The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938: Art Amidst the Ashes 3030606708, 9783030606701

This book recounts the reception of selected films about the Great War released between 1918 and 1938 in the USA and Gre

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The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938: Art Amidst the Ashes
 3030606708, 9783030606701

Table of contents :
Acknowledgements
Introduction
Contents
1 Bandaged Wounds
The Paradox of War Fatigue—“NOT in Any Sense a War Film”
The Heart of Humanity
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
2 The War as It Was
Laurence Stallings
The Big Parade
Response in Great Britain
What Price Glory
3 The Dark Adventure of the Air War
The Air War in Hollywood
Wings
4 James Whale: “A Britisher Who Thinks, Cinematically, Like an American”
Journey’s End: The Play
Hell’s Angels
Journey’s End: The Film
Waterloo Bridge
5 The Black Void
6 Apocalyptic Futurism
Men Must Fight
Things to Come
7 The Universal Fraternity
Dark Journey
The Road Back
Three Comrades
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

PALGRAVE STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE MEDIA

The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938 Art Amidst the Ashes

Ryan Copping

Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media

Series Editors Bill Bell Cardiff University Cardiff, UK Chandrika Kaul University of St Andrews Fife, UK Alexander S. Wilkinson University College Dublin Dublin, Ireland

Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media publishes original, high quality research into the cultures of communication from the middle ages to the present day. The series explores the variety of subjects and disciplinary approaches that characterize this vibrant field of enquiry. The series will help shape current interpretations not only of the media, in all its forms, but also of the powerful relationship between the media and politics, society, and the economy. Advisory Board Professor Peter Burke (Emmanuel College, Cambridge) Professor Nicholas Cull (University of Southern California) Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley (Macquarie University) Professor Monica Juneja (Heidelberg University) Professor Tom O’Malley (Aberystwyth University).

More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14578

Ryan Copping

The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938 Art Amidst the Ashes

Ryan Copping Department of Visual and Media Arts Grand Valley State University Grand Rapids, MI, USA

ISSN 2634-6575 ISSN 2634-6583 (electronic) Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media ISBN 978-3-030-60670-1 ISBN 978-3-030-60671-8 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

To Michael Williams, Michael Hammond and Lucy Mazdon – Three Comrades

Acknowledgements

Virtually every acknowledgements page indicates that too many people to count assisted the author. I can certainly express that this is true in the case of this book. Among those who I would like to single out for attention are Julianne Day and Lucinda Meade for their assistance and feedback on the manuscript. As this project had its origins in my Ph.D. thesis, I want to thank my supervisors, Michael Williams and Michael Hammond, as well as my mentor, Lucy Mazdon. Many provided encouragement at various times during this project, but I would specifically like to thank Helen Lang. Many librarians and archivists provided invaluable help, but I would specifically like to thank Edward Comstock at the University of Southern California for his assistance in providing the production reports for The Road Back.

vii

Introduction

This book is a history of the First World War as it was portrayed in American and British cinema, how audiences responded to these films, and how these responses shaped what subsequent movies were produced. The Great War (which is how I refer to the conflict, as that is how it was generally known at the time in both countries) was a shared cultural experience virtually everyone at the time would have been affected by. Consequently, it was of exceptional importance to both film industries. Comparative studies of film cultures tend to focus on differences in both content and reception. This book, with one major exception (that of King Vidor’s TheBig Parade, 1925) argues that in fact that reception was substantially similar in both countries. In terms of content, these movies largely dealt with the same themes, albeit interpreted through a different cultural lens. Even Parade, however, which was highly controversial in Britain for its perceived slight on the UK contribution to the war, was popular and financially successful, a movie that audiences went to see regardless of its believed nationalistic shortcomings. Despite the many obvious and clear differences in the cultures and war experiences of these two countries, both national cinemas perceived the war in ways that were far more alike than dissimilar. There are also many times in this study when the perceived differences between the United States and the United Kingdom become muddled, or the international character inherent in the conflict result in movies that one might not expect. Two directors discussed, Irishman Rex Ingram

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INTRODUCTION

and Englishman James Whale, made war films in America, but with no American characters. Three of the discussed films, based on novels by Erich Maria Remarque, concern themselves almost soley with German characters. It is important to note that in this study I am concerned with the war as a cinematic subject as opposed to a genre. Some of the movies discussed (All Quiet on the Western Front, Lewis Milestone, 1930, Journey’s End, Whale, also 1930) clearly fit the standard generic criteria for a war film (soldiers in battle and its psychological effects) but others, such as Men Must Fight (Edgar Selwyn, 1933) and Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1935), would be better categorized in other genres, in these cases science fiction. My principle interest is in how cinema of the time reacted to the war and contributed to its memory, not the development of a specific genre of cinema. All studies of the Great War in any cultural context must begin with Paul Fussell’s The Great War in Modern Memory (1975). Specific studies of The Great War in cinema began with Michael Isenberg’s War on Film: The First World War and American Cinema, 1914–1941 (1981). Andrew Kelly’s Cinema and the Great War (1997) provides an overview and on many canonical Great War films with an emphasis on their antiwar content. More recently, Mark Connelly’s book Celluloid War Memorials: The British Instructional Films Company and the Memory of the Great War (2016) has proved an invaluable resources on the British cinema’s troubled relationship with the American film industry that provides the backdrop for my section on The Big Parade. Two books, Leslie Midkiff DeBauche’s Reel Patriotism: The Movies and World War I (1997) and Michael Hammond’s The Big Show: British Cinema Culture in the Great War 1914–1918 (2006) were invaluable resources in expanding upon cinematic culture during the Great War in America and Britain, respectively. This book is organized both thematically and (mostly) chronologically, with each chapter concerning itself with movies that are emblematic of the time period in which they were produced, and of important figures in war cinema at the time (Whale, Remarque, Laurence Stallings). There are of course, many films worthy of discussion that have been left out due to constraints of space. With each movie, I begin by recounting a production history, move on to an analysis of the war-related content and end with an discussion of its reception from contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts. For these sections, I use Historical Reception Studies,

INTRODUCTION

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a discipline developed by Barbara Klinger and Janet Steiger. Following Steiger’s example, I study the reaction of audiences to these films as a historical event. As she writes in her book Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (1992) “First of all, reception studies has as its object researching the history of the interactions between real readers and texts, actual spectators and films…As a history, and not philosophy, reception studies is interested in what has actually occurred in the material world. Reception studies might speculate about what did not happen, and why that was; in fact, part of the project is to explain the appearance and disappearance of various forms of interaction. But, overall, reception studies does not attempt to construct a generalized, systematic explanation of how individuals might have comprehended texts, and possibly someday will, but rather how they actually have understood them.”1 I am interested in how the audience and the UK and US film industries may have reacted to these films at the time through the vantage point of contemporary cinematic cultures and news, not how these films may appear to audiences, either general or academic, now. Aside from the films themselves, my primary sources are contemporary industrial publications, newspapers and fan magazines. I have particularly found letters to the editor, often from individual veterans, helpful as cultural documents. Chapter 1 concerns itself with the immediate aftermath of the war and “war fatigue”—the belief from studios that audiences disliked movies about the conflict and that they would not be profitable. Chapter 2 concerns itself with the two Great War films inspired by the writings of a Great War Veteran, Laurence Stallings. Chapter 3 describes “The Dark Adventure”—a term I use to describe an adventure story that has deeper elements related to the psychological trauma of the war. Chapter 4 concerns itself with the most famous Great War film, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Chapter 5 describes three war films by the British director James Whale. Chapter 6 covers two science fiction films made in the mid-30s that incorporated fears of the Second World War. Chapter 7 describes what I term “The Universal Brotherhood”—late 30s films that deemphasized politics in exchange for a oneness of humanity.

1 Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 8.

Contents

1

Bandaged Wounds

1

2

The War as It Was

31

3

The Dark Adventure of the Air War

63

4

James Whale: “A Britisher Who Thinks, Cinematically, Like an American”

87

5

The Black Void

115

6

Apocalyptic Futurism

131

7

The Universal Fraternity

153

Bibliography

179

Index

193

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CHAPTER 1

Bandaged Wounds

The Paradox of War Fatigue---“NOT in Any Sense a War Film” On September 29th, 1919, the Park Hall Cinema in Cardiff, Wales, ran a brief advertisement in the Western Mail for Inside the Lines , an American import. The ad, only a few sentences long, read in its entirety, with the original capitalization: “Stupendous Attraction! ‘Inside the Lines’ is a film version of the famous Play which ran at the Apollo for more than 12 months. It should be distinctly understood that this is NOT in any sense a War Film, but a great Spy Play which grips with an intensity seldom seen. The Grand Organ will be used Twice Daily in conjunction with Garforth Hobitmer’s Orchestra.”1 The 1918 version of the film, directed by David Hartford, is not in circulation and possibly lost. However, we know the movie, a filmed version of a popular play by Earl Derr Biggers, involved a German spy plot to destroy the British fleet during the war. Since the entire plot of the film is motivated by war concerns, what are we to make of the claim that it is “NOT in any sense a War Film”? Even a casual reading of cinema-related documents in both the United States and Britain from the period after the November 1918 Armistice indicates that a perception existed among both commentators (what we 1 “Park Hall Cinema,” Western Mail, Sept. 29, 1919.

© The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_1

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would now call “critics,” although their function at the time was slightly different) and producers of films that the public had tired of war movies. Yet there is ample evidence that the war as a cinematic subject was at least sporadically popular during this era. A pattern emerges in the published reception of war films in both countries in the conflicts’ aftermath: war films are not popular, audiences are tired of them, nor are they particularly good, but this specific war movie is exceptional and worth seeing. Given the degree to which cinema-goers at the home front were satiated with war-related news (returning soldiers, developments at Versailles, the transition to a peacetime economy), it would be nearly impossible for individuals in both countries to not be interested in the war on some, or probably multiple, levels. As Leslie Midkiff Debauche states in her book Reel Patriotism: The Movies and World War One: “…the war was never a taboo subject for film narratives- as it was never taboo for published fiction and nonfictionnor was it absent from newspaper headlines.”2 In a related article, she also reports that many apparent non-war genres, including the Western, had the First World War elements inserted into them during this period.3 At least two songs, “Till We Meet Again” and “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em on the Farm?” (both hits in 1919) dealt with leaving or returning soldiers. The paradox of war movies generally being seen as not popular, while elements of successful films were clearly motivated by and were concerned with the conflict, can be explained in how the term was defined at the time. I want to argue that “war film” had a colloquial meaning to audiences of the time as a specific kind of genre—though not the genre of a “war film” as most filmgoers and scholars tend to think of today. To audiences in the immediate post-war period, a “war film” was not a movie that concerned itself with battle and its associated victories and traumas, nor films in other genres that treated the war as cinematic subject, but as a kind of propaganda film produced, or at least tacitly endorsed, by a government. This kind of “war film” was implausible and lacked both realism and verisimilitude. In many ways, these “war films” for the next twenty years would be what successful Great War movies would be a 2 Leslie Midkiff-Debauche, Reel Patriotism: The Movies and World War One (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 166. 3 Leslie Midkiff-Debauche, “The United States’ Film Industry and World War One,” ed. Michael Paris (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 153.

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response to—a sanitized, propagandistic kind of view of the war and the experience of fighting it or even living through it on the home front. One of the defining traits of the “war film” was its genericness. The “war film” is an amalgamation of all propaganda—didactic, hackneyed, and untruthful, even if one supported the side the movie endorsed. In much of the reception of post-war cinema, films that are praised are not compared to a specific movie but an entire type. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the “war film” was its forgettableness—it blended together with all the others, creating a kind of conglomerate media image of the war in the minds and hearts of viewers, one that was simplistic and empty of relevance. This kind of ur-“war film” was not made by any one person, or even organization. It was perceived as what the elites who were responsible for the war wanted those regular people who fought and were otherwise affected by it wanted people to think, with whoever those elites were itself a nebulous and unclear construct. As Richard Koszarski states in his An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–1928: “Even in the crudest terms, estimates of the number of paid admissions [to American movie theatres] are not reliable before 1922.” He goes on to argue that the state of film distribution in the era compounds the problem. For many years, no distribution records were kept, and when they were, they do not take into account several important factors, such regional disparities or commissions paid for selling films in theatres not owned by the studio.4 Therefore, while it is obvious that such films as D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East (1920) were very popular, it is difficult to quantify how popular they were or with what demographic groups. The perceived lack of major First World War box-office hits in the two years immediately after the war may also be explained by other reasons. For America, technically, the war was not over. Although it is traditionally remembered that the war ended on November 11th, 1918, this is actually the date of the Armistice or cessation of fighting. The formal end of the conflict was brought by the Treaty of Versailles, signed by most of the combatants, including the UK, on June 28th, 1919. The United States, a signatory that eventually did not ratify the treaty, officially ended hostilities with separate accords with Germany, Austria and Hungary in

4 Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–1928 (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1990), 33.

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1921. The negotiation period coincided with worldwide political instability (such as the rise of fascism in Italy) that might have caused film producers to avoid criticism of foreign governments and thus, foreign audiences. The influenza pandemic of 1918 occurred just as the war was ending. The most devastating disease outbreak in human history, it caused many public buildings and thus, movie theatres and cinemas, to be closed. This meant that films, which at the time did not “open-wide” but slowly trickled out to the public throughout the country, were delayed even more. Thus, a propaganda film which may have been perceived to fit audience demand in August of 1918 might seem to be very behind the times in February 1919, even if there was still a market for films that dealt in some way with the war. The news itself was moving so fast, and the concepts dealt with so political and abstract, that film-makers and studios may have found it difficult to keep up. However, even given these factors, it is definitely not true to say that either British or American film industries ignored the conflict. Many war-related features were in production during this period, by such respected directors as D.W. Griffith (The Girl Who Stayed at Home, 1919). It cannot be said that Hollywood had a boycott on films of the First World War. Midkiff-Debauche cites 54 films about the First World War released in 1919 alone, though many were in production at the end of the conflict.5 The Heart of Humanity The Heart of Humanity, a now rarely screened Universal film from director and co-writer Allen Holubar, is a clear example of a war film that was popular in this period. Produced during the war, the movie’s release is often inaccurately given as 1919, but a New York Times review indicates the film premiered on December 22nd of the previous year.6 The movie was one of Universal’s “Jewels,” more prestigious films that provided a small respite from the studio’s usual programmer fare. The picture certainly has an epic scope. Opening in rural French Canada, it follows the exploits of American Nanette (Dorothy Phillips), a compassionate woman who becomes

5 Leslie Midkiff-Debauche, Reel Patriotism: The Movies and World War One (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 165. 6 “The Screen,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 1918.

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a nurse in France. In the same Canadian village reside the five sons of the Widow Patricia (Margret Mann), the oldest of which, John (William Stowell), is Nanette’s husband. All five sons enlist. Before the war breaks out, she is menaced by visiting German Eric von Eberhard (Erich von Stroheim). A typical indication of the picture’s attitude towards Germans occurs when von Eberhard meets Nanette while she prays in a forest grotto. The German states: “What a beautiful picture you make-you almost convert me to your weakness.” The innocent replies: “Weakness? My religion is my strength.” The German argues: “Strength needs no religion- it is a religion unto itself. Might is right. There is no place for weakness in the world.” To visually emphasize the point, Holubar cuts to a visual metaphor of a large spider crawling towards a statue of the Virgin Mary. Later, action then moves to France, where Nanette is running a war orphanage and the brothers, serving in various branches of the military, are killed one by one, save for John. Every time a son of the Widow is killed, Holubar cuts to the Widow reacting, implying a telepathic or spiritual link between mother and children. The theme of motherhood continues throughout the portrayal of Nanette as a nurse. During a battle, von Eberhard breaks in and attempts to rape Nanette, who resists. He becomes so angry that he throws a child out of the window, killing the baby. Nanette briefly becomes psychotic and cuddles a doll as if it is the real child. Saved by John, Nanette is given an award and shipped back to Canada, where she is eventually reunited with John at the end of the war. She encourages every mother in the village who lost a son to adopt one of the war orphans, which they do. The movie closes with a message of hope for the League of Nations and a patriotic montage of the Canadian, American and British armies. Though virtually no production histories are available for the movie, it is likely that the ending, in which John returns and there is a salute to the League of Nations, was added after the Armistice to make the movie topical. The closing sequences are stylistically and tonally different from the rest of the movie, which is essentially a work of wartime propaganda. Given some of the unusual editorial choices at the end, such as a scene where the Widow imagines her dead children are at dinner with her as the family is reunited, it seems likely that John was also intended to die and but that his death scene was cut in post-production. New scenes were then likely added, indicating his survival at Christmas, after the Armistice.

