King Vidor’s 1925 silent film war drama “The Big Parade” is a great work of the silent screen for several reasons. First, the film was groundbreaking for not glorifying the war or its human costs, exemplified by the lead character's loss of a leg from battle wounds. It heavily influenced all subsequent war films, especially “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). Second, it had a great cast with the co-stars of John Gilbert (James Appeson) and Renee Adoree, (Melisande); both actors would be teamed up again in the excellent 1927 silent movie “The Show.”
“The Big Parade” proved to be one of the greatest hits of the 1920s, boosting Gilbert's career, and making Adorée a major star. Gilbert’s acting career was on a meteoric rise, right behind Rudolph Valentino in popularity with the ladies. However, John Gilbert in real life had a torrid affair with Greta Garbo and was left at the alter which devastated John and his career went down hill and Louis B. Mayer of MGM made sure his career was over. Tragically, Renée Adorée would soon be diagnosed with tuberculosis and die only a few years later. The film is the highest grossing silent film in cinema history, grossing $18–$22 million. In some larger cities this film was shown for a year or more continuously. After the film's producers found a clause in Vidor's contract, entitling the director to 20% of the net profits, studio lawyers called for a meeting with him. At this meeting, accountants played up the costs of the picture while downgrading their forecast of its potential success. King Vidor was thus persuaded to sell his stake in the film before receiving his percentage. However, the film's tremendous success did establish Vidor as one of MGM's top directors for the rest of his career.
It tells the story of an idle son of a rich businessman who joins the US Army's Rainbow Division and is sent to France to fight in World War I, becomes friends with two working class soldiers, experiences the horrors of trench warfare, and falls in love with a Frenchwoman, but has to leave her to move to the frontline.
One of the great lines in the movie by John Gilbert: “Waiting! Orders! Mud! Blood! Stinking stiffs! What the hell do we get out of this war anyway!”
The film was re-issued in 1931 with a sound-track consisting of William Axt's score. Composer Carl Davis created a new orchestral score for the film in the 1980s (quoting the theme associated with Melisande in Axt's original setting), and it was restored and released on video in the late 1980s as part of the MGM and British television Thames Silents project.