The Story (continued)
The Big Parade (1925)
"Dog-tired," the men settle down in the hayloft. Jim opens up a food package sent from home by his girlfriend with a hand-written note - she is foolishly ignorant about the realities of the warfront:
I wish you could be here but the thought that you will soon be leading your men into battle fills me with pride. I suppose the fragrance of beautiful flowers fills the air of your picturesque surroundings. I baked the cake for you myself. Forever, Justyn.
Salivating next to him, Bull expectantly asks: "It's to eat...ain't it?" The gawky, comical-looking Slim and pushy Bull are the only ones still awake and they eagerly anticipate large portions. However, as Jim starts cutting into it, he realizes the cake has turned rock-hard. As he saws into it and eventually splits it into unequal thirds with his bare hands, he passes the broken chunks to his comrades. As they stuff their faces, Bull editorializes: "This ain't such a bad war." Jim collapses, exhausted.
March and sweat the whole damned day;
Sleep at night in lousy hay;
Turn out mornin's full o'dirt,
And scrub the real estate off your shirt!
[Note: The use of the word 'damned' in this title card was one of the earliest uses of the curse word in a US film.] By a country stream, the men do their laundry and sing their newest version of the Army song.
We're in the army now,
And we have all learned how
To wash our shirty
And still have it dirty,
We're in the army now!..
We rub our socks
Till we wear out the rocks,
We're in the army now!...
We drown the fleas
In our Bee Vee Dees,
We're in the army now!
Jim is tricked by his friends into going to the French village to get a barrel (all three pieces of paper in the crooked lottery read "I am it" but Jim doesn't know that), so that he can construct an ingenious shower-bath apparatus back at the stream. After using "his best sign language, convincing the wine-shop keeper that he wanted a barrel and not a fat girl," he clowns around with the wine barrel on his head with the same French girl. He spots her through a small round hole in the side of the barrel, but she doesn't know what he looks like.
The shower scheme works - Jim hauls a barrel full of water to the top of a tree - a totally-naked Slim and Bull stand in the shower stream of water below. When Melisande happens by, Jim warns them that a French girl is watching them and they scurry to cover themselves with blankets. Jim tells his friends: "I AM it!" and takes the opportunity to meet Melisande under an archway. She recognizes him as the barrel clown, identifying him from a loose wrapping on his leg:
Melisande: C'est vous qui m'a fait rire, n'est ce pas?
Jim: I don't understand a word you say...but I know what you mean....Voo...and...me...vooley voo...take...little...petite...walk?
His charm convinces her to willfully follow him to the stream's edge where they sit together:
Jim: French is Greek to me. (He can't resist touching and retouching her arm - although she fends off his persistent advances. He snatches a small frog at the stream's edge.) He...froggie! You...froggie! (He tosses it back when she doesn't get the joke.)
Jim's friends quickly dress and join the pair, displacing him while manhandling her:
Bull: Parley voo Francay...Chevrolet Coupe? (Melisande slaps Bull when he repeatedly grabs her hand in a rough manner. Slim moves Jim over and sits in his place next to the French girl, puts his arm around her, and spits tobacco juice. She fights both of the horny men off.)
Jim (angrily to Slim): You big stiff! You don't handle girls the way you handle rivets!
A bugle call for mealtime signals them to return to the village. Jim joins his pals to rush off, but then hesitates and returns to Melisande. He kisses her on the forehead. Defensively, she slugs him - knocking him flat on his back - but then smiles comically at him, kneels at his side, and kisses his hurt jaw. He points twice to the hurt spot, encouraging her to keep kissing him. They hug and embrace - the beginnings of a sweet romance.
"That evening Jim detailed himself to some more 'skirt duty'." Before their first date, he whistles for her at the farmhouse door. In a marvelous, fully pantomimed, classic sequence - (one of the most famous scenes in silent film) - filmed in a single, uninterrupted take after they sit down on a bench beside her front steps, he introduces her to American chewing gum with a lesson on how to stretch the gum out of one's mouth. To her surprise, she swallows the stick of gum with one large gulp and then politely refuses his offer of a second piece.