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There is obvious American flag waving (a bit incongruous considering that most of the characters are Canadian), and the movie clearly presents the idea that Americans are going to save the other Allies, such as in the scene in which the US army comes to the rescue of the French city at the last moment. German characters are portrayed as extremely militaristic, violently barbaric and sexually degenerate contrasted with the theme, expressed in intertitles that the Allies are fighting for democracy. Much of the movie’s discourse on the war centres on evil, sacrifice and the chaos of war. The movie does not try to argue that war is an adventure or a pleasurable experience; rather, it argues that immense sacrifices must be made in order to stop the threat of an evil culture and society (Germany) from taking over the world. The film reinforces the idea that the sacrifice of four out of the five sons, though tragic, was necessary at the time to stop the forces of darkness from killing the innocent. The movie is also very violent, featuring a number of battle scenes as well as the murder of the baby and sexual assault. At the December 18th, 1918, New York premiere, a reporter indicated the reaction of the invited audience: “Their interest was held from the first scene to the last, and more than a few times they burst into applause much too enthusiastic to be discounted as perfunctory or polite. They liked the picture. There was no doubt about that.”7 When the film played in Detroit in April of the following year, The Detroit Free Press reported that the film “…has so appealed to Detroiters as reflected by the attendance records, that the picture is to be retained for a second week, commencing Sunday noon.”8 In an era when movies generally only played in cinemas for a single week, this was an indication of strong public interest. A later story in the same newspaper indicates that attendance for the film was increasing rather than decreasing.9 The film was popular enough that it caused a controversy in Canada. Another Free Press story indicated that Toronto audiences objected to its depiction of heroic Americans enlisting in the Canadian army, frequent use of the American flag and a focus on Quebecois characters. The controversy is good evidence for its popularity, as it seems unlikely a flop would cause protests.10

7 “The Screen,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 1918. 8 “The Reel Players,” Detroit Free Press, Apr. 3, 1919. 9 “The Reel Players,” Detroit Free Press, Apr. 7, 1919. 10 “Canadians Resent Movie of U.S. Flag,” Detroit Free Press, Feb. 16, 1919.

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Reviews of the picture were also strong. One reporter stated that the movie had the reputation of “the greatest picture of its kind that has been made in recent years.”11 The Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, advised its readers: “Don’t miss seeing this wonderful little thriller.”12 A notice in the Chicago Daily Tribune is worth special attention. Dated February 10th, 1919, the review is titled “A War Picture, Yes! But You Must Not Miss Seeing It!” The critic, writing under the paper’s standard pseudonym of Mae Tinee, goes on to state “First, last, and all times a war picture, had it been produced [it was, she probably means released] before the signing of the armistice it would have created an immense stir. But even now - when most of us are sick and tired of war pictures- it grips you and compels respect. Allen Holubar has certainly reason to be proud of his endeavours.” After praising many elements of the film and describing the plot, Tinee concludes, “I’m tired of war pictures, too. But I do think The Heart of Humanity should be seen by all lovers of good film.”13 The implications of such a review are intriguing. Tinee clearly believes the public is tired of seeing war films. She mentions this fact three times in a medium-length review, including in the title. The language that she uses is so casual it seems to indicate that the belief in war fatigue from audiences was not controversial. Yet, as discussed above, audiences did not need much encouragement to see and apparently enjoy the movie. A letter to the editor of The Atlanta Constitution signed by “A Movie Fan” described his family’s reaction to the picture: “I want to say that it is the best picture I have ever seen. Its heart interest is compelling and its war scenes stupendous. My wife, my daughter and I went to see the picture Tuesday night and after we had returned home sat up until 2 o’clock in the morning discussing its gripping scenes.”14 Another article tried to explain the appeal of the film, describing it as “an unbounded success, crowded houses have been the rule and on many days the house has been completely sold out in advance of the starting time.” The writer describes:

11 “Broadway-Strand Gets ‘The Heart of Humanity’,” Detroit Free Press, Feb. 25, 1919. 12 “‘Heart of Humanity’,” Chicago Defender, Apr. 19, 1919. 13 Mae Tinee, “A War Picture, Yes! But You Must Not Miss Seeing it!” Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 10, 1919. 14 “Movie Fans Are Enthusiastic Over ‘The Heart of Humanity’,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 20, 1919.

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And the suffering, the heartache of the women of the world was increased a thousandfold. The women themselves did not realize the process of change within them; they felt only a great fear and a glorious renunciation. Back of all this feeling, this fearing, the “mother-heart” of all woman-kind was slowly asserting itself, forcing them as it did Dorothy Phillips’ Nanette in Allen Holubar’s latest picture, to leave their children, their mothers, their sisters and their small brothers that they might minister to the sterner sex that fought for an exalted cause.15

Although the presumably male writer is clearly idealizing women and femininity, his analysis of the film is insightful. Unlike most of the other films discussed in this book, most of the portrayal of suffering in The Heart of Humanity is that of civilians—women and children. Even when the Patricia brothers begin to die, the emphasis is more on the suffering of their mother than on their own loss or torment. Thus, The Heart of Humanity uses gender as a means of justifying the war—men must fight in the conflict to protect the pure and innocent from the cruel and barbarous. This was a very common trope of war propaganda and helps to place the film as intended (during production) pro-war propaganda picture. Another Constitution story tied the film to peace negotiations, stating: …the movie at this particular moment of the peace negotiations makes those who see it realize that we must not forget too soon what has been done to the world-what the world all innocent has been made to suffer. / This movie makes us see again the atrocities to which women and children and helpless people have been subjected, and emphasizes the reparation that must be done. / Despite all that has happened, we must see, and see clearly, that there is not yet even an expression of contrition from the offenders.16

Clearly, although designed as a wartime propaganda film barely disguised by its hastily altered ending, the movie had relevance to post-war audiences.

15 “‘The Heart of Humanity’ Held Over at the Tudor,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 23, 1919. 16 Isma Dooly, “The ‘Heart of Humanity’ and the Peace Problems,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 14, 1919.

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The film was not released in the UK until much later, although there are indications that it was popular there as well.17 Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, was reported as having “declared [the film] should be seen by every man, woman and child in the country.”18 Another salient article was published under a nameless New York Times byline on April 4th the following year. As it is a clear example of contemporary cultural analysis, it is worth quoting at length: The public has had enough of war pictures for the time being, but no one imagines that the outstanding event of centuries will be ignored by the screen in the future. Without a doubt, there will be war pictures for many years to come, in which the war will be the background for fiction and the centre of historical narrative…While the war was in progress, everything said it about it was necessarily, or inevitably, propaganda, a means of victory, or a commercial appeal to the mood of the public. Now, however, things have changed. There is an altered situation the world over, and when producers turn again to the subject of the war they will do well to understand the new conditions and make their pictures to meet them.19

The writer then goes onto excerpt a London Times review of a series of short war documentaries called The World’s Greatest Story, whose also unnamed writer (a veteran himself) complains that producers are failing to understand that their target audience has shifted: At this private view probably three-quarters of us had been on active service, and incidentally had obtained the active service point of view. It will be understood, therefore, why loud laughter was caused by such fragments of letterpress as “Tommy is always well fed,” and “Tommy does not mind how he gets to the firing line, so long as he gets them quickly,” or words to that effect.

The writer then complains the film is so inaccurate that it makes the Germans look ridiculously stupid. The critic continues: This kind of thing may appeal to a certain type of armchair critic who was unfortunately prevented from going on active service, but it is extremely 17 “Pavilion.” Motherwell Times, July 29, 1921. 18 “Pavilion,” Motherwell Times, July 22, 1921. 19 “Written on the Screen,” New York Times, 4 Apr. 1920.

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repellent to those of us who have taken an actual part in the conduct of the war, and moreover, it is certainly not cricket. Altogether the film was a disappointing and unworthy representation of a great war and that was won in a great way.20

These articles provide several important implications. Written a year apart, they both indicate that there was at least a perception that audiences were tiring of war films made during the period. They also seem to give evidence for the perceived idea that the Hollywood and London film industries were not responding to the changing demands of the filmgoers, particularly veterans. Like Tinee, the nameless New York Times writer does not provide evidence to prove his or her assertion that audiences were tired of war movies. Rather, it is merely assumed to be true. Richard Koszarski states in his An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–1928: “Even in the crudest terms, estimates of the number of paid admissions [to American movie theatres] are not reliable before 1922.” He goes on to argue that the state of film distribution in the era compounds the problem. For many years, no distribution records were kept, and when they were, they do not take into account several important factors, such regional disparities or commissions paid for selling films in theatres not owned by the studio.21 Therefore, while it is obvious that such films as D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East (1920) were very popular, it is difficult to quantify how popular they were or with what demographic groups. As box-office records from this period are not available or accurate, the question of the economic impact from existence of war fatigue in cinema audiences will probably never be definitively answered. It is likely that the truth is more complex, with some demographics wanting material and others tiring of it (or never wanting it to begin with). However, even setting aside the delay in nationwide exhibition in cinema made during the war, the question remains—why would Hollywood produce so many films about a topic the public was supposedly tired of? One possible explanation may come in a New York Times review of an August 1919 re-release of D.W. Griffith’s Hearts of the World. The critic describes: “Although 20 “The World’s Greatest Story,” London Times, quoted in “Witten on the Screen,” New York Times, 4 Apr. 1920. 21 Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–1928 (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1990), 33.

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announced as a ‘peace edition,’ the picture is practically unchanged, except in some the subtitles and by the addition of several scenes at the end.” He or she again then discusses the difference in the post-war audience: “People have not forgotten the war, but its issues are no longer boiling within them, and this has not been shown more strikingly than in the reception of the picture last night. The spectators applauded its spectacles regardless of their military meaning, they laughed more freely and easily at its spontaneous comedy, they were held by the story and the people of the story, rather than by the war in the film. ‘Hearts of the World’ had not changed, but they had.”22 In other words, audiences were not necessarily interested in the political environment of the war, but they were entertained by war drama for spectacle, and presumably, action and excitement. Many war films aside from The Heart of Humanity received positive notices during this period. Intriguingly, just two months after her rave of The Heart of Humanity, Tinee gave another extremely positive notice to The Unpardonable Sin (1919). Now apparently lost, the movie, directed by Marshall Neilan, depicts the experiences of three women in Belgium, and according to Tinee’s plot synopsis, involves Germans as sexual predators.23 Like The Heart of Humanity, the movie was also a huge hit, breaking attendance records in Detroit.24 The New York Times critic, however, argued that “Whatever may be the propriety of stirring up the memory of German atrocities in Belgium, certainly a photoplay without the character of greatness, presented for public entertainment after the war is over, is not the proper medium.”25 The memories were apparently too fresh, and the portrayal of suffering apparently too painful, unless the work was of sufficiently high artistic quality to merit it. Three months later, in July, Tinee again gave a positive review to George Fitzmaurice’s The Profiteers, what she calls an “after-the-war drama.”26 Her use of the phrase “after-the-war” implies that there were many

22 “The Screen,” New York Times, Aug. 12, 1919. 23 Mae Tinee, “Blanche Sweet ‘Comes Back’ in Great Picture,” Chicago Daily Tribune,

Apr. 21, 1919. 24 “‘The Unpardonable Sin’ Attracts Huge Crowds,” Detroit Free Press, Mar. 5, 1919. 25 “The Screen,” New York Times, May 3, 1919. 26 Mae Tinee, “Showing Miss Ward Expertly Emotionalizing,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 7, 1919.

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similar films at the time, and that this was a context the public would be familiar with. Although many war pictures performed well with audiences during 1919, at least some of them also did in 1920. Civilian Clothes, another possibly lost film directed by Hugh Ford about the struggles of a returning soldier, was released to moderately positive reviews in August of that year, although no sources cite whether it was successful with the public or not.27 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Most people from any Allied country would have agreed that the war was filled with privation and tragedy as demonstrated by The Heart of Humanity, but The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a huge hit for Metro in 1921, would build on the arguments made in many Allied propaganda films. Directed by Rex Ingram with heavy artistic input from producer and screenwriter June Mathis, it would attempt to, among other things, explain the war from a moral standpoint and place it into a historical perspective from the vantage point of after its completion. It was a chance for individuals, and, by extension, entire cinematic cultures to engage with latent pain and unresolved trauma caused by the conflict. The movie used emotional language, filtered through an explicitly Christian lens that would be easily understandable to most European and North American Allied audiences. Departing from the source novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, one of the film’s major set pieces depicts the Great War emerging from the bottom of Hell and ascending to the Earth. Ingram and Mathis literalized the Four Horsemen, spoken from the Christian Book of Revelation. The title cards take on a King James translation-like verbiage, such as: “For fourteen ill-omened days the scorching breath of the Beast had searched the earth as nation rose against nation.” The contemporary audience of Four Horsemen would be one that lived through a conflict of literally untold violence, death and tragedy. Although it is often forgotten in histories of the era, it is worth mentioning that the influenza pandemic of 1918, which occurred just as the war was drawing to a close, was the worst disease outbreak in the history of humanity in terms of the sheer quantity of people affected. Everyone living in a belligerent country in Europe would have either 27 Mae Tinee, “Great Game-Teaching the ‘Mrs.’ To Heel!,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 25, 1920.

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served or known family members who had died. Every civilian endured rationing and other shortages, the threat of political instability and military censorship, and almost everyone in America would have known someone who had been lost to the flu. The film that contextualized the war with such metaphysical terms, combined with spectacle and sex appeal, would be very appealing to audiences. Although now almost totally forgotten in the English-speaking world, the novel Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis became an unexpected, runaway best-seller upon its American publication in 1918, under its English title, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The novel’s author, Spaniard Vicente Blasco Ibanez, had been a critically popular writer in America through translations of his Spanish language works, though his books were not particularly successful with the public, as evidenced by Burton Rascoe’s article on the sudden success of the novel, discussed below. His status with American readers quickly changed upon the publication of Four Horsemen, first published in Europe in 1916, and then a phenomenon with readers in the States. One contemporary source proclaimed the novel “the most widely read book of all time, excepting the Bible.”28 The success of the novel was so unexpected that Burton Rascoe of the Chicago Tribune later devoted a special column to explaining its surprise appeal to the public. He somewhat solipsistically concludes that Blasco Ibanez was popular because he had become “fashionable,” but later notes: “It is one of those strange turns of destiny whereby an author of real merit suddenly finds himself favoured by the caprice of the public.”29 Under a translation by Charlotte Brewster Jordan, Four Horsemen is a mostly plotless novel about the entanglement of the Desnoyers, an Argentinian family in the European war. The disjointed and somewhat rambling narrative follows various members of the family at several points in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The protagonist is Don Marcelo Desnoyers, a Spanish immigrant to Argentina who later moves to France and is almost executed after the Battle of the Marne, falsely accused by the Germans of being a spy. His son, Julio, enlists in the French army, only to die himself. Among the many subplots are Julio’s love affair with 28 “Adult Population of City of 60,000 Helped in Filming Four Horsemen,” New York Times, June 3, 1923. 29 Burton Rascoe, “Publishers Puzzled by the Problem of Public’s Preferences,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 8, 1919.

