Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Big Parade (1925)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Parade (1925)

In director King Vidor's silent war-drama epic and romance, a major, high-grossing blockbuster at the time, and influential on future war films such as All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - its screenplay was written by World War I veteran Laurence Stallings who also suffered a leg wound and amputation, similar to the lead character in the film (dashing silent screen idol John Gilbert). It was the first war film of its kind to tell its realistic story from the viewpoint of the GI, when the war (from only 7 years earlier) was still fresh in everyone's mind.

The Big Parade was the first realistic war drama which has served ever since as an archetypal model for all other war films. It was the first big box-office success of the newly-formed MGM Studios - and possibly the most profitable silent film of all time - it helped bring back the popularity of war films in the late 20s. At its time, it was the largest grossing silent film ever - with a combination of humor, romance, suspense, war-time action, and tragedy:

  • in the film's opening, James "Jim" Apperson (John Gilbert) was introduced as the indolent, spoiled son of wealthy factory owner ("chief of industry") and businessman Mr. Apperson (Hobart Bosworth) - regarded a disappointment to his family; he was planning to be married to upper-class fiancee Justyn Reed (Claire Adams)
  • after war was declared, Jim faced a decision about whether he should enlist to fight in World War I; his fiancee was overjoyed: "Aren't you thrilled that we're going to war?...You'll look gorgeous in an officer's uniform! I'll love you more than ever then"; (her wishes were never fulfilled!); a title card described the rise of patriotism in the nation: "What a thing is patriotism! We go for years not knowing we have it. Suddenly - Martial Music!...Native flags!...Friends cheer!...and it becomes life's greatest emotion"
  • Jim's patriotic fervor increased as he attended a recruitment parade, tapping his left foot in rhythm to the marching band - it would be the leg that he would lose during the war effort; idealistic American soldier "Jim" Apperson decided to join his friends who urged him to join and go "over there"
  • Jim's parents were proud to see Jim enlist and enter boot-camp training, where he became friends with two working-class buddies: a tall and lanky Southerner - construction laborer Slim Jensen (Karl Dane) and Bowery bartender Michael "Bull" O'Hara (Tom O'Brien) from the Bronx
Jim's Two Working-Class War Buddies

Michael "Bull" O'Hara (Tom O'Brien)

