Silent films

Film Review: The Big Parade (1925)

The Big Parade (1925)
directed by King Vidor
Frames in this review are taken from the 2013 Blu-Ray release.
Originally written May 2005 from a viewing of the 1988 VHS release.

There two halves of The Big Parade are so different in tone that they're almost two films. If we were to give them titles, the first half could be called Life in the Army, a nostalgic look at the camaraderie of basic training and garrison duty. The second half could then be called War is Hell, a nightmarish experience of the trench warfare that dominated the First World War on the Western Front. This intentional stylistic dichotomy gives the film the same perspective as the American doughboys had in the Great War. A rapid transition from peace to war, a burst of patriotism, a baptism of fire in intense combat, and then victory just 19 months later.


While All Quiet on the Western Front achieved its impact by soaking up the desperation as it accumulated over four long years, The Big Parade shocks the viewer with its rapid change of tone that quickly drives out any naïveté about war.  We are first treated to an hour of horsing around and chasing French girls, lulling us into a false sense of security.  Then WHAM!  The paradisiacal world comes crashing down, and the protagonist is thrown into the relentless whirlwind of combat.

That so much bitterness can develop from a (comparatively) brief exposure to combat makes a rather different and even more forceful statement on the horrors of war. [...]

Film Review: The Crowd (1928)

The Crowd (1928)
directed by King Vidor
Frames in this review are taken from the VHS tape, produced by Thames Silents and released by MGM/UA in 1988.

Hollywood has the convention that a director with a smash hit gets to write his own ticket for at least one more film.  King Vidor had just come off a massive success with his 1925 anti-war film The Big Parade [link to my review], which would've made him a millionaire had he not sold his share of the profits to MGM.  But as a rewards, he got to make The Crowd with the understanding that he could make it an art film rather than a crowd pleaser. This is exactly what he does, for the film questions the attainability of the American dream at a time when the stock market boom of the Roaring Twenties was still going strong.


Film Review: Woman in the Moon (1929)


Frau im Mond (1929)
(Woman in the Moon)

directed by Fritz Lang


Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond) is one of Fritz Lang’s forgotten films. Never finding the critical acclaim that other Lang pictures did, this film has mostly been relegated to the annals of historical rocketry films, sandwiched between Georges Méliès' whimsical A Trip to the Moon and the post-V2, pre-Sputnik Destination Moonalt, penned by science-fiction great Robert Heinlein. Woman in the Moon is perhaps best-known for having popularized the 3-2-1-liftoff countdown.

[...] The viewer runs through the whole sequence of emotions that accompanied the Apollo moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s: thrill in anticipation of the launch, wonder at weightlessness, and wistfulness as the pioneers watch the earth grow smaller.

Watching Woman in the Moon is likely to send shivers up the spine of the space enthusiast. The science depicted in the film has an impressive pedigree — the technical sections are attributed to Dr. Hermann Oberth, the father of German rocketry and mentor of Dr. Werner von Braun, creator of the V-2 ballistic missile and later head of the Saturn rocket program.


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