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Marguerite, who is already married to would-be soldier Etienne Laurier, and the contrast between the family lines of Julio’s Spanish father, French mother and German uncle. It is tempting to attribute the novel’s contemporary success on Blasco Ibanez’s extreme didacticism. The novel, like its author, is explicitly and unashamedly anti-German, offering a long scene in which the Don Marcelo’s German son-in-law gives his relatives a racist lecture on the superiority of the Aryan race, with dialogue like “…although the German race may not be perfectly pure, it is the least impure of all races and, therefore, should have dominion over the world.”30 Rascoe, the literary critic for the Chicago Tribune, called the book “…the most scathing indictment of the German people that has appeared in fiction…”31 The idea that the novel’s explicit anti-German stance led to its success is echoed by an intriguing article in the September 1st, 1918, issue of The New York Times. Entitled “Neutral War Fiction,” the unnamed writer argues the best war novels have taken the British side. He/she then goes on to state that Blasco Ibanez, “a recognized master of fiction, who comes from a nation that has so far preserved neutrality, has chosen the war for his theme, and has given us, in some respects, a novel that, for descriptive interests, knowledge of national character, conflicting national feeling and motives, deserves a place with the foremost of its contemporaries.” In other words, instead of focusing on the experience of an individual soldier, the novel conveys political complexity and confusion. This is something a great many people, especially in America, traditionally protected from foreign entanglements by two oceans, must have felt. In a way, the book could truly be said to have been “ripped from the headlines.” The writer later concludes that the book expresses “…in a sense, an authority’s Spanish view of the war…”32 It is not unreasonable to think that members of Allied nations would have been sympathetic to a public figure from a neutral country who so explicitly supported their position. More importantly, Blasco Ibanez provides a sense that the war is of epic, almost Biblical significance.

30 Vicente Blasco Ibanez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, trans. Charlotte Brewster Jordan (Dodo Press), 99. 31 Burton Rascoe, “‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ by V. Blasco Ibanez,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 19, 1918. 32 “Neutral War Fiction,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 1918.

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Briefly mentioned but consistently present in the background is the understanding that the war is horrible. Both book and film contain relatively few accounts of actual fighting and particularly avoid describing the psychological torment of the war that others, such as Erich Maria Remarque, would later comment on. Perhaps the average home front American and Briton, seeing through a haze of wartime propaganda, was intrigued by something that honestly acknowledged that the war was a terrible experience while not questioning its necessity. Reading the book, it becomes apparent that the novel naturally lends itself to the silent cinema. The novel’s several exotic (to English-speaking audiences) settings, the natural cinematic possibilities of filming war, the turgid love story between Julio and his love, and finally, copious amounts of anti-German content would all have appealed to American and British audiences, who might have come through the door for spectacle alone. The novel’s episodic narrative would work to a silent film’s advantage, meaning that events and incidences could be easily deleted, added or rearranged by both screenwriter and editor. The success of Blasco Ibanez’s book meant that there would have been a built-in audience for the film. There is evidence that film studios sensed that the property was valuable. Although many of the original negotiations for the rights of the novel have now been lost, Liam O’Leary reports that Fox was rumoured to have offered the author $75,000 and that Metro had to make two offers, finally purchasing the novel for $20,000 plus ten per cent of the profits. Presumably, Blasco Ibanez would have never taken a “back end” deal such as this if the film was really expected to be “box office poison.”33 Metro gave the project to their most trusted screenwriter, June Mathis. Mathis was one of the most respected scenarists in Hollywood and one of its most powerful women. Although she would only be credited as screenwriter, her role in the film was really one of a powerful

33 Liam O’Leary, Rex Ingram: Master of Silent Cinema (London: British Film Institute, 1980), 71.

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producer, overseeing from a general standpoint the entire production.34 Mathis would later claim that she was uncomfortable with handling a film concerning war, finding it too masculine. In an interview with The Washington Post, Mathis stated “War is not for women, in spite of the showing we had made during the great conflict. I had worried lines into my head attempting to unravel little details that had to be provided for before a crank could be turned on the battle scenes.”35 This statement is compelling for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious fact that it is rife for a feminist critique, it also implies that her collaboration with Ingram was far greater than that of a typical screenwriter, as she was apparently concerned with visuals and logistics that would usually be the realm of the director. However, despite her reservations, whether genuine or simply stated for the press, Mathis’s handling of the adaption was adroit. She streamlined Blasco Ibanez’s convoluted narrative, providing more thematic consistency throughout the film. She changed the central concept of the Four Horsemen from a briefly stated metaphor to a more literal representation of hell released on the world. Understanding the visual nature of the movies, she played up some of the more cinematic aspects of the book, such as the Argentine tango. Perhaps most importantly, she altered the protagonist. Instead of Don Marcelo (played in the film by Josef Strickland), the observer of the destruction of Old Europe, the protagonist of the film would be his son, Julio Desnoyers. This alteration would be crucial to promoting the film to a younger audience. Instead of the old man watching as society disintegrates with his children are endangered, audiences would see the cultured but somewhat naïve Julio respond to the war, providing an audience surrogate. Though living in Paris, as an Argentine citizen, Julio is not eligible for the draft, but feels pressured to fight anyway. This must have provided a way of visualizing the ambivalence that many Americans and Britons must have felt, watching the war unfold in another country (and for Americans, another continent). When the time comes, however, Julio has absolutely no difficulty in determining which side is right. This is one of the logically inconsistent messages the film seems to endorse—the war is a result of human sin 34 Andre Soares, “Pioneer Female Producer June Mathis: Q & A with Author Allen Ellenberger,” Alt Film Guide, accessed Apr. 1, 2007, http://www.altfg.com/blog/cla ssics/june-mathis/. 35 “Screen Soldiers Are Real,” Washington Post, Sept. 4, 1921.

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and folly, for which everyone is partly responsible, but there is no question as to which side is right. The war’s political cause was obvious, but its metaphysical explanation would be more primal and archetypal, if not theological. Mathis also added a number of Christian references mostly absent from the book. There are references to apples—original sin—and an intertitle state that an apple shorn of its skin is like “a woman bereft of her cloak of virtue.” This scene immediately follows with a love scene between Julio and the married Marguerite (Alice Terry). The implication is clear—private sin has caused the world to go into a catastrophic conflict. Just as many in the Middle Ages believed that the Black Death was caused by God punishing humanity for sin, the Great War may have been caused by the hedonism and extravagance of Old Europe—a particularly comforting message for Americans. While Julio is clearly the protagonist, at times the movie is almost told from the point of view of God. In addition to her screenplay, Mathis’ two most unexpected and influential decisions would be her choice of director and star.36 Rudolph Valentino, whose sex appeal was essential to bring in a female audience for the film, was an unknown bit player at the time. He would be an inspired choice for Julio—his exotic, un-Anglo-Saxon looks meant that he could convincingly play a descendant of a Spaniard (the actor was born in Italy). Valentino could also project a strange combination of strength and vulnerability. While exuding sexual confidence, his characters could be more sensitive in other areas. The reason why Mathis was so insistent on Ingram is unknown. A First World War veteran himself, Ingram was an immigrant to America from Ireland, then part of the UK. A contract director at Metro, he had made critically and commercially successful films, but nothing on the scale of Four Horsemen. Strangely, especially considering the large role of Mathis in the production, Ingram was also given a “supervisor” credit. It is worth remembering, however, that director Ingram would go on to be one of the most successful Hollywood film-makers of the 1920s and was clearly a capable film artist in his own right. Many of the film’s mystical themes are line with the director’s other work, such as The Magician (1926). Until the 1930s, Ingram did not extensively discuss his religious beliefs in public forums. Even factoring in the fact he was from a Protestant 36 Thomas Slater, “June Mathis: A Woman Who Spoke Through the Silents,” in American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices, ed. Gregg Bachman and Thomas J. Slater (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 2002), 202.

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family,37 it still seems interesting to note the effect of Irish-Catholic guilt on his films—Ingram’s movies do have a running theme of sympathetic characters who make poor moral choices and later suffer for it. After his retirement, the director said that he believed the world’s ails would be cured by religion, though not the faith one might expect—the director changed his name to Ben Aalen Nacir ed’ Deen and converted to Islam.38 Seen in this context, it would not be surprising that the memorable scenes of the Four Horsemen emerging from a literal pit of Hell would be included in the film. Merely a metaphor in the novel, these scenes serve to increase the sense of scale in the picture. In a literal sense, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse does not just portray events on two continents, but in Heaven and Hell as well. To say the film was planned as a significant Metro production would be an understatement. If the studio’s statements to the press can be believed, the movie cost somewhere between a then remarkable $1.2 and 1.5 million. Principal photography lasted six months in an era when many important “A” pictures were shot in less than thirty days. Ingram employed fourteen assistant directors.39 To film the Second Battle of the Marne, detailed streets of a French village were recreated and then destroyed. Up to fifteen cameras were also manned and operated for certain sequences. At times, Ingram gave in to near Von Stroheim levels of excess. According to a press interview, all of the participants of the recreated battle were actual overseas veterans. “The reason [our film was authentic] is that we used service men exclusively, and some of these were men who actually participated in the battle. Incidentally, it was necessary to give these men the drilling usually required to prepare a raw recruit for work before the camera. They were able to take military orders and they were amenable to discipline.”40 One has to wonder how a scarred veteran of the actual battle would have reacted to Ingram’s dictatorial commands in his attempt at realism. The excess continued into the editing

37 Ruth Barton, Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014), 5. 38 “Famous Motion Picture Director Sees World Cure in Islam Faith,” Washington Post, Sept. 10, 1933, 58. 39 T.R. Ybarra, “Blasco Ibanez, Movie Fan,” New York Times, Jan. 23, 1921, 49. 40 “Screen Soldiers Are Real.” The Washington Post [Washington, DC], Sept. 4, 1921.

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room, with Ingram exposing more than half a million feet of film.41 The director would continue the practice of shooting large amounts of coverage throughout his career. Much of the publicity for the movie was based on the film’s alleged fidelity to the novel. A poster billed the film as “by Vicente Blasco Ibanez” over a cover of the book. Even the films’ title card reads “Metro Presents Rex Ingram’s Production of Vicente Blasco Ibanez’ Literary Masterpiece The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Focusing the marketing campaign on fidelity to the book allowed the studio to sidestep the question of how to tastefully portray the psychological ramifications of the conflict. All the First World War films of the silent era had a fundamental problem—a tragedy had taken place in the lives of millions of people. How can a film attempt to represent this tragedy, or the effects of the war on the lives of the survivors, both civilian and military? That the movie was based on a successful novel provided many opportunities for marketers. In terms of displaying suffering, it could take cues from the book, which the public had already embraced. The film’s focus would be even more sweeping than even military conflict, showing the downfall of an international family and the spiritual chaos of Europe, where the young are sent to answer for the sins and conflicts of the old. Despite its reputation as a war film, there is relatively little fighting in the finished print. Interest in spectacle as well as the fact that it was based on a popular novel brought audiences through the door on a first viewing, but a blockbuster like Four Horsemen is dependent on repeat business, begging the question of why so many people went to see it, many more than once. The answer probably lies in the fact that the movie offers the audience a chance to identify with characters whose lives are disrupted in the same way that theirs were, and who faced their own fears and uncertainly during the conflict. The Great War was not a natural disaster, but it seemed far more cataclysmic than what most people had experienced in the United States and Europe. Senior citizens would have remembered the American Civil War or the Franco-Prussian War, but since the 1870s the world had been a generally peaceful place, with the United States or Europe only being involved in relatively contained conflicts, such as the Spanish-American

41 “Breaking Film Records,” The Washington Post [Washington, DC], Feb. 19, 1922,

56.

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War, the Philippine conflict or the Boer Wars. The Great War was something different, something so protracted and so terrible in its cost of human lives and suffering that almost no one could have predicted the scale at the time of its outbreak. To the Allies of the Western Front, there was one patent and obvious answer as to who was at fault—the Germans. This belief is reflected in both novel and film. In Ingram’s movie, the German characters are propaganda archetypes. Julio’s German uncle Karl von Hartrott (Alan Hale) instructing one of his sons from a German book that reads “Man shall be trained for war, and women for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly,” in a room surrounded with militaristic artefacts and a portrait of the Kaiser. Earlier, one of Karl’s sons marches at play and pretends to fight Napoleon. The film (and the novel it is based on) is overwhelmingly clear and didactic on this point. The movie, however, is not propaganda made in a time of war to boost morale. Rather, it is partially an attempt to explain what happened—the Germans started the war because they were bad. This viewpoint was not at all uncommon in this period. In her work of social history The Great Silence 1918–1920: Living in the Shadow of the Great War, Juliet Nicholson describes contemporary British attitudes about the Germans in the post-war period: “Up and down the country this loathing of all things German remained intense. After the war previously withheld stories about the dreadful things the enemy had done continued to filter out. Not only had the Germans been responsible for the deaths of husbands, fiances, brothers and husbands but they had torpedoed hospital ships, and caused unbelievable suffering with chemical gas. They had, in Barbara Cartland’s words, ‘disregarded the accepted rules of war’. In the final days of the fighting Phillip Gibbs was told by one officer: ‘If I had a thousand Germans in a row I would cut all their throats and enjoy the job.’ During the election campaign crowds had filled the streets yelling out ‘Hang the Kaiser’ and ‘Get Rid of Enemy Aliens.’”42 But this is not the whole picture, as evidenced by the very title of the film. There seems to be something deeper in the causes of war than just what people read about in the newspapers. Instead, there may have been something wrong with humanity itself that led to this. Certainly, there was an important pacifist movement during and after the war that equated all war with human (or at least, male) sin and folly. Songs like “I 42 Juliet Nicholson, The Great Silence 1918–1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War (London: John Murray, 2009), 83.

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Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier” proclaimed messages of universal peace and brotherhood. This tension appears throughout the film. The war is entirely the Germans’ fault, but it is also the fault of humanity in general, a paradox because the Christian morality the film explicitly uses extends sins to all peoples. There is also a psychological constant within humanity to see the past as a golden era, while the present is “fallen” and the future doomed to uncertainty. Certainly, the war must have at times seemed apocalyptic. The final scene in the movie, a summation of the film’s themes and after the Tango sequence the most iconic, bears close scrutiny. It begins with an intertitle that tells us, significantly: “The aimless path fades with life’s span. Nations mourn, while memory glorifies the brave.” After the end of the war, the Don Marcelo (known as “The Centaur”), his wife (Bridgetta Clark), Marguerite (Alice Terry) and Etienne (John St. Polis) visit Julio’s grave in a huge war cemetery strewn with crosses. Significantly, the Centaur has a war injury, a reminder of the problems and injuries plaguing survivors. Collapsing at the grave of his beloved son, the old man is visited by the mystic Tchernoff (Nigel de Brulier), who introduced the Four Horsemen earlier in the film. Don Marcelo asks if Tchernoff knew Julio. “I knew them all” is the reply, making explicit the metaphor that the young soldier is representative of all like him, a thematic device that will be used time and again in the First World War cinema. Pointing to the sky, the Prophet and the Centaur notice the spectral Four Horsemen riding through the clouds, returning to Heaven (a bit inconsistent, considering they emerged from Hell). The Prophet proclaims—“Peace has come- but the Four Horsemen will still ravage humanity-stirring unrest in the world- until all hatred is dead and only love reigns in the heart of mankind.” As Tchernoff stares into the camera, warning the audience, the film ends. This scene reenforces many of the themes of the movie, and indeed, of most war films until 1938. 1. Human sin and/or evil is the root cause of the war. 2. The war’s damage and wrath were massive. 3. Millions of innocents died or were left scarred, both literally and figuratively, by the conflict. 4. Horrifyingly, this could happen again.

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There is a very significant alteration in this final scene from the novel. In the book, Don Marcelo is so emotionally drained and exhausted that, in a bit of temporary insanity, he merely hallucinates the Four Horsemen, as opposed to actually seeing them. Mathis and Ingram audaciously make the characters, and the audience watch this literal religious image and end the film on a surprisingly downbeat note, avoiding a typical Hollywood happy ending. The film did not need a Hollywood ending to be popular, however. It was a huge success from its first release. Although exact box-office records as to the film’s ticket sales are not available, there is no question that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was a massive success beyond what few other films had accomplished by the standards of the industry up to this time. Neither the American nor the British film industries anticipated the overwhelming popularity of the movie. A 1921 entry in Wid’s Daily, a trade paper, is telling. The writer raves about the picture’s artistic quality with one caveat—“Were it not for the heavy and at times gruesome picture of devastated France under the heel of the German invasion and what at times seems an unnecessary amount of footage devoted to the incidents of the Great War, this production might go over with a tremendous bang. As it is, the question arises whether or not your people want to see what the exhibiting business generally terms ‘war stuff.’” The writer goes on to state that the film is worth booking, even though it may be too downbeat for audiences, as it plays an important social role in remembering how lucky they are not to have lived in Europe. In the paper’s typical “Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor,” the analysis is titled “Just One Question: Is This Offered Three Years Too Late?” The writer argues that the success of the novel, the artistic quality of the film and the expensive production are in the movie’s favour. He/she goes on to say: “But the big question is whether or not a production with such an extensive amount of war incident is desired at this day. Possibly had this production been released three years ago, it would have been one of the greatest financial clean-ups in the history of pictures. If you think they will appreciate a splendid story regardless of the war background, get them in and they certainly will be pleased.”43 Film distribution in the 1920s was far different than it is today. Instead of “opening wide” across a nation or indeed, the world in one day, films 43 “Ingram’s ‘Four Horsemen’ A Pictorial Triumph,” Wid’s Daily (New York, NY), Feb. 20, 1921.