Slim Jensen (Karl Dane)
  • during the Great War in 1917, the US joined the war effort in Europe; there was a spectacular view of 200 trucks and hundreds of troops moving up to the front in a single-file "big parade" on a dirt road, and another view of soldiers marching together
  • Jim was deployed to the front lines in the Marne area of France; he first sighted French-speaking peasant girl Melisande (Renee Adoree), a farmer's daughter in the village of Champillon; she was highlighted in a circular peep-hole in a barrel on his head; shortly later as some of James' soldier friends bathed in a primitive shower apparatus, she caught his eye watching the naked men - and they introduced themselves to each other with a hand-shake; with cryptic French, he offered her "a little walk" to a nearby tree: ("Voo...and... me...vooley voo...take....little....petite....walk?"); he took her arm and hand and led her as they strolled along
French Peasant Girl Melisande (Renee Adoree): A Growing Romance with GI James Apperson (John Gilbert) - Beginning with a Handshake
  • later, in a marvelous, fully pantomimed, classic scene (filmed in a single, uninterrupted take after they sat down on a bench beside her front steps), James introduced Melisande to American chewing gum (she swallowed it with one large gulp and then politely refused his offer of a second piece); with broken French, he boldly and awkwardly attempted to tell her of his love, and she reciprocated the attempt in broken English, and resisted his advances for a kiss
  • however, during their eight o'clock date that evening, when they both retreated to the wine cellar, in candlelight, he pointed out what he wanted to say to her about his love for her from his French primer; she beamed a smile back at him and they both shared a delicious, long kiss; when they rendezvoused later, their passion was released in a flood of kisses by the stream's edge under a tree
The Classic Farewell Sequence
  • in the film's memorable farewell sequence, Melisande desperately looked for James as his military platoon was departing from her village; when she spotted him, she ran into his arms as he jumped off a truck; they wildly embraced and peppered each other with kisses - framed in close-up; earnestly, he vowed to return to her in the touching scene: "I'm coming back! - Remember - - - I'm coming back!"; as he was dragged into the tail end of a truck, Melisande held on firmly to his left leg - refusing to let go; she desperately hung onto a chain dangling off the vehicle, trying to halt the inevitable and defy both time and fate; when she wouldn't let go, she was dragged alongside the procession until she couldn't hold on any longer
  • James tossed her his wristwatch, his dogtags, and one extra shoe (symbolic of the fact that he would later lose his leg and no longer need the shoe), and then sprayed her with two-handed kisses; she stood and watched the truck disappear - holding his shoe to her bosom; the passing vehicles and clouds of dust enveloped her - and then subsided; in the middle of the road, she sank to her knees with her head bowed
  • there was a harrowing and realistic battle scene of the soldiers' chilling march into enemy machine gun sniper fire at Belleau Wood
US Troops Mowed Down by German Sniper Fire While Marching Through Belleau Wood
  • during trench warfare, the soldiers sought shelter from bombs and tear gas in shell holes, and were forced to wear gas masks
  • Slim was selected for a dangerous night mission to destroy a German cannon; after wriggling on the ground and successfuly blowing up the cannon nest, Slim was ambushed and lethally wounded on his return when his position was illuminated by a flare, and he repeatedly moaned and called out for help; impatient for Slim's return and unable to remain calm, Jim cried out in despair: "Orders! Orders! Who the hell is fighting this war - men or orders? I came to fight, not to wait and rot in a lousy hole while they murder my pal!"; Slim was found dead by his grieving friends
  • slightly later, Bull was also killed and James was seriously wounded in the leg, and then became trapped in a shell hole with the young dying German soldier (Arthur H. Allen) whom he had bayoneted; in a moving moment, Jim offered him a cigarette before he died
  • while in a makeshift infirmary set up near the village of Champillon, Jim escaped on crutches to desperately search for Melisande, but failed in finding her in the evacuated and destroyed village
  • after the war was declared over, Jim returned home as a wounded veteran; in his homecoming scene, he appeared missing a leg; his parents responded with a shocked reaction (especially his mother who recalled him as a healthy baby boy with two legs); as a grown-man now changed by the war, he found it difficult to readjust and return to his old life with his brother Harry and his ex-fiancee Justyn
  • in the film's finale, amputee Jim returned to Europe at war's end for a long-overdue reunion in France with Melisande; she was viewed tearfully chewing gum and thinking of him as she took a break from plowing a field next to her mother; she noticed a man hobbling along a distant ridge toward her; she left her plow and raced forward, stopped, and suddenly with a flow of emotion realized who it was; she ran down a dirt embankment, across and field, and toward a long road, to greet Jim; he picked up his pace, while struggling to walk with a cane and wooden leg, while calling out: "MELISANDE!"; she waved and shouted back: "JIMMEE!"; they joyously embraced and kissed each other to end the film

"Jim" With His Encouraging Fiancee Justyn Reed (Claire Adams)

Jim's Patriotism - Symbolized by Tappling His Left Foot During a Recruitment Parade - The Leg He Would Lose in the War

American GIs Trudging on Foot to the War Front in Europe During WWI

James "Jim" Apperson (John Gilbert) at the War Front

Jim's Chewing Gum Lesson and Kiss for French-Speaking Melisande

US Homecoming: James' Injury (Missing Leg)

Tearful Melisande in a French Field

Melisande Pointing Out to Her Mother A Man Limping Along a Distant Ridge

Melisande Running Toward the Man - And Suddenly Realizing Who It Was



Their Long-Awaited Reunion in France


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