lower contrast and higher detail than I am used to seeing in films of this era. The aspect ratio shifts slightly in a couple of sequences where dupe footage is intercut, but a lot of work appears to have been put in by the telecine operators, compressionsists, and timers to make these transitions as seamless as possible. Film damage has been carefully repaired in the digital video domain to yield a near pristine presentation that likely rivals original prints for presentation quality.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5The only available audio track is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo presentation of a fantastic orchestral score composed by Carl Davis. The score mixes popular themes of the day (many of which are alluded to in the on-screen titles) with original themes and a couple of excerpts from a “love theme” lifted from a vintage score for the film by William Axt and David Mendoza. Synchronization with on-screen action is spot-on, with the score and percussive effects used in the “Belleau Wood” combat sequence being particularly effective.
Special Features: 3.5/5Commentary by Jeffrey Vance with King Vidor features film scholar Jeffrey Vance providing a very well researched verbal download of information about all aspects of the film’s conception, production, and reception including extended biographical notes on many of the key creative personnel. At four points during the commentary, excerpts from an “oral history” interview with Director King Vidor are inserted providing additional insight to the film and reinforcement for Vance’s observations.
1925 Studio Tour (4:3 SD video - Silent - 31:59) is a vintage featurette that offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the massive Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio in Culver City, California circa 1925. It consists of silent footage with subtitles explaining the footage as well as some basic background information on filmmaking. Lots of historically interesting footage of actors and filmmakers of the era as well as the MGM studios and staff. Heck, you even get a glimpse at the people working in the payroll department!
Theatrical Trailer (16:9 SD video windowboxed to 4:3 - Silent - 2:29) is an extended promo that emphasizes the romance, spectacle, and importance of the film as one would expect such promos to do.
Blu-ray Book Packaging. The disc comes in deluxe hardcover book packaging including a 64 page booklet featuring an outstanding extended essay by film historian and restorationist Kevin Brownlow interspersed with vintage production photos and publicity materials. The last fourteen pages reproduce what appears to be a program distributed at road show presentations of the film.
- Mark Walker likes this