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would open in individual cities and regions and slowly trickle their way across the country. Each film, even in major metropolises, would usually only play in a single theatre. Also, due to a lack of a standard, industrywide censorship policy, individual cities and counties would make cuts and edits to the movie, which can lead to problems in understanding what cut of a film a particular audience screened. However, upon its initial release, the censorship problems the film faced were not with its violence or political messages, but with the sexual innuendo (not the last time this would happen to a Valentino picture). In Chicago, one of Valentino’s dances and a kiss was cut, oddly leaving the implied nude modelling intact.44 Andrew Kelly reports that Four Horsemen faced no censorship trouble in Britain.45 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had its world premiere on March 6th, 1921, at the Lyric Theatre in New York. A critic (given no byline but probably Mordaunt Hall) reported “A large number of spectators, many invited for the occasion, gave it [the film] hearty approval.” The critic heaped praise on Ingram, but spent, not surprisingly, a large amount of column space comparing the film to the novel. Significantly, the only alterations the critic complained about are the addition of the spiritual elements, as well as the comic relief. The review concludes by saying the movie is “…an exceptionally well done adaptation and an extraordinary motion picture work to boot.” The tone is positive, but not overly enthusiastic.46 Clearly, the critic did not anticipate, or at least express, the film’s huge financial success or cultural impact. Unusually for a prestige film at the time, it was presented at typical $2 prices as opposed to the more expensive “roadshow experience.”47 The film would receive much stronger critical admiration elsewhere. When it opened in Washington, D.C., the critic for the Washington Post declared the film

44 Mae Tinee, “Famous ‘Best Seller’ Makes a Fine Photoplay,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 5, 1921. 45 Andrew Kelly, All Quiet on the Western Front: The Story of a Film (London: I.B. Publishers, 1998), 28. 46 “The Screen,” New York Times, May 7, 1921. 47 “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse Screen Feature at Columbia,” Washington Post, May

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a “camera masterpiece” and elaborated and stated that Ingram’s “technique could hardly be improved upon.”48 Mae Tinee of the Chicago Daily Tribune stated “…that Rex Ingram, a young man and little heard from, deserves to be bowed into the front rank of all directors. He has made a splendid picture.”49 In an unusual move, the Tribune’s theatre critic, Percy Hammond, asked for space to discuss the film and called it “…the greatest picture I ever saw, made from one of the best novels I have ever read…” Hammond later noted “Its merciless anti-German slant, of course, retards its prosperity. The producer would have made a wiser, if not a more literal, photograph of the book had he tempered its black with a little grey.”50 Presumably, Hammond means financial prosperity, but the film did just fine with, and probably because of, its anti-German stance. On March 27th, two weeks after the New York premiere, the Times ran a lengthy opinion piece by John Corbin, clearly indicating that the film was at the forefront of the public consciousness (at least where it was playing). Corbin was clearly a partisan of the film, gushing “It ranges the world, sums up an era into the space of two hours or so, as no modern play has ever done.” Intriguingly, Corbin argues that the film is artistically successful because it does not focus on the experience of the common soldier. Contrasting Ingram’s film with war material made during the conflict such as “crude letters home from the doughboy…hasty sketches penned by press correspondents; our theatres teemed with crude melodramas of heroic private and sacrificial trained nurses at the front…” He makes what must seem to be an unbelievable declaration to modern scholars and audiences—not to moviegoers just four years later—“The humours of the trench and the tedium of the dugout, the shock of battle and the thrill of victory- all that is the mere mechanism of war, void of deep and permanent interest. Blasco Ibanez [and, by extension, the film] had the clairvoyance to see that the real war was fought in the souls of contending nations.”51

48 “‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,’ At Poli’s, Proves a Camera Masterpiece,” Washington Post, Aug. 29, 1921. 49 Mae Tinee, “Famous ‘Best Seller’ Makes a Fine Photoplay,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 5, 1921. 50 Hammond, Percy. “The Theaters,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 1921. 51 John Corbin, “An Epic of the Movies,” New York Times, May 27, 1921.

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Corbin makes an intriguing point. Although Four Horsemen was a megahit, as war epics The Big Parade and All Quiet on the Western Front would be after, Ingram’s film is different from almost all subsequent war epics, in the sense that the film does not concern itself with the experience of the individual soldier, as much as it does with the politics and morality of the conflict. Of course, it would be specious to argue that audiences flocked to see the movie due to their interest in socio-political arguments or a theological depiction of the “just war” argument. Audiences still identified with individual characters, but it cannot be defensibly argued that Ingram made a film principally about the combat experiences of soldiers. If he had, the protagonist would have gone to war long before the third act. The two prominent images used to advertise the film in posters were a copy of the novel and Tchernoff’s initial vision of the Four Horsemen, downplaying the element of one person’s experience of war. In its second week of release in Detroit, Four Horsemen was said to be on the path to “smash all attendance records.” It was acclaimed as “…one of the most powerful sermons ever preached against war…”52 In an issue of Exhibitor’s Trade Review, a theatre owner or manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, stated that the film was said to be the “Best drawing card of the season…Due to wet weather, poor business was feared but such proved not to be the case. Ibanez’ readers turned out and so did those who go at all times to special features.”53 The only place in the country that seemed to have any problem with the movie was Wilmington, North Carolina, where Four Horsemen was reported “Three days to only fair business.” The entry held an explanation for the pictures’ relatively moderate popularity in the South—the ticket prices. “At a smaller admission price “The Four Horsemen” would have been an admirable attraction, but $1.50 is too much for Atlanta unless a large symphony orchestra is carried with the show.”54 However, an argument may be made, even accounting for the factors listed above, as to why the film was extremely popular, and why people found it so moving. This concept may also explain the “war fatigue” that some believed the public was feeling at the time. It is likely that many of the experiences of the soldier were so commonly known that they were

52 “Adams—‘The Four Horsemen,’” Detroit Free Press, Jan 9, 1922. 53 “Wilkes-Barre, P.A.,” Exhibitors Trade Review, Dec. 17, 1921, 215. 54 “Wilmington, N.C.,” Exhibitors Trade Review, Dec. 10, 1921, 143.

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not considered to be significantly novel, as evidenced by Corbin’s article. Four Horsemen, on the other hand, is concerned with the suffering of the world, or of the human race. The “bigness” Ingram skilfully demonstrates may be the same awe that people felt when their daily lives, even in faraway rural areas, were disrupted so that they, or their brother or son, could go overseas and fight. Corbin complains that the movie spends too much time showing the peaceful life before the outbreak of the war and then observes: “One has only to look around him here and now, in this world that was never to be the same again- today tomorrow and for indefinite years to come.” He later comments “…the true background for a picture of the war is not that vanished yesterday of 1914, but this socalled year of grace.” The war had not been forgotten. The public was trying to adapt to a new normal in a post-war world. The movie was the vanguard of a new public understanding of the conflict: “What gripped the audience, as if with a new revelation, was the casting off of frivolity at the summons of war, the instinctive response to the call of duty and service, the still joy of souls that found themselves amid the ruin they had once held dear.” Recognizing the perspective of the film, Corbin refers to the movie’s politics as “allied propaganda” an astute observation. The film existed to explain why the war happened and to an extent justify decisions and actions already taken.55 Across the United States, Four Horsemen was seen as something more than a just another movie. A private screening was arranged for President Harding.56 Unfortunately, there is no apparent record of his reaction. At the Washington, DC, premier, the Spanish Ambassador and several military dignitaries attended. The film was preceded by a Marine band concert.57 Rex Ingram was given an honorary degree at Yale, specifically because of the movie.58 Respected sculptor Lee Lawrie created a bronze statue of The Four Horsemen.59 The following year, Photoplay, an American fan magazine, published a letter from an anonymous reader. He or she argued that Four Horsemen was the best film of the year, stating “I

55 John Corbin, “An Epic of the Movies,” New York Times, May 27, 1921. 56 O’Leary, 82. 57 “Film to Feature Party,” Washington Post, Aug. 10, 1921. 58 “How Ingram Rose,” Washington Post, Jan. 8, 1922. 59 “Backfire on Inspiration,” The Washington Post [Washington, DC], Feb. 26, 1922,

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have seen it five times and if it had any faults, they would have cropped out about the third time I saw it.” Referring to the downbeat material that exhibitors had found so troublesome, the fan praised “…a denouement that it is logical and artistic.”60 Like so many others, the fan also stated that the movie “…should firmly establish motion pictures as one of the high arts…” In Superior, Wisconsin, Methodist pastor Reverend T. Harry Kelly publically stated: “If everyone could see this picture ‘disarmament conferences’ would hardly be necessary to end the possibility of a future world conflict. May I add that if pictures of this kind were made the rule by people that produce and show them they would have the commendation of the churches instead of criticism.”61 The religious and cultural conservatives may have enjoyed the movie for its overtly spiritual imagery and the implication that the war was a result of human sin. The film did not appear in the UK until more than a year after its American release. Mark Glancy writes that the film had difficulty getting distributed in the UK, with Jury’s, Metro’s usual associate, declining to take the movie, forcing the studio to directly sell the picture to theatres. As Glancy explains “The distributor feared that, so soon after the war, British audiences would reject a war film, and especially one did that did not place their own country’s involvement at the centre of the story. Furthermore, the film’s ending…was regarded as too depressing.”62 Even though it had been a major blockbuster in the United States, trade publications had some of the same reservations about it American distributors had. Bioscope wrote that if the movie had been released a decade earlier “…it would have been hailed, and kept its position, as the great classic of cinema production. Had its presentation been delayed a similar numbers of years, again it would command the same position, for its value as historical picturization of actual facts would have made it of immense interest to posterity. But presented in 1922, when the wounds of war on the hearts of Britain, France, and even America, are scarcely headed- is it altogether wise to resurrect the brutalities of the recent war so glaringly?”63

60 “Letters to the Editor,” Photoplay, September 1922, 114. 61 Roy Marcotte, “Screen Close-Ups,” Detroit Free Press, Dec. 15, 1921. 62 Mark Glancy, Hollywood and the Americanization of Britain from the 1920s to the

Present (London: I.B. Taurus, 2014), 68. 63 “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Bioscope, Aug. 17, 1922, 40.

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Premiering at the Palace Theatre, the movie was introduced by Marcus Lowe himself and featured a special prologue written by Blasco Ibanez. As stated by Glancy, Lowe’s strategy was to “…present it [Four Horseman] as a ‘super film’; that is, a high-prestige release that played exclusively at a single, large theatre in each major city rather than making the rounds of numerous ordinary cinemas.”64 In a short entry, The Times notes that the picture “has made popular in America and Canada a Spanish actor, Senor Rudolph Valentino [sic] and Miss Alice Terry.”65 After the film opened, a review noted that it was still “a triumph for Mr. Rex Ingram. Helped by an unusually well-chosen cast, and almost flawless photography, he has succeeded in putting into convincing pictures the philosophy and lessons which the novelist intended to convey.”66 A Times article declared two months later that the film was “running so successfully at the Palace Theatre.”67 A December 11th entry notes that “when it [the film] is withdrawn on January 28th, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will have run for 310 performances.” This is particularly impressive when one takes into account that many movies did not last more than a week in a particular theatre.68 A review of the film in The Bookman found that “The Rex Ingram production of Ibanez’s great book leaves almost nothing to be desired,” and that “[Adapting] The book is perhaps as severe a test of the film-maker as could be selected, and the success of the film is a feather in the cap of the man responsible for its production.”69 Just as in the States, in Britain there was a sense that the picture was more important than just a film and represented an important transition in cinematic art. In an article in The Saturday Review, James Agate found the movie meant that the film “…industry has at last found its artistic feet.” Tellingly, considering the implicit values of the film, Agate notes: “The emotions of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are very recent, almost too recent for artistic purposes. One of the sub-titles suggested very tactfully that there, in that other country, soldiers were arming in the

64 Glancy, 68. 65 “Version of a Famous Novel,” Times (London), Aug. 14, 1922. 66 “The Four Horsemen,” Times (London), Aug. 15, 1922. 67 “Version of ‘Blood and Sand’,” Times (London), Nov. 20, 1922. 68 “Two More ‘Super-Productions’,” Times (London), Dec. 11, 1922. 69 FDG, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” The Bookman, September 1922,

272.

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full conviction and consciousness of right. The fact remains, however, that I should not invite a German guest to witness this film. It sears the mind with old memories that were better forgotten, and re-opens old wounds that were better healed.”70 In Burnley, Rev. C.E. Penrose encouraged his flock to see the film and commented to the local newspaper described his reaction as: …Mr Penrose said he had been to see the film, and was-as everybody was-impressed with it. It seemed to him that there were fine possibilities for propaganda work for the League of Nations, and those people who were out for a warless world must feel that the picture was bound to leave an impression against the horrors of war. He felt that it was only right and proper that the public men who had seen it should make an acknowledgement of its value, inasmuch as it did what the churches were trying to do, and that was to create in the lives of the people a resolution and determination that there should be no more war.71

The critic for the Hull Daily Mail described his reaction as being emotionally devastated by the movie and seemed upset that others in the audience were not as moved as he was: My mind intent on the picture, I had little chance or wish to see how it affected others, but I could not help noticing that, around me, there was an apparent lack of itnegration[sic]. I could not help feeling it. That a few of the younger ones could not realize the sordid, butter truth of it all I readily appreciate. But that others of a more mature age should, through the whole performance eat chocolate creams, or some similar sweetmeat, with obvious gusto, sickens me. I have since been told that what I sensed-the indifference, callousness, apathy, call it what you will –was mere control: the good breeding that makes no public display of emotion. If that was the case I am, in a measure, pleased…But in my heart, I feel it was something beside.72

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would be re-released twice, the first time in 1923. It had not been forgotten by the public. Richard Koszarski 70 James Agate, “Love and War,” The Saturday Review, Augst 1922, 280. 71 “Church and Cinema,” Burnley News, Mar. 7, 1923. 72 “‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse’-And After,” Daily Mail (Hull, England), Feb. 6, 1923.

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reports that a survey taken the same year73 of 37,000 American high school students found the film voted “Best Picture They Had Ever Seen” by boys and the second best by girls, defeated by Way Down East. Broken down regionally, Four Horsemen was the most popular film in every part of the country except New England (where it was again bested by Way Down East ) and the South (where support was split between Birth of a Nation for boys and Way Down East for girls).74 The picture would be re-released again in 1926, this time to exploit the death of Rudolph Valentino. Much had changed in the world since 1921. According to an intriguing snippet in The Washington Post, acting German Consul General Gustav Heuser complained to Will B. Hays that the portrayal of his countrymen in the film was anti-German. Heuser was correct, but that was the aim. The anti-German content was central to the theme of the film in the early post-war era. That was beside the point in 1926, however. The snippet notes that “All scenes depicting the Germans as cruel and barbarous in the film…will be eliminated.”75 For a film of such artistic and cultural significance, Four Horsemen is relatively unseen today, even by cineastes. The film has never been given a proper American or British release on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray, and is now mostly remembered, if it all, as the movie that made Valentino a star and as a statistic on lists of “Highest Grossing Silent Films.” The original is remembered more than the big-budget 1962 remake starring Glenn Ford, which relocated the setting to the Second World War and was a major bomb at the box office, another nail in the coffin of MGM’s status as a major Hollywood studio. However, along with the novel, the original movie played a significant role in Western culture. It showed cultural commentators that memories of the Great War could not be repressed, and that there was a market for media that dealt with the conflict in an honest or at least earnest manner. Although its focus on religion and politics may prevent the film from being a statement on war itself, as other Great War films would become, those pictures could not have been made without Ingram’s achievement. Four Horsemen was the first step in a culture trying to understand and cope with a great tragedy and loss.

