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    The Big Parade Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Warner

    Oct 10 2013 07:52 PM | Ken_McAlinden in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Making its Blu-ray debut, Warner presents The Big Parade, one of the most important and successful films in the history of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. Discounting the partial-talkie The Jazz Singer, this is the first film of the silent era released by Warner Bros. on Blu-ray disc. While they could not have chosen a better place to start, one can only hope that it is a harbinger of more to come.

    Title Info:

    • 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: 4.5/5

    Directed 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
    Youtube embed:

    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: 4.5/5

    The 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: 3.5/5

    Commentary 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.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5

    Warner does right by one of the jewels in their classic MGM library crown with The Big Parade on Blu-ray disc. It is presented in a remarkably pristine yet film-like high definition transfer with a wonderfully effective orchestral score from Carl Davis in lossless 2.0 stereo. Special features are modest in number, but high in quality.

    Reviewed by: Ken_McAlinden
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    • Mark Walker likes this


    12 Comments

    Photo
    Mike Frezon
    Oct 11 2013 09:22 AM

    This title is intriguing me, Ken.  Thanks for the review.  I haven't been exposed to a LOT of silent films. 

     

    I recently enjoyed Criterion's Safety Last! and have also the blus of Wings and The Jazz Singer.  I find them fascinating and, for the most part, quite entertaining.

     

    Heck, that 1925 Tour of MGM Studios sounds like it would be worth the price of the purchase! 

    I'm hoping one day all of King Vidor's movies make it to BD.

     

    Almost every movie is an epic compared to the later re-makes and "inspired by"...

    Maybe this can be next...

     

    http://www.amazon.co...words=La Boheme

     

    Maybe not the definitive...but the end scene is still the mark all other versions are compared to.

    I enjoyed a King Vidor retrospective at MoMA many, many decades ago. He is indeed a great director. Wild Oranges is impresssive, and I agree about La boheme. The Crowd is one of the greatest films ever made, etc. But he did make, like Ford, Griffith and all the other masters, a few clunkers.

    What about a blu of Northwest Passage? Even his studio-ruined An American Romance would look great.

    He came to the museum to introduce one of his films (I forget which one), in the company of his then current lady friend, Colleen Moore, and was most charming and bright. Great man and artist!

    Photo
    moviebuff75
    Oct 11 2013 11:23 AM

    Did the original theatrical version contain an intermission with intermission music?

    I was also very impressed with this film.  Very highly recommended

     

    Speaking of What Price Glory?...What's it going to take to get Fox to release that one out to the public?

    I was also very impressed with this film.  Very highly recommended

     

    Speaking of What Price Glory?...What's it going to take to get Fox to release that one out to the public?

     

    WPG....has it ever been released on anything?

    Not to my knowledge. WPG is a great film. Del Rio looks lovely; the camaraderie between McLaglen and Lowe is great fun; the direction by Walsh is top notch; the balance between the comedic sections and the horrific aspects of war is well maintained; and it is a better film than the Ford remake.

    The sequel, The Cock-eyed World, plays better in its silent, more fluid version. The talkie version is leaden and quite deadly.

    Just got a chance to watch the new Blu-ray and fell in love with the movie all over again. All of my previous viewings had been of a well-worn VHS copy, so I was shocked by how sharp and "new" the image looked. The score was wonderful too.

     

    I haven't had a chance to look at the extras yet, but this is a lovely package of a great film. Like everybody else, I really hope that this sells well and that Warner is motivated to give the same treatment to some of their other "major" silents like The Wind and The Crowd. (The latter has been number one on my "DVD/BD wishlist" for a LONG time.)

      • bujaki likes this

    Just watched Torrid Zone (14-carat Oomph you got...) and the "ad" for The Big Parade is quite good. Like the rest of the "available here" ads.

     

    TCM is on a roll.

    This is an outstanding transfer. I have watched it twice, the last time I followed it with Wings. Perhaps I need to watch it again doubled feature ALL QUITE ON THE WESTERN FRONT.

    I saw Torrid Zone in 1973 at MoMA, a WB original nitrate 35mm archive print. In sepia tone, no less. What a pleasant surprise that was for the audience, who had no idea that the film had been released in sepia tone. It did add a je-ne-sais-quoi to the film...

    Why, oh why, when these films are released to home video, are they not released with the original tints?