Language difficulties are a tremendous barrier but they still try their best to communicate. With broken French, he boldly and awkwardly attempts to tell her of his love, and she reciprocates the attempt in broken English:
Jim: Me...you...tres...much...love. (To rephrase his words, he looks into a French phrase book) Gee...aimy...vowse...boo...coop! (She laughs)
Melisande: Je suis tres contente. (She borrows his word book to assist her translation) I...am...verree...happee! (He spits out his gum, and makes subtle advances for a kiss - she is reticent, but succumbs to rubbing noses and a few short kisses)
Above them, Melisande's mother steps out of the house and looks around for her daughter. They slide and crouch down to avoid being seen, coming into even closer contact with each other. When they are alone again, she suggests: "Reviens a huit heures," and shows him eight fingers. He realizes what she's said and holds up eight fingers in reply: "Eight o'clock...me...returny." She rushes into the house after playfully resisting another kiss. The other men pass the time in the evening by singing and dancing. While Melisande is pumping water outside her home, Bull intimidates her one more time: "Come on, Bon Ami...slip Poppa a little kiss!" She winds up and slaps him across the face and gives him a piece of her mind before disappearing inside the house. Later, Bull congratulates Jim on his better luck: "I got to hand it to you! You're certainly makin' this war a social success!"
Jim shines his shoes and wears his best uniform before his eight o'clock date. "Once a week, at Melisande's home, there was a patriotic gathering to read letters from loved ones at the front." Sitting with her family, Melisande is summoned by his loud whistling tune from outdoors. She guides him in to meet her mother, and he soon feels out of place in the company of her eccentric relatives. Meanwhile, Slim and Bull spy the village's wine cellar, with Slim suggesting: "There's wine in that cellar, pardner! We can't leave Jim to tackle it all alone, can we?...Can you figure any guy settin' in his parlor...when he's got a cellar like this?" Bull replies: "Can you imagine! Some guys was saps enough to join the navy!"
When the pitcher of wine runs empty as she pours a glass for Jim, Melisande bids him to join her to replenish supplies from the cellar. There, led by candlelight, he points out what he wants to say to her from his French primer. She beams a smile back at him and they both share a delicious, long kiss. Nearby, they hear the rowdy drunkenness of his pals. Jim wrestles his friends to prevent them from stealing wine - Melisande helps him by swatting them with the end of a broom. The loud uproar disturbs the family in the upstairs parlor. His friends flee just in the nick of time, and Jim is mistaken as the wine thief and arrested by MPs - he accuses them of thievery: "Oh-h-h! You dirty M.P's!! So you're the birds who go around swiping wine?" With Melisande protesting his innocence, Jim is hauled off. His two friends see his predicament and decide to defend him:
Slim: We got Jim in this trouble...now we gotta get him out, ain't we?
Bull: (To all his men) Get in it, gang! This ain't a private fight!
A massive brawl breaks out - Jim and Melisande extricate themselves and escape. The commander of the MP's whistles for the fighting to cease - one of the MPs explains: "We weren't stealn' wine, sir. We were just doin' our duty." They are dismissed and things settle down. Bull shakes hands with Slim - proud of their successful rescue: "AH! Monsewer Demi Tasse!"
Melisande follows after Jim for a rendezvous - she breaks off a night-blooming flower and crushes it across her bosom to release a sweet fragrance. He drops down from a tree where he has been hiding. Their passion is released in a flood of kisses by the stream's edge.
Eat your chow from tin mess-kits;
Pick your teeth with bay-o-nits;
Shine your shoes on hunks of pork;
And the barber shaves you with a knife and fork!
Mail call brings anticipatory excitement. Thinking that one of his fellow soldiers has taken his letter before he can read it, Bull accidentally boots the back-end of an officer and is sharply reprimanded: "As soon as I've read my mail I'll have your chevrons removed." His mail is ultimately returned - it is entirely written in French:
Paris le 15 Mai 1918
Mon Cher Bull,
Oh, comme la vie d'un etre humain rent de trouver, predicament transformde par le plus ensignment des incidentes! Il'en est de meme pour le sort des nations pour la destinie du monde!
Si vous ne m'aurez pour murmure comme vous le filles "Bonjour Mignonne!!...
Concerned to know what it says, he asks Slim: "Can you readee-voo Francay?" A soldier who knows French reads the entire letter to himself and then congratulates Bull: "My boy, you certainly know your onions!" He pins a 'SHARPSHOOTER' medal above Bull's jacket pocket. There is disappoinment for those without mail. "As far as 'Bull' could figure...'the war was a flop.'" Slim has been given Bull's chevron, and he proudly shows it off on his arm.
Jim's letter is from his sweetheart back home with a picture enclosed - she has remained faithful:
I am beginning to be frightened by the thought that perhaps you have forgotten me. Then I remember how sincere you were and that we are engaged to be married. If only the letters which I know you write would reach me, and tell me that you remember - I am waiting for you.
Jim is torn between his feelings for Justyn and Melisande - hurt, she realizes he has deep love for his girl back home when she points to the picture and then to his heart. Part of his maturing at the front involves choosing between Melisande and his new French girlfriend. Both in their own worlds of pain, Melisande cries by a tree at the stream, and Jim sits on the end of a wagon bent over and perplexed.