73 It is impossible to know which respondents saw the film on re-release. 74 Koszarski, 28. 75 “Four Horseman Film Deleted for Germans,” Washington Post, Oct. 2, 1916.

CHAPTER 2

The War as It Was

Laurence Stallings The influence of Laurence Stallings on the way the Great War was contextualized in the 1920s was critical. Texts either by Stallings or adapted from his work would change the way the film medium portrayed the Great War, and The Big Parade (1925), a film for which is his name was prominently associated, would prove a major influence on the popular culture of America and Great Britain, albeit in decisively different ways. Associated with three mediums, he was briefly considered a near-personification of the conflict. Stallings enlisted in the Marines at the outset of America’s entry. Shot and severely wounded in his left leg during the Battle of Belleau Wood, the writer endured intense physical therapy, only to further damage the leg two years later in a fall and require amputation.1 As indicated by George Garrett in his introduction to the Joseph M. Bruccoli reprint of Stallings’ only novel, Plumes (1925), the writer was a minor celebrity in this period. He had enormously successful three years, with a popular novel, a hit play, a screenplay to a huge blockbuster, as well as a screenplay adaptation of the said play, all related

1 Steven Trout, afterward to Plumes , by Laurence Stallings (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), 349–350.

© The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_2

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to the war.2 It is not hard to see why the writer would be appealing to producers and audiences, as a visibly obvious war veteran whose presence could relay an image of authenticity. Stalling’s name was often heavily prominent in advertising for films he was associated with. Plumes provides great insight into Stallings’ experiences and views on war, which as Garrett points out are also not unrepresentative of other 1920s writers.3 The obviously autobiographical novel follows the experiences of Richard Plume, a talented scientist from a family of military men. Caught up in the romance of his family ancestry and given the opportunity to patriotically serve his country, Richard enlists in the Marines, leaving his pregnant wife Esme behind. Like the author, Richard is wounded in the leg at the Battle of Belleau Wood and returns to America a changed and profoundly cynical man. He feels embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that he chose to enlist. He dislikes the attention that people give him for his disability, which Richard/Stallings paraphrases as “We are all proud of you for making an ass of yourself.”4 Since it may be assumed that the protagonist is an author surrogate, it can be reasoned that his views and attitudes are the same as the writer’s. If true, Stallings’ experiences were harrowing. Richard is filled with self-loathing for his own naiveté and, he believes, stupidity. When he is reunited with Esme at the hospital, the first words he says to her are “God forgive me for my folly.”5 He feels that he has irrevocably damaged his marriage, both in his difficulty getting work as a disabled man and the fact that he is not the carefree spirit that Esme was attracted to. Richard feels contempt for leaders but is ambivalent towards President Woodrow Wilson, and by extension, Wilsonian interventionism. On the one hand, he believes that Wilson was just as naïve as he was, but could not be expected to do better. He sees that essentially all rhetoric from politicians is not to be trusted and is manipulative. As the omniscient narrator states about Richard when his wife attempts to begin a conversation with him: “He wanted to talk war and peace, and to lash out in a fury against anyone who supported the system in which he had been 2 George Garrett, introduction to Plumes , by Laurence Stallings (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), xi–xvi. 3 Ibid., xix–xxi. 4 Laurence Stallings, Plumes (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006),

80. 5 Ibid., 67.

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victimized. He could not talk to Esme of that, because they agree on it perfectly and had threshed it out a thousand times in hospital wards.”6 Later, he and Esme attend Harding’s inaugural, where Richard listens to the speech and hears “Nothing that mattered. The regular things about internal economy that every politician promised. Were all inaugural addresses this way? Did men of Hughes’ and Taft’s policy stand thus and beam approvingly every four years upon inanities?”7 Richard is a cynic, not a radical. He does not affirmatively belong to any political party or codified philosophy. This trait will be repeated in other Great War literature, such as that by Erich Maria Remarque that I will discuss in subsequent chapters. Richard has great anger towards many figures in power, which climaxes when he realizes that patriotism or America itself is at fault for the war, as he attends a meeting other wounded war veterans. As they sing “My Country Tis of Thee,” he assaults Captain Whiting, a former superior officer. Whiting is a minor character, but it is significant that through him we get our first glimpse of Richard at the beginning of the novel—naked and hot-headed—he starts a fight with a Black man for wanting to share the soldiers’ accommodation.8 The fact that Richard is naked, wet and referred to as a “boy”9 is significant as it indicates how Whiting and possibly Stallings see their protagonist before the battle—as a childish, naive fool. Richard is more cynical after his injury and gradually becomes more so throughout the novel, culminating in the epilogue at the Tomb of Unknowns. Richard is also sceptical about attempts to commemorate and memorialize the war and it’s dead. The novel ends as Richard, Esme, their son Dickie and friend and fellow veteran Gary attend the commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknowns. A brief mini-narrative sums up the novel and its author’s view on the war, and is worth quoting in its entirety: Dickie was puzzled by the marble hole in the ground. “What’s that for?” he asked Gary. “A grave.” “What’s a grave for?” 6 Ibid., 187. 7 Ibid., 224. 8 Although a white Southerner, Stallings was an outspoken advocate for civil rights for African Americans. 9 Ibid., 4.

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“For a soldier to sleep in.” “Why doesn’t he sleep in his bed?” Dickie was puzzled. “General won’t let him,” Gary said solemnly. Dickie scrutinized the dark face above him to make sure there was no insincerity in the answer. He studied the marble receptacle. “What’s a general?” he said finally. “A man,” said Gary, “who makes little boys sleep in graves.” Dickie was frightened. His lip trembled. He looked about to where Richard and Esme sat above him. “I’ll ask Esme,” he said, “not to let a general get me.”10

As Garrett indicates, Plumes was successful upon its publication in 1924, receiving “…eight printings in the first six months…”11 The book was almost certainly helped by the fact that it appeared at the same time as What Price Glory, a play about the war written by Stallings and Maxwell Anderson, who later go on to co-adapt the screenplay for All Quiet on the Western Front. In fact, Garrett reports that Plumes was sold inside the theatre where the play premiered.12 Determining the origins of What Price Glory is frustrating to the researcher. A major critical and commercial success at the time, the work is now rarely staged. Although copies of the script are available, it appears that neither Anderson nor Stallings discussed the play at length in interviews, leaving its genesis a mystery. Immediately, what becomes clear to the researcher when reading the script is the use of profanity, atypical for the 1920s. As Lea Jacobs reports, the use of heavy profanity in the play, along with new productions, caused some to call for more censorship of the modern theatres, though a greater number spoke out against it.13 In a response to the controversy, actor Rollo Peters wrote a letter to the editor, where he argued “Those who would delete the play of its beautiful oaths and rich frankness would bleed it of its force and essential fascination. They must have never overheard the American language in camp, garage, and lunch counter.”14 Critics raved about the production. 10 Ibid., 348. 11 Garret, xv. 12 Ibid., xiv. 13 Lea Jacobs, The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s (Berkeley and Los

Angeles: University of California Press, 2008), 134–135. 14 Peters, Rollo, “What Price Glory,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 1924.

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In a review for the New York Times, Stark Young observed “The fundamental quality of ‘What Price Glory?’ is irony. Irony about life and about the war, but irony so incontrovertible in its aspect of truth and so blazing with vitality as to cram itself down the most spreadeagle of throats.”15 Later, Young would write that a scene in the final act “…is so much the best scene in any play of the season that to mention the fact seems almost absurd.”16 Finally, Robert Littell closed his review for The New Republic by stating: “Years from now, when a new generation wants to know, not its histories or propagandas, its mechanisms, glories and brutalities, but what the War smelt and tasted like, to Americans in it, we doubt if they can do better than put on a revival of this real, and ringing and fiercely good humoured play by Mr. Anderson and Mr. Stallings.”17 The dual success of Stallings’ novel and co-authored play had helped to set the stage for the American film industry’s next major attempt to approach the war. Despite the fact that it had been over five years since the Armistice, there had been few major Great War films since the release of Four Horseman, and none that could be said to heavily concern themselves with the war experiences of individual soldiers. Stallings was perhaps the key figure in popularizing narratives in various mediums of war soldiers that deal with the conflicts psychological effects. Plumes , The Big Parade and play and film version What Price Glory are all about soldiers who are either traumatized by war or have developed psychological defence mechanisms to prevent themselves from being so, itself a form of trauma. This represented a new movement in popular culture’s portrayal of the conflict, one that would be built on in the future.

The Big Parade Lea Jacobs states that MGM production supervisor Irving Thalberg initiated the concept behind a new, epic war film. Thalberg purchased the rights to “The Big Parade,” a Stallings short story in a September 1924 issue of The New Republic.18 The story runs only slightly over three pages and concerns itself with an unnamed army lieutenant who has a certain

15 Young, Stark, “What Price Glory,” New York Times, Sept. 6, 1924. 16 Stark Young, “New Iconographies,” New York Times, Sept. 21, 1924. 17 Robert Littell, “What Price Glory,” New Republic, Sept. 24, 1924, 98. 18 Jacobs, Decline of Sentiment, 142.

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functional affection for Gianonni, an Italian-American subordinate. The lieutenant is ordered to bring eight men with him off the front lines for a Fourth of July parade in Paris. Gianonni rigs the drawing of straws to make sure that he stays behind, and the lieutenant learns on his way back from the parade that he has deserted.19 Aside from the war setting, the story bears almost no resemblance to the either What Price Glory or the finished Big Parade, so it seems likely that Thalberg was simply interested in a First World War film and wanted Stallings to be a part of it (and perhaps, was fond of the title). This idea is lent credence by Marilyn Ann Moss’s report that MGM owned the rights to the play, yet did not film it.20 The most likely reason was that either Thalberg was leery about green-lighting such an apparently downbeat adaptation of the play, fears of censorship problems with the language, or both. Stallings wrote a five-page treatment, which he presented to Thalberg.21 It is unknown how MGM contract director King Vidor became attached to the project. Vidor’s biographer John Baxter suggests that the director complained to Thalberg that he wanted to make a movie more substantive than his previous projects, to which the producer apparently suggested he look through war material owned by the studio.22 Born in Galveston, Texas, Vidor entered the film industry by self-producing independent newsreels, eventually becoming a star director of prestige films at the newly incorporated Metro-GoldwynMayor studio.23 He usually generated his own projects, as he did with The Big Parade, and had input on and approval over scripts. After his time at MGM, he was one of the few major directors during the studio system to not have a long-term contract with any one studio. According to the director, the seed of the film was planted in long conversations the two had about the war in Vidor’s home in California.24 19 Laurence Stallings, “The Big Parade,” New Republic, Sept. 17, 1924, 66–69. 20 Marilyn Ann Moss, Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary

Director (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 90. 21 Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon, King Vidor, American (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 62–63. 22 John Baxter, King Vidor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), 23. 23 Michael Isenberg, “The Great War Viewed from the Twenties,” in Hollywood’s World

War I: Motion Picture Images, ed. Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press), 41–42. 24 “World War Pictured Through Veterans Eyes,” New York Times, Nov. 8, 1925.

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As in any film, there were many alterations from the outline to the finished screenplay. Most obviously, the protagonist, Jim Apperson, is, like Stallings himself, a Southerner, and the role for his brother was much bigger than in the finished film. Jim’s mother, possibly added by Vidor as a Fordian archetype for all American mothers, does not appear in the treatment.25 Stallings then returned to New York with Vidor and screenwriter Harry Behn. The two wrote the completed script in a week, presumably with heavy supervision by the director.26 According to a New York Times story, “He [Stallings] left for New York, however, before the picture went into actual production.”27 Although Stallings’ involvement with the film was helpful to the film-makers for publicity purposes, and Vidor stated his oral re-telling of his experiences was crucial to establishing his conceptions of the picture, there is strong reason to believe that the writer’s involvement beyond the first draft was minimal. Michael Isenberg claims that the plot was “…modified slightly during shooting by Vidor…”28 but evidence provided by Raymond Durgnant’s book, which reprinted portions of Stallings’ treatment, indicates that the story was heavily altered, probably by Behn and the director himself, though it is difficult to piece together by whom and from what. Though there are obvious parallels, The Big Parade is not an adaptation of Plumes as Isenberg and others have reported.29 There is no indication that Thalberg or Vidor ever read it. John Baxter reports that Thalberg purchased the rights to the novel30 and does not mention the short story, but I can find no corroborating evidence of this, and the credits to the film do not state the adaptation source on screen. Stallings’ original treatment, the beginning of which is reproduced as a photograph in Durgnat and Simmon’s biography of Vidor, is listed as an “Original story.”31 It would probably be more accurate to say that both Plumes and the film of The Big Parade are based on Stallings’ personal life. It is significant that Jim Apperson, the protagonist, takes part in forest 25 Durgnat and Simmon, 63. 26 Isenberg, “The Great War Viewed from the Twenties,” 43. 27 “Details of ‘Big Parade’ are Vexing,” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1925. 28 Isenberg, “The Great War Viewed from the Twenties,” 44. 29 Ibid., 43. 30 John Baxter, King Vidor (New York: Monarch Press, 1976), 23. 31 Durgnat and Simmon, 63.

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warfare, similar to the Battle of Belleau Wood, and he also loses a leg in the conflict. Both Richard Plume and Apperson also fall in love with a nearly saintly woman, although the rural French Melisande is far from the educated American Esme Plume. However, most of the similarities are limited beyond these points. The most obvious difference between novel and film is the fact that The Big Parade mostly takes place during the war, whereas aside from a few scenes Plumes is concerned with the conflict’s aftermath. Thematically, however, even more differences appear. Plumes, presumably Stallings’ most direct statement of his beliefs, is openly critical of politicians, the military and the veterans, all of whom he sees as culpable in the conflict. Vidor, on the other hand, took a much more ambivalent position regarding the morality of war in general and the Great War in particular. In an interview, the director stated “There isn’t even a villain in the [photo]play. We are getting far enough away from the real war to warrant digging out the humor and forgetting the rest.”32 Durgnat and Simmon observe: “Although The Big Parade…was often assumed to be ‘anti-war,’ Vidor’s comments at the time of release suggest a related, but different view: war’s horrors are a pre-condition to war’s heroism.”33 Robert Sherwood, paraphrased by Jacobs, believed the film was “antiheroic, a debunking of the horrors of war.”34 Jacobs herself accurately states that the portrayal of war in the film “…was, if not more ‘realistic’ then certainly more pessimistic than the films actually made during the war.”35 In a November 1925 interview, the director explicitly stated: When a nation or a people go to war, the people fight but do they ask why? In the great war many were wondering why in an enlightened age we should have to battle. I do not wish to appear as taking any stand about war. I certainly do not favour it, but I would not set up a preachment against it. You might as well try to sweet back Niagara as stop war when its rumblings are heard. It bursts upon a nation, and soon becomes a job that requires immediate attention, with no time for argument.

32 A.L. Woolridge, “Soldiers and Trenches Coming Back to Films,” Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1925. 33 Durgnat and Simon, 65. 34 Jacobs, 144. 35 Ibid., 145.

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But when we can show that all people concerned, on both sides of the fence, are affected alike, that they are just the same in habit and living, with similar hopes loves and ambitions-then perhaps we can do something to remove the causes of war. In ‘The Big Parade’ I have striven to avoid taking any definite side, but I have not side-stepped taking a stand against war itself.36

This is an equivocal and contradictory statement. The director claims not to preach against war, but says that his film takes a stand against it. Later, in 1974, the director stated “At the time I really believed it was an antiwar movie. Today, if I had to remake it, I would be much more precise.” It seems most likely that, like many cinematic artists, the director had an artistic and emotional vision for his film that could not be easily translated into a particular ideology. The fact that movie itself would be ambiguous in its political commentary may be one of the primary reasons for its success in America and controversy in Britain, as discussed below. Setting the film near the Battle of Belleau Wood has a political significance that may be lost on modern audiences who are not familiar with the specific historical event. Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry were the first major American engagements of the war. Historian David Bonk referred to the battles as America’s “Baptism by fire.” It was here that the American army, mostly untested in conflict for a generation, would finally be judged as to whether they deserved the cowardly reputation they had gained in German propaganda.37 The portrayal of the event in Plumes and Vidor’s film is paradoxical and ironic. Both Richard Plume and Jim Apperson are torn from their naiveté by the bloody fighting, where they are injured and lose friends. More importantly, they lose their innocence as they understand the nature of the carnage for the first time. However, neither novel nor film reports that the battle was a huge victory for the American side. Bonk states that the American success was a major propaganda coup for the Allies and laid the foundation for the ultimate German defeat.38 Although Vidor’s opinions of the war are contradictory and ambivalent, he avoids the temptation for jingoistic patriotism or to send the message that the suffering, however tragic, was necessary. 36 “World War Pictured Through Veterans’ Eyes,” New York Times, Nov. 8, 1925. 37 David Bonk, Chateau Thierry & Belleau Wood 1918: America’s Baptism of Fire on

the Marne (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 7. 38 Ibid., 92.

