King Vidor’s ‘everyman’ WWI war film, the highest grossing film of the silent era, now out in an exceptional restoration sourced from original elements, with a fine new score from Carl Davis. Yet even at its considerable best, admittedly not all of the time, the film has nothing like the impact it once had. Less because its themes, incidents & details have been reused to death (when not being gleaned for things missed); more because Vidor’s filmmaking faults & virtues don’t infringe on each other. In the Vidor canon, the Good, the Great and the Flat work discretely, making his films something of a Stop/Start proposition. Planned as the first effort in a WAR, WHEAT and STEEL trilogy, who but Vidor would name his protagonist in the camaraderie, horror & lessons of all out war James Apperson? (As in ‘A Person.’) A reach in ambition & mock humility worthy of D.W. Griffith; a director whose merits/demerits are hopelessly intertwined. Still, when the ‘good’ is this good, you have to take it as offered. And in about five or six thrilling set pieces that alternate intimacy with large-scale events (like the end of Part One from the Call to The Front to the clinging farewell for lovers John Gilbert & Réné Adorée, both at their very best), the chaff falls away to reveal Vidor, and the silent cinema, at their sweeping visual best.
DOUBLE-BILL: Vidor, Gilbert, Adorée & Karl Dane followed this up by welcoming Lillian Gish to M-G-M in a superb LA BOHÈME/’26. Then, a final Gilbert/Vidor collaboration in the recently rediscovered BARDELEYS THE MAGNIFICENT/’26 - see below.)
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Vidor’s A TREE IS A TREE, one of the least boastful, most charming auto-bios from any Hollywood director.