King Vidor’s majestic 1925 film The Big Parade is, for the time, probably the most realistic view of the Great War that had ever been committed to celluloid. Instead of focusing on the major decisions of war from the viewpoint of Generals and Captains, this film took an inside look at the effects of war on the GIs, the people who were in the trenches – the ordinary American citizens, who got swept up with the idea of fighting and dying for their country and a brave and glorious thing. With September being Suicide Prevention month and our current on-going wars, it seems fitting to discuss this film.
The Big Parade was groundbreaking for its portrayal of the after effects of war, the main character’s issues and battles with depression after the loss of his leg from fighting in the trenches. The film is an interesting juxtaposition – the first half shows the lives of three young men making their way to France to fight. It is filled with humor, with light and just the hint of romance and flirtation as they find themselves attracting the attention of the French peasant girls they are introduced to. The second half of the film marks a grim change in the proceedings and shows the true horror of trench warfare.
It spares no emotion, but it also provokes a sense of how futile it all was. For the time the film was made, the battle scenes were incredibly realistic and true. We shouldn’t forget that this was made only seven years after the end of the “war to end all wars” and for many, the events would still have been very fresh.