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While no film about any war can possibly be apolitical, Vidor’s movie is unconcerned with the war’s causes, or laying blame for the results. There is virtually no discussion of Germany or German leadership or culture. This, in many ways, is probably the fundamental thematic difference between the film of The Big Parade and Plumes . The focus of the movie is more on the individual experiences and psychological trauma of the typical soldier. The novel is about a specific soldier and his experiences in coming to terms with psychological trauma after the war and placing it into a socio-political context. The perspective is different as well. The novel is autobiographical, with Richard sharing many characteristics to Stallings, whereas in the film, Jim is intended to represent the average doughboy in many aspects (more on the exceptions below). In many ways, it may be said that one of Vidor’s achievements with the movie was to take the trauma of the war experience and contextualize it in such a way that he could include a Hollywood happy ending without seeming to cheapen the war experience, while also not offending large segments of the population by including advocacy (ironically, the movie would be read in expressly political terms in Great Britain, as discussed below). Stallings’ novel features no such possibility of a positive conclusion and is explicitly critical of America’s leaders. The Big Parade has a simple plotline, variations of which would be repeated in countless other war films. Jim Apperson (John Gilbert) is a naïve and somewhat arrogant young man (atypically, for this plotline, from a rich family) who enlists due to social pressure as opposed to patriotism. After the prologue, the narrative moves to France, where Vidor includes many scenes of daily life in camp. The soldiers jury rig a method of bathing, get used to sleeping in cramped quarters and begin to make friends with each other (An interview with Gilbert indicates that some of the bits and scenes were improvised by the actors on set, only to find those same bits had been planned by the director39 ). Apperson has an affair with Melisande (Renée Adorée) a young woman from rural France who does not speak English. Their romance is suddenly cut off, and the film takes an abrupt change in tone, when the company marches off to battle, where Apperson finds himself in a living hell. His friends are killed and he loses a leg, but survives. Upon arriving home, he finds that his

39 “Silent Director of ‘Big Parade’ Got Results with Mental Telepathy,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 1925.

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girlfriend (Claire Adams) has left him for another man. He returns to a battered France, where he is reunited with Melisande. The Big Parade is at times a film of striking paradox. Jim Apperson is intended to be portrayed as an American Everyman. Yet he is a child of privilege and most obviously not an Everyman. In fact, changing the setting of the American scenes to California from South Carolina, as in Stallings original treatment, makes the characters lose their folksy and rugged qualities. Like much in the film thematically, the portrayals of the Appersons’ wealth are ambiguous. On the one hand, in the initial scenes, Jim is seen as a spoiled and somewhat pompous young man, but his industrialist father (Hobart Bosworth) is portrayed as a caring and sensitive patriarch. Upon his return home from the war, audience members who are involved with Jim’s plight may find that they are glad he is rich, as this guarantees that he will receive the medical care that he needs. Although he falls in love with and ultimately returns to a poor farm girl, this is not seen as a repudiation of his background, nor as an embrace of the proletariat. It may best be read as a realist statement specific to the character. This is another one of the film’s ironies: that a character mostly intended to represent the average Doughboy—an approach that, judging by its audience reception, succeeded with many audiences—stops representing the typical soldier in his only moment of victory. Few Americans would have had the resources, or the desire for that matter, to return to France after the war’s conclusion. Vidor avoids completing the anti-elitist commentary he began in the prologue by not having Jim repent his privileged background. A partial explanation of this may be found by examining the director’s filmography. Many of Vidor’s films are about Everyman who often succeed or fail based on their own talent. Two films, The Crowd (1928) and The Fountainhead (1949), are helpful examples of this. The Crowd, often considered to be the director’s masterpiece, is about an ambitious but untalented man who is forced to realize that he lacks the ability to be anything special. The Fountainhead, an adaptation of the Ayn Rand novel of the same name, is about a brilliant architect whose success is stymied by the fact that society limits his talent. Both of these films are consistent with political libertarianism, although The Crowd is at least sympathetic to the idea that it may be humiliating for an essentially decent person to lack the necessary talent to achieve greatness. The Big Parade film does not condemn privilege, as seen with Jim’s father, but does seem to condemn

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wealth without work as with Jim in the prologue. The problem is not wealth, but laziness. The Big Parade is a director’s film, as was observed by Edwin Schallert at the time.40 Vidor’s visuals suggest concepts and war experiences that the simplistic plotline would not indicate. There are three elements of the film that Vidor chooses to emphasize: (A) mundane accounts of soldiers’ experiences in France, (B) the psychological shock of war trauma and (C) the love story. After Jim enlists in the army, Vidor includes many scenes intended to be representative of the experiences of the typical American soldiers in France. Jim sleeps in a barn, eats army rations, struggles with a foreign language, makes friends with other soldiers, is sent on menial chores and, as will be discussed later, has a romantic encounter with a native. Save the last, none of these experiences are the typical material of Hollywood war epics but in combination can be seen as making up the experiences of a standard Doughboy. Vidor uses long takes, some that last minutes. These, combined with the somewhat banal events, help to provide to the viewer the idea that they are witnessing reality unfolding. However, in a book written in later years on his directorial experiences, the director denied that in his aesthetic he was trying to recreate history exactly as it happened: “Film is an art form and must not be inhibited by anyone else’s interpretation of how you might behave or how an event happened. There is no correct interpretation of a historical happening. If there were it might not be useful under the circumstances. Everyone has his own point of view. There are as many truths are there are faces.” He goes on to state that, though the US Signal Corps had marched in a certain formation in the actual conflict, he restaged the event to make it look better on film.41 Despite this attitude, not surprising from a film director, an LA Times piece emphasizes his use of war photographs for accuracy and states “Minor details, often considered too unimportant to warrant special attention, were reproduced as nearly like the original as possible.”42 This type of reportage was similar to coverage given to Four Horsemen as discussed in the previous chapter.

40 Edwin Schallert, “When Does the Actor Win?” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 1926. 41 King Vidor, King Vidor on Filmmaking (New York: David McKay Company, Inc.),

221–222. 42 “Details of ‘Big Parade’ Are Vexing,” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1925.

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To modern audiences, the opening scenes of The Big Parade may seem jarring. Set during the early days of American entry into the war in 1917, there are no cues that might indicate to an audience the setting of that year. In fact, costumes, hairstyles and the tone, which as times seem reminiscent of a Harold Lloyd comedy, indicate the mid-20s. However, when Apperson leaves for Europe, the film, which began at a fast clip and is somewhat melodramatic, abruptly becomes slow paced and realistic according to the film aesthetics of the 1920s. When one realizes that the film is an attempt to contextualize the experience for mid-1920s audiences, this juxtaposition of the aesthetics of the 1920s against the setting of the teens is more understandable. When taken into context, it becomes easier to understand why Vidor chooses to set the expository scenes in the 1920s in all but name for it makes it easier for the audience to identify with the characters and the culture. When Jim returns in the epilogue, the continuity of the untouched homeland helps to exacerbate the contrast against the inwardly altered and aged soldier. Of course, a simpler explanation is possible: it may have merely been cheaper to use contemporary settings than to recreate the war period. The slow pace (this is an objective statement, many of the shots run on for minutes) helps to induce a sense of realism in the audience, as does Vidor’s use of light comedy. Until Apperson’s unit marches off to battle, many moments are spent as Jim discovers that physical discomfort of military life along with the difficulty of communicating with the French natives. Most of these episodes are exaggerations, but not farce. They are reminiscent in tone of the many comic strips and other materials familiar with soldiers. None of the annoyances and inconveniences falls into the realm of tragedy, which is saved for the battle scenes. When the battle begins, Vidor changes his technique for the third time, and the film speeds up. Some of the shots are expressionistic, and there are many in which Jim does not appear. (This may be due to the fact that Thalberg ordered re-shoots for more spectacle when a distributor promised to advertise it with more footage.43 It is possible that Gilbert was not available at the time.) The casting of the other players is unHollywood in its lack of glamour. With the exception of Gilbert and

43 Isenberg, “The Great War Viewed From the Twenties,” 47.

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Adorée, the other major characters that we encounter in France are plausibly average in their appearance. This provides a heavy contrast with the early scenes set in a rich mansion in America. The pre-release publicity was certainly favourable. In the October 1925 issue of Photoplay magazine, an unattributed article stated “One of the most remarkable pictures to be released in the next few months is ‘The Big Parade,’ with John Gilbert, directed by King Vidor…It’s a story of an American doughboy and contains some of the most accurate and dramatic picturizations of the American army in the World War. One scene especially is one of the greatest scenes ever shown in a picture.”44 In keeping with the anticipation that the picture could be a major hit, MGM planned prestige openings in major cities around the country. In Los Angeles, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre planned a live “patriotic prologue” with “colorfull effects” and “spectacular beauty,” ironic considering the ambivalent stance of the film.45 It was also the first movie premier to be broadcast over radio.46 In Atlanta, “An array of notables, high officials of the city and state and others…” attended the premier, along with Stalling’s mother, a resident of the city.47 The city’s newspaper also puffed the presence of a native son in credits, inaccurately stating “…Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor gave Mr. Stallings the opportunity of embodying pictorially his knowledge and tremendous feeling about the war…Following the author’s idea it was made primarily as a simple and human story and not as a spectacular ‘movie.’”48 A pre-release colour magazine ad spoke volumes about what the studio thought the public would want to hear. Featuring a whimsical drawing of Jim wearing a helmet with a well-dressed socialite in miniature riding on top (most definitely not Melisande), the copy emphasized Stallings’ role in the production. Arguing in large print that the film was “By the author of ‘What Price Glory: Broadway’s Biggest Theatrical Success’,” the ad went on the state that “Stallings himself has gone to Culver City (in

44 “The Big Parade,” Photoplay, Oct., 1925, 54. 45 ““Big Parade” Premiere Coming,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1925. 46 “Premiere Air Report Promised,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 1925. 47 Albert S. Hardy Jr., “Notables to See Premiere of ‘Big Parade’ Tonight,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 1, 1926. 48 “Lawrence Stallings’ ‘Big Parade’ Film, Atlanta Theater Soon,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 21, 1926.

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reality the director visited him in New York) and is working in the closest collaboration with King Vidor so that no detail will be overlooked in producing the pictures the feeling of the author’s brilliant story of those hectic times and these post-bellum days.” The ad went on to state: The Big Parade is the story of one or two of the vast army of carefree doughboys who sailed into Paris just a few years ago and saw lots of things they’d never seen before. And these things weren’t entirely trenches. For one, we might mention the mamselles of Paree, Tom Apperson (John Gilbert) the hero of this yarn, and his hard-boiled buddy from Texas find the going oversees to be merry. Every incident in this great screen tale is faithful to fact, and this doesn’t mean it’s a theater-full of grim heroics, but rather a wealth of hilarious incidents spun out of the personal phases of life of the boy in the army, from his first day in the ill-fitting uniform to his passionate affair with a little French baggage. Watch this one!49

The studio was clearly worried that the audience would think that the war content would be too heavy and thus, tried to sell the film as a comedy in the vein of the play What Price Glory. The writer(s) of the ad feel the need to warn audiences that the primary focus would not be the trenches, completely ignoring the film’s battle scenes that are intended to shock. Although some of the scenes in France do fall under the vein of light comedy, it can hardly be argued that Jim and his friends find the going overseas to be “merry.” Yet, the ad comments that the film was to be an authentic Great War film. As the movie neared release, the advertising of the film focused on the film’s romantic aspects and its spectacle. Many posters for the film featured an image of Jim romancing Melisande while in uniform—and said uniform was the only explicit reference to the war. When the war was visually present, its importance was either split between the romance as it was in a triptych featuring a large still of Gilbert smiling in uniform, next to two smaller images of the men fighting and two lovers (oddly, not Jim and Melisande) wooing. This writer was unable to find any contemporary American promotional image of the film that featured solely or even principally the war content. Quotes in newspaper advertisement also

49 Advertisement in All Americans Ads of the 20s, ed. Jim Heimann (Madrid: Taschen, 2004), 349.

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emphasized the romantic and comedic aspects of the picture, as well as the spectacle. One ad quoted Polly Wood, who compared the movie to Birth of a Nation.50 Whatever apprehension the studio may have had about the release of the film was apparently not shared by exhibitors. Film Daily encouraged theatre owners to “Get it or regret it.” The writer handling the film for publication argued that “Every family that sent to France a brother, a son, or a relative-and that means practically every family in America-will want to see ‘The Big Parade’ because it shows what our boys went through in that hellish period. It is so true to life that everyone connected with the Great War will enjoy it. It is otherwise essentially a man’s picture.” When writing about the films’ box-office possibilities,51 the paper was explicit: “This is one of the biggest box office attractions ever coming your way.” From American critics, the response to Big Parade was not much different from that of Four Horsemen in terms of acolytes. It received near universal critical acclaim. Writing for the LA Times, Helen Klumph raved: Masterpiece is a word which has been so overworked in advertising good, bad and indifferent pictures that it does not carry the weight it should when sincerely applied to fine achievement. If there were a better word “The Big Parade” would merit it. Frequently it has been observed that motion pictures appealing as they do to a far bigger public, cannot tear cherished veils of illusion from such subjects as the World War as freely as novels and plays can. The tremendous success that is bound to come from “The Big Parade” will do much toward breaking down that viewpoint…52

After the film’s premier, it was obvious that Vidor had given the studio a gold mine. In a December 13, LA Times interview, Marcus Loew stated “It is still too early to prophesy the returns on a picture of a type of ‘The Big Parade’…but its popularity following the premiers in both New York and Los Angeles is already enormous. The picture is playing to capacity at

50 Chicago Daily Tribune ad, Jan. 16, 1926. 51 “The Big Parade,” Film Daily (New York), Nov. 22, 1925, 6. 52 Helen Klumph, “‘Big Parade’ Lauded,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 1925.

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both afternoon and evening performances in New York, and an unprecedented thing in the case of motion pictures has happened in that the theatre brokers have taken tickets to sell without the customary privilege of returning them…The run of the picture in Hollywood is just beginning to gain its full momentum. It will be a little slower to reach the peak here than usual, but the cumulative effect will, I believe be tremendous.”53 A later article from the paper indicated that one-third of the population of the city had seen the picture by February 21.54 By November, the movie had grossed more than a million dollars in New York alone and ran over a year in the city.55 The picture was not quite successful everywhere, however. Vidor’s film ran for only four weeks in Washington, DC, and two in Atlanta,56 impressive for the time but nowhere near the mammoth NYC run.57 Perhaps owing to the ambiguity Vidor instilled in the film, picture was popular with both critical elites and the military. An LA Times report indicated “Military, naval and marine corps veterans of the late war overseas are visiting Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in such numbers to view ‘The Big Parade’ that the giant visitors’ register in the forecourt reads like the passenger list of a transchannel transport in wartime.”58 The theatre later hosted a “Veterans Night’s party” attended by Adorée and Charles Ray.59 Apparently based on reports from New York, the paper also reported that the film “is extolled by overseas veterans as a vivid reproduction of the war as they lived it.”60 In the December 1925 issue of Photoplay magazine, James R. Quick wrote: “A high average [referring to MGM’s profits] will soon be topped off with ‘The Big Parade’ parts of which I saw in the California studios and which I consider the finest war episode ever filmed.” The picture would also be named by the readers of that publication as the

53 Edwin Schallert, “Loew Foresees More Progress,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 1925. 54 “Total of Almost One-Half Million See ‘Big Parade’,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 21,

1926. 55 “Projection Jottings,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 1926. 56 “‘Theater Talk: The Big Parade’ Final Week Atlanta Theater,” The Atlanta

Constitution, Mar. 7, 1926. 57 “Poli’s,” The Washington Post, Feb. 8, 1926. 58 “Noted War Veterans See Film,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 1926. 59 “Film Stars Will Greet Veterans at Screen Party,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 21, 1926. 60 “Peace Argument Seen as Motive of ‘Big Parade’,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 1926.

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best film of the year. That opinion was also held by Mordaunt Hall, who placed the movie at the top of his ten best lists, writing “…we have a real man for a character, a man who ducks when he hears the hiss of a shell, a man who gets covered with mud, who sneers, who is vengeful and a man who comes back and marries his sweetheart.” He later reported the response of a member of the audience: “On the night this picture was presented Slim, the tall one of the three buddies, played by Karl Dane, caused a strong looking man to get up in his seating mutter ‘I hope they don’t get him.’”61 Clearly, the war content was going over well with audiences. The pre-release publicity and advertisement, which downplayed the film’s contextualization of trauma, may have ironically heightened the shock value of the war scenes, as audiences may not have been expecting them. To date, no Great War film had gone as far as Vidor’s in its portrayal of the horrors of war. Edwin Schallert began his review by stating: “The curtain has at last been drawn back to permit a view of the realities of war. Without flamboyancy, without cheap melodrama, the story of the European conflict is set forth in ‘The Big Parade.’ It is a master picture – one of the greatest produced in any season.” He later stated: “Nothing in the soldiering of the A.E.F. has been over looked.” And later: “‘The Big Parade’ is great realism done in a great way. It indulges in virtually no hokum. It blends tragedy with comedy, but its viewpoint never sickens nor becomes sentimental. It all rings true.”62 What appears to be the directors’ major achievement for contemporary American audiences was to find a relatively safe way to experience the trauma of the conflict while not being overwhelmed by the sense of tragedy and loss. The movie’s Hollywood ending, in which Jim returns to his great love, provided a life-affirming conclusion to an experience that many found to exceptionally traumatic. The implicit message of the film is that true love will save both Jim and Melisande from their problems, he from his psychological wounds and she from her poverty, which would have provided both veterans and their relatives and friends in the audiences with a positive message to leave the theatre with. Thus, the

61 Mordaunt Hall, “Ten Best Films of 1925 Helped by Late Influx,” New York Times, Jan. 10, 1926. 62 Edwin Schallert, “‘The Big Parade’ Sensational War Spectacle,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 11, 1925.

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“realism” of the film is not in its depiction of literal life but in the intensity of the emotional expression of the First World War experience. For this reason, The Big Parade can be classified as a memorial diversion, one in which audiences could experience what they felt to be the horrors of war in the safe environment of the popular cinema. To many audiences, the movie was very emotional experience. The Atlanta Constitution wrote “Just words, ever very futile things, would be inadequate to describe the bigness of it, the grittiness and awful reality of its story of war stripped of its glory and its glamour, or to describe the thrill of as one sits before a moving panorama of the greatest conflict of men and guns, and life and death.”63 After comparing the film to the works of Rudyard Kipling, Beverly Burgess of The Atlanta Constitution commented that “in the visualization of this war epic, where real human estimates were being portrayed with unusual realism.” Burgess closed the review by giving Stallings possibly the greatest compliment he could have asked for: “Laurence Stallings has very likely done more for world peace than is realized and to this Atlanta-world hero we bow in gratitude, with the prayer that his message will ‘get over’.”64 This statement is interesting for several reasons. It implicitly argues that Stallings, the hometown hero, was the author of the film, not Vidor. It also seems to indicate that Burgess found Stallings’ political argument in the film, which itself is a testament to the director’s ambiguity. A writer for The Christian Science Monitor known only by the initials E.C.S. wrote in his or her review: “All concerned were out to make a photoplay that would picture war truthfully…Merely by abstaining from the usual flag-waving bunkum that has made a fraud of other filmed war romances, ‘The Big Parade’ achieves honesty.” In describing the reaction of the audience, the critic wrote: “An audience that filled the theatre contained many young men who had been through it all and there chuckles at the incidents of camp routine were proof of the accuracy of the implications. The sub-titles on the screen were always circumspect under the circumstances, but there were several occasions when the general laughter proceed that the dark-haired veterans knew what the moving lips were uttering in the heart of the small wrangling, or the give and take the endless joshing.” He finished the review by commenting upon 63 “‘The Big Parade’ Final Week Atlanta Theater,” The Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 7, 1926. 64 Beverly Burgess, “Life’s Big Parade Made Easier by ‘Big Parade’ Screen Version Portraying Hope of the World,” The Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 9, 1926.

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Jim’s thoughts at the end of the film “Is he thinking that it was not the German people, but all instigators of war, whatever were the enemy?”65 A critic for the Washington Post noted “It is not drama only; rather, life! Life, sounding its thrilling diapason across the abysm of space and time. Not local, but for everybody-the things that tugs at humanities’ heart.”66 Somewhat illogically, Paul Stevenson commented “Laurence Stallings has given the world its masterpiece as far as motion picture stories of the world war are concerned. It is evidentially accurate to the smallest detail or it would not meet with the unanimous approval of those who were in the thick of it.”67 One of the rare dissenting opinions was a Chicago theatregoer known only as Minnie M. Her published letter merited an entire column of responses, with statements like “She seems to have forgotten that that great picture was made, not to please her, but to give the public something which it needs-a true picture of our boys ‘over there’ minus the impossibility and the gushy sentiment. And how it succeeded! / That the public as a whole liked it is a tribute, that the ex-service men, those who lived in that hell, felt that it wasn’t a picture but the real thing is what counts; therein lies the greatness of ‘The Big Parade.’” Another reported that she had seen an officer of the conflict and “Noticing his extreme quietude I glanced at him and saw huge tears running down his face.”68 The movie was also seen as relevant to contemporary thoughts on war and peace. As another LA Times article indicated, “The attention of students of arbitration and advocates of world peace is being attracted to ‘The Big Parade,’ King Vidor’s drama of the World War, as a potential argument in favour of international conciliation.” The article went on to state that “those who believe in international conciliation” used the scene in which Jim is trapped in the hole with a German as an example.69 The film was successful enough that it inspired a song, “My Dream of the Big Parade,” written by Al Dubin and Jimmy McHugh, and recorded by The

65 E.C.S., “The Big Parade,” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), Jan. 19, 1926. 66 “‘Big Parade’ Goes into Its Third Week,” Washington Post, Jan. 31, 1926. 67 Paul Stevenson, “‘Big Parade’ Appeal Grows as It Enters Second Week,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 9, 1926. 68 Mae Tinee, “The Voice of the Movie Fan,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr. 25, 1926. 69 “Peace Argument Seen as Motive of ‘Big Parade’,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 1926.

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Peerless Quartet with Henry Burr and Billy Murray. The lyrics follow a narrator veteran who looks back to his time on the war and sees the events “just like a photoplay on up my wall.” Later, the narrator comments “I saw one legged pals coming home to their gals,” and remembers “Fighting and fighting a horrible war/And God only knows what you’re fighting it for.”70

Response in Great Britain If the response from critics was positive in America, it was a near polar opposite when released in Britain. Though successful, the movie aroused great anger and controversy in many audiences for its perceived slight to the British Expeditionary Force. The film was condemned by elites for failing to give British soldiers proper recognition for their contribution in the war. What was in America interpreted as a movie about the universal experience of conflict was in Britain seen as an arrogant dismissal of the heroism, sacrifice and impact of Tommies. The fact that no British soldiers were even portrayed was often seen as insulting. Given Stallings’ clear anti-war stance and Vidor’s focus on trauma as opposed to politics, how did this reading of the film occur? In his book Celluloid War Memorials: The British Instructional Films Company and the Memory of the Great War, Mark Connelly describes this period as a time of fear for the British film industry and the effects of the popularity of Hollywood. Though American movies tended to be popular with British audiences, their influence was often seen as a worrying development, imperilling British culture. Connelly’s book frames the response of The Big Parade in contrast to a series of films produced by British Instructional Films, which clearly celebrate the heroism (and implicitly and often explicitly) righteousness of the British cause.71 These were films that British audiences could go to understand and celebrate their perceived central role in the conflict (of course, nearly every combatant country in any war believes their role was critically important).

70 Al Dubin and Jimmy McHugh, My Dream of the Big Parade, The Peerless Quartet with Henry Burr and Billy Murray. ©1926, 78 RPM. 71 Connelly, Mark, Celluloid War Memorials: The British Instructional Films Company and the Memory of the Great War (Exeter: The University of Exeter Press, 2016), 167– 170.

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The clearest example of this kind of objection came from an essay by Arthur Symons in The Sunday Post. Symons argues: “Having ‘told the world’ in no uncertain voice that she won the war, America, it seems, is now out to support the fiction by demonstration through the medium of the films.” He later stated the movie “by all accounts is a most unfortunate and stupid travesty of a great subject.” Symons objects to the fact the US spent a great deal of time training its veterans for trench warfare when they could have been fighting, and criticizes the film for containing no trenches. After complaining that no other Allied nations were portrayed or “even mentioned,” he states that “Now, all this would only derive a pitying or contemptuous smile from those who went through the war, or suffered bereavement thereby, and may be unfortunate enough to visit a picture house where it will be shown.” The article continues in this vein for some time, with Symons ultimately arguing that he is afraid that non-white members of the British Empire will confuse Americans for the British and get a bad impression about their “white masters.” Symons ends with a call for a stronger British film industry with a duty placed on imported pictures.72 Whatever position one can take away from Vidor’s somewhat incoherent view of his commentary of war in The Big Parade, it can be clear that it was not his intention to make a movie arguing that the United States won the war by itself, or that its contribution was more important than that of other countries. If anything, the movie is critical of American jingoism and war propaganda, something no British notice I could find observed. The fact that the Battle of Belleau Wood is won by the Americans is presented as more of a near catastrophe avoided as opposed to an occasion of glorious victory. The movie is primarily concerned with the war’s psychological effects on an individual soldier, not a political statement to celebrate America’s role in the conflict. According to an Atlanta Constitution article, “Several of the papers complain that the film conveys the idea that America alone won the war, and they consider for this reason it is unsuitable for production [presumably meaning exhibition] in Europe.” As an example, The Star was quoted as saying: “It is doubtful if any nation other than the United States would have had the imprudence or bad taste to produce this film, which will certainly find considerable opposition in England, Europe and 72 Arthur Symons, “Scandal of ‘The Big Parade’,” Sunday Post (Dundee, Scotland), May 30, 1926.

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the British dominions.”73 An article mentioned in the Derry Daily Telegraph quoted the reaction of Fighting Forces, a UK military magazine to the film: “For the farmers of New England and the Babbitts of the Middle West ‘The Big Parade’ is doubtless an excellent and inspiring fare, but for a country that’s lost more men in one month on Passchendaele than the United States lost in the whole war, the film is as insulting as it is unconvincing.”74 The financial success of the film in the UK apparently came as a surprise to many. A description in The Western Morning News and Mercury displays a typical thought: “After the most elaborate advance publicity any film has ever received this side of the Atlantic, the great American war epic ‘The Big Parade’ is now showing to crowded houses every day at the Tivoli. Though there is no doubt about the technical excellence of Mr. King Vidor’s wonderful production, I feel quite certain this film will not be popular with European audiences. Throughout the whole two hours of the picture the arrogant assumption that the American army won the war is maintained without a single concession to the heroism of the Allied Armies…” The article describes that the premiere did not go very well, with several audience members walking out before the film was finished and “One lady loudly protested against ‘such a shameful film.’”75 The “Stage and Screen” section of The Yorkshire Evening Post recorded that “Contrary to general prophecy [sic] ‘The Big Parade,’ the American ideaat least the American film idea-of how the war was won, is still running at the Tivoli. I know what would happen if such a blatant-and untruepropaganda film was to be sent from this country to the states.”76 These sorts of responses to the picture were not isolated, but they were also not universal, as evidenced by both the large amount of people willing to buy a ticket to the picture (the movie ran for a record77 six months in London)78 and some of the more even-handed reviews found also

73 “‘Big Parade’ Is Attacked by Press of Great Britain,” Atlanta Constitution, May 23, 1926. 74 “Town and Country Gossip,” Derry Daily Telegraph, July 8, 1926. 75 “An American Film,” The Western Morning News and Mercury, May 24, 1926. 76 F.G.S., “Films of the Week,” Yorkshire Evening Post, June 26, 1926. 77 “‘The Big Parade’ at the Cinema De Luxe,” Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, Feb. 19, 1927. 78 A “Mail” Critic, “The Big Parade,” Daily Mail (Hull, England), Feb. 15, 1927.

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published. For example, the writer for the Hull publication The Daily Mail sounded similar to many of the American reviews, praising the film for “It must be stated in favour of this class of film, however, that as yet there has been no attempt made to glorify war, but rather to depict it as a horrible affair in which opportunities for men to distinguish themselves as heroes are presented. If ‘The Big Parade’ is inclined to point to U.S.A. as the winners of the Great War, British audiences must remember that it is an American production, and, therefore, would not appear prejudiced in the land of its origin.”79 As Mark Glancy indicates, this dichotomy of reaction between popular audiences and cultural elites in Britain was not unusual: “It was the country’s elites-leading figures in politics, the arts and business-who assumed that Hollywood films were being imposed on cinema-goers and that they had neither means or the inclination to resist them.”80 The film itself had not changed, but the context had. There seems to be ample evidence that the movie was commercially successful in Great Britain, and that many, at least in the media, at the time disliked the film as it was read as being too pro-American. But we have no evidence that the majority of English, Scottish or Welsh audiences saw the film that way, or at least, saw this position as being as objectionable as many others did. While the American reception focused on the movie’s supposed realism and accurate depiction of war trauma, the British reception tended to focus on the spectacle and the storyline’s (lack of) accuracy to a perception of geopolitical world events. However, the only direct quote from an actual British soldier I could locate found the Tommy arguing that the film “portrays vividly and pretty accurately in detail much of the chaos of war in its reality.” In his letter, he describes theme of Plumes and later, All Quiet on the Western Front: “I was one of those vainglorious flag-wavers who under the influence of military bands, white feathers, etc., threw my chest out and donned the kilt…If only the women of this country, to the same extent as the men, could have actually seen and experienced stark naked war, this military bogey (again raising up its head) would speedily be extinguished. If this picture affects others who witnessed it to the same extent as it has affected me, then it will prove to be a great picture.”81 79 Ibid. 80 Mark Glancy, Hollywood and the Americanization of Britain from the 1920s to the Present (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014), 20. 81 Ex-Prisoner. “Reality of War.” Letter to the editor from Leeds, dated January 27. The Yorkshire Evening Post, Jan. 28, 1927.

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Writing in response to the controversy, an anonymous Great War veteran stated in The New York Times: “It is the epic of the American soldier. It belongs to him through all time and to him alone. It could not be understood all right in Britain. The Tommy’s story must be told in his film for his people and the Poilu’s war was his own too… ‘The Big Parade’ is American. The rest of the world can forgive it. But to the soldier who has seen and known and felt and in the disillusionment of the aftermath has lost sight of the light that once did lead him ‘The Big Parade’ needs no apology to the nations…it reminds him that it was good once to have been just a soldier in the army United States.”82

What Price Glory The success of The Big Parade would change how Hollywood studios perceived the Great War as a property for the foreseeable future. The film’s commercial success and audience reaction proved that filmgoers were not necessarily adverse to a film that dealt with negative and traumatic aspects to the conflict. For the next few years, every subsequent American war film would in some way be a response to The Big Parade. Unlike Four Horsemen, the success of the picture was not seen as a fluke and other studios looked for Great War material to film. It should come as no surprise that a film version of What Price Glory was soon green-lighted. According to Marilyn Ann Moss, the biographer of director Raoul Walsh, MGM originally hired Stallings to write the adaption of the play, but apparently decided to produce The Big Parade instead. After the success of that film, Fox bought the property.83 There are some logical problems with this account. Why would MGM either sell the rights or not renew the option on the play after their massive success with a similar property? Walsh, who until this time was most famous for helming the Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler The Thief of Bagdad (1924), had just finished an unsuccessful five-film deal at Paramount and had reluctantly returned to Fox, which he felt had stifled his artistic control.84 According to Moss, the studio gave the director his choice over casting, and he chose Edmund 82 Anonymous, “Flashes from the Past,” New York Times, May 30, 1926. 83 Moss, Marilyn Ann, Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary

Director (Lexington: The University of Press of Kentucky, 2011). 84 Canham, Kingsley, Michael Curtiz Raoul Walsh Henry Hathaway (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1973), 88.

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Lowe as Sergeant Quirt and, over his initial objection due to his English origins, Victor McLaglen as Captain Flagg. Like The Big Parade, the film was shot in Southern California, which proved a more than suitable double for France. The film was given the prestige treatment by the studio, with “roadshow” distribution,85 along with a synchronous score with sound effects. Clearly, Fox was anticipating this is as a major film of the season, probably due to both the success of the play and Vidor’s film. They were right in that assumption. As Moss states, “With a production budget of $800,000, the picture grossed $4 million.”86 What Price Glory follows Flagg and Quirt, two Marines who share a love-hate relationship that comes to a head over Charmaine (Dolores Del Rio) a somewhat promiscuous daughter of the owner of a French watering hole. The film, which is split into episodes as opposed to one overarching plotline, opens with two segments during previous military exploits in which it is revealed that the two characters share a similar attitude towards women—they are treated as sex objects for amusement and pleasure, but little more. However, in France, the two men begin to develop genuine feelings towards Charmaine, which serves to soften the hard-hearted veterans, at least a bit. In terms of the personal journey of their characters, What Price Glory is an inversion of The Big Parade and other subsequent war films such as All Quiet on the Western Front. Instead of a narrative of an innocent being put through hell and emerging cynical and shattered on the other end, the play and Walsh’s film features Flagg, a hard-edged, seen-it-all veteran who slowly becomes slightly more idealistic due to his love of Charmaine, an affection more parental than romantic. As Lea Jacobs observes, Charmaine is “progressively sentimentalized” throughout the film, as opposed to the play. This has the effect of reducing the cynicism of Stallings’ and Anderson’s work. As Jacobs indicates, Stallings’ and Anderson’s play “…was considered realist not because of its use of the vernacular but also because of its departure from conventional representations of the War.”87 The colloquial and profanity-laced dialogue could not be converted to the silent screen, but in the second aspect, the film was a departure from previous portrayals of the war.

85 Jacobs, 133. 86 Moss, 90–93. 87 Jacobs, 135.

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What Price Glory is also a far more cynical movie than The Big Parade. If Vidor’s achievement was to place war drama within the context of Hollywood classicism, Walsh continued the evolution of this cinematic discourse by translating the play’s realist overtones again into classicism. The film does not reveal or imply the fate of the three major characters, including Charmaine, and although the love triangle plotline is given a bit of a resolution, it is not complete. More essential to the film’s perceived realism is in its lack of a transcendent spiritual or moral lesson for the characters. About the one that learns anything at all is Flagg, who has his belief that he should not become emotionally involved reinforced. Despite the change in theme from play to film, Walsh’s movie can hardly be called saccharine. In many ways, it is colder than The Big Parade, and the fact it was such a commercial success may be unexpected, considering its perspective and cynicism. Concerning itself with professional soldiers, the movie lacks an audience surrogate character like Vidor’s Jim Apperson, and the film (like the play) uncommercially makes the protagonist character actor McLaglen’s Flagg. Although the some alteration was made to Quirt’s character in the casting of Lowe (when Quirt is introduced in the play, the stage direction describes him as “the very picture of oldtimer,”88 while Lowe is young, strong and conventionally handsome), building a romantic film around McLaglen may seem like an unusual choice. It may be partially explained by the success of a rival MGM actor Lon Chaney, who tended to play cynical characters who fall for women who often see Chaney’s character as a father figure instead of an object of sexual attraction. It is not hard to see Chaney as Flagg, and in fact, he played a similar role in a non-Great War MGM military film, Tell It to the Marines (1926). Even so, McLaglen was hardly the matinee idol figure of The Big Parade’s John Gilbert. Jacobs indicates “Anderson’s and Stallings’ satire on military dress codes of conduct, as well as their biting criticism of the upper echelons of authority, deepen the pessimism of the play’s stress on the inevitable suffering and death of the troops. No Hollywood film in the 1920s was fully able to mount this kind of representation of the War.”89 While true,

88 Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings, Three American Plays (New York: Hardcourt, Brace and Company, 1926), 9. 89 Jacobs, 141.

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that statement is not complete. What Price Glory does feature direct antiwar political commentary, some explicit. A key adaptation of a scene in the second act of the play provides an example. It features a monologue from Lieutenant Moore (played in the film by Leslie Fenton), who decries the war in such a way that it could be found in Plumes . While his statements in the film are not as strong, they still are fairly biting. This section of the movie begins with an intertitle that reads “Through the Scarlet Night- a dressing station beneath the Earth, that earth to which so many will return before the mocking guns of glory cease.” Through intertitles, Moore says “My men look at me like whipped dogs- white faced boys with the stink of the dead in their nostrils-and all night long that wounded sniper in a tree screaming for mercy! You talk about honor and courage and a man bleeds to death on a cross above your head. Flagg! I’m going to take my boys out of the muck and blood. And I’ll kill you if you stand in my way. WHAT PRICE GLORY NOW?” Moore then becomes hysterical and is restrained by Flagg. It would be difficult to analyse this sequence as something other than a condemnation of the idea of war as a glorious activity for men or countries to achievement greatness in. What is missing from the film adaptation is not the anti-war sentiment, but the placing of blame. As Jacobs indicates, the movie is not critical of the military hierarchy (who are never seen, altered from the play) or the politicians in Washington sending the men to their deaths. Despite the fact that the film is critical of the war, it is not directly critical of any individual nation (including Germany), person or legal policy. The film’s Germans are given virtually no elaboration in their character or motivation, and often are only recognizable as German due to their helmets. The movie does not criticize Wilsonian interventionism (although such a position may have been popular to 1920s audiences). Aside from its conviction that war was incredibly wasteful of human life and by implication unnecessary, it is silent on these matters. Jacobs believes that the film is a positive statement about the Marines. She writes: “This institution, while it unfortunately sometimes kills off ‘Mother’s boys,’ also makes men out of babies in a baptism of blood and fire and provides the opportunities for the drinking, fighting, and gambling that make for male friendship.”90 It is true that Walsh does celebrate these aspects of masculine militarism. But the film is also in some ways a psychological examination of the inner lives of people in

90 Jacobs, 154.

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such circumstances. Walsh shows that these men are prone to having wild, hedonistic behaviour, but he also demonstrates that this behaviour is ultimately hurtful, particularly towards women. Charmaine, though as non-traditionally sexually as the men, is portrayed by Walsh as a person with legitimate wants and needs. The conflict between Flagg and Quirt over Charmaine begins as masculine bravado over their rights to sleep with her, but later become serious as both men experience emotions for her. What Price Glory is perhaps the first popular and successful American film to take a psychological position about the war many subsequent films, particularly films about the Marines, have taken—that the best way to adapt the emotionally strenuous life is to try not to feel emotions at all. This is one of the key differences between What Price Glory and The Big Parade—in Parade, the main character is emotionally shattered by his experience. In Glory, the men already have psychological defence mechanisms built in that prevent them being totally traumatized by the war, but these adaptations come at a great cost—they are prepared to kill each other at the end of the film for a woman that they will forget about as soon as they march out. It is in this light that the film’s pro-military stance becomes paradoxical. Jacobs calls the movie pro-Marine, but I believe it is more ambiguous than that. It is true that the film resorts to some flagwaving patriotism, but these moments are neither tonally or thematically consistent with what has gone before. The ending is reminiscent of Lon Chaney films, in which Flagg, a crude and vulgar man, nobly and sadly puts the happiness of his love above his own and allows her to go off with Quirt. Before the men walk off, Flagg finds himself in an ironic situation—he has let down the psychological shield of cynicism, only to be hurt again as he forced to watch and participate in more violence and bloodshed. Another way of examining the commentary of the war and trauma in the film is in the music. The synchronized score by an uncredited composer released to theatres contained light, comedic music during the scenes near Charmaine, behind the lines, but the music quickly becomes extremely serious and somewhat disturbing in the scenes near the front. There is no hint of heroic war action during the fighting scenes. It sounds more like material that might have been used later for horror films. Although the movie is heavily associated with the song “Charmaine,” a tune which would later become a standard, the relationship between song

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and film has been exaggerated. The melody never appears in the official synchronized soundtrack, and indeed, the song was not published until 1927, a year after the film was released. Like Four Horsemen, What Price Glory has never been released on DVD and its influence on subsequent war films has been neglected by scholarship. The idea of detaching to deal with trauma would later be more fully explored in All Quiet on the Western Front, for example. Walsh’s film received positive reviews, which placed it in the company of Four Horseman and The Big Parade. Roberta Nangie raved, “I might as well spill it all at once: ‘What Price Glory.’ seems to be the best war picture ever filmed, better than even ‘The Big Parade.’ And what’s more, the movie version has done full justice to the stage play…Now with the shouting over, we can seriously try to figure out what the war was all about. ..probably the easiest way to explain the story is to say that it hands the whole world war condensed into eight reels.”91 Although the film avoids laying blame for the war, Nangie feels that the movie does indeed examine the war in a sophisticated and cogent manner. Clearly, this did not involve a discussion of geopolitical issues, at least to her. Mordaunt Hall found it “a powerful screen effort” and observed that the in audience “…not only was there many an explosion of laughter last night, but two or three times the audience reached such a high pitch of enthusiasm that they applauded loudly.”92 The cultural impact of The Big Parade was felt in the response to What Price Glory. As stated in a Los Angeles Times photo spread, “It was ‘The Big Parade’ that started it- the war picture fever-and by many it is believed that with the screening of ‘What Price Glory?’ this fever will reach its culmination, and that world of cinema will at last be willing to turn to something else. Certainly ‘What Price Glory’ should be the ultimate word in production dealing with the great European conflict.”93 The British reception of Walsh’s film was generally enthusiastic and did not find the same geopolitical controversy found with The Big Parade. In fact, the main debate surrounding the film seems to have been in

91 Roberta Nangie, “All Movies of War Fade When This One’s Seen,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 27, 1926. 92 Mordaunt Hall, “What Price Glory,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 1926. 93 “The Ultimate War Drama,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 1, 1926.

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its perceived crudeness. G.L., the writer for The Yorkshire Evening Post, described: “It is a film bound to raise controversy…Perhaps there are some who take it too literarily. They go, and are shocked and indignant, lest it should be thought that ‘our Joe’ or ‘our John’ ever ‘carried on’ as some of these soldiers do…The point is that, among the other waste of war, they thrown among such carryings-on, and that if they did not fall into that way, many others did, seeking forgetfulness of things hard to bear.” He or she later called it “…a great film, a fine film…” The London correspondent for The Dundee Courier attended a screening for industry tradesmen and reported, in a column ridden with typographical errors, that “It won their loud and energetic applause and (one may assume from that) their fu [sic, probably intended to be further] approbation.” He or she later called the film “…almost too brutal in its realism and its candour, but that is because it is based on a play protesting against war, written by a bitter, badly-maimed, and battle scured [sic] author.” The column also contained the only reference I could find to its Americanness being potentially objectionable: “Because it is vivid and full of punch, and because the ‘We won the war’ feeling is noticeably absent, ‘What Price Glory’ should be a big success in this country.”94 The Yorkshire Post conceded that the film had “stark realism” and “contains certain incidents which are vulgar, or pander to a rather over-strained sensuality or in labial signs indicate lower-deck cursing.” The Express and Advertiser found the film “the most impressive anti-war propaganda the screen has yet given us.”95 These reviews and many others give credence to the idea that the reception of the film was similar in both countries. A theme running through many reviews of the film is (usually favourable) comparisons to The Big Parade. It is in this analysis that the massive influence Big Parade would have on subsequent war films would be felt. It proved that audiences were willing to see a film that at least partially concerned itself with war trauma. It managed to portray this trauma in a way that was moving to audiences, and do to so without embracing or attacking a specific mainstream political viewpoint or position. Despite the success of the play on Broadway, Hollywood’s interest in What Price Glory spiked only after the release of Parade. It is difficult to see Fox or any other studio green-lighting such a cynical film

94 “Best War Film Yet Produced,” Dundee Courier, Mar. 15, 1927. 95 “Big Production at the Grand,” Express and Advertiser (Burnley), Feb. 11, 1928.

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without the prior success of another. Finally, The Big Parade and Walsh’s successor proved that war films could not only make money, but a lot of money. The new few years would feature a large number of war spectacles, two of which will be the focus of the next chapter, where I will argue that even films intended to be sold primarily on adventure and spectacle contained a moral serious commentary of the Great War experience.

CHAPTER 3

The Dark Adventure of the Air War

The experience of soldiers fighting in the air services during the Great War was significantly different from that of those serving on the ground. Perhaps the most obvious difference to a casual observer would be one of comfort—flyers were able to avoid the near continual physical misery that infantry were exposed to daily. Pilots and their associated crews slept indoors, in warm beds, and ate hot food. There were, however, many experiences that were similar to both aerial and land troops. Death was ever present and often, seemingly random. Soldiers quickly learned to guard their emotions regarding grief, so as to be able to continue to function. The difficulty of the circumstances also resulted in soldiers in this homosocial environment becoming extremely close and loyal to each other. For various reasons, flyers for both the Central and Allied sides of the war were considered to have immense propaganda value. Newspapers would report rosters of how many opposition machines each Ace (a title bestowed after a flyer’s fifth victory) had taken out, and pilots themselves would often go through great lengths to increase their confirmed victories, such as landing next to a downed enemy plane and taking its serial number as evidence. Many of the aces themselves were exceptionally charismatic, larger-than-life figures such as the German Manfred von Richthofen (the famous “Red Baron,” so-called because he painted his

© The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_3

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plane bright red to strike fear into his enemies), Frenchman Rene Fonck and American Eddie Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker was the most successful and decorated American airman of the war, with 26 credited kills. This is especially impressive when one considers the fact that he joined his aerodrome a pilot on March 4, 1918,1 meaning that he amassed his total in less than nine months. A former race car driver, Rickenbacker’s background, charismatic personality and genuinely impressive war record meant that he was ensured attention from the contemporary media. Intelligent and articulate while simultaneously dynamic, the pilot was a reporter’s dream. His 1919 memoir of the war, Fighting the Flying Circus, is a surprisingly frank document. Containing virtually no autobiographical material aside from his flight experience, the book not only describes Rickenbacker’s flying exploits, but his state of mind and occasional views on the ethics of killing. However, aside from a strong sense of general patriotism, there are almost no accounts of his views on the geopolitical issues regarding the conflict. Rickenbacker was a strong conservative who opposed entry into the League of Nations,2 but Fighting the Flying Circus contains virtually none of his political views outside of a general pro-American disposition. However, he does not shy away from discussing his thoughts on the nature of killing during war, which are paradoxical. In the first chapter, Rickenbacker writes, regarding his first flight: “The pleasure of shooting down another man was no more attractive to me than the chance of being shot down myself. The whole business of war was ugly to me. But the thought of pitting my experience and confidence against that of German aviators and beating them at their own boasted prowess in air combats had fascinated me.”3 Throughout the memoir, the author does not spend a great amount of time or effort in hatred of the Germans, even after his friends are killed, while at the same time he spends a tremendous amount of energy into killing them, often going out of his way and risking his life to increase his score. At one point, he writes “I dreamed about No. 16 at night and was up bright and early on the lookout for him

1 Eddie Rickenbacker, Fighting the Flying Circus (Dodo Press), 11. 2 E.V. Rickenbacker, “U.S. in League Means Menace of Militarism,” Chicago Daily

Tribune, Oct. 9, 1920. 3 Eddie Rickenbacker, Fighting the Flying Circus, 6.

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every morning…I never in my life wanted anything so much as those orange-colored insignia as decorations for my quarters. I planned to build a house someday suitably designed to set off those works of art to the best advantage.”4 Later, describing another aerial encounter, he writes “My Fokker pilot may have escaped death; and now that the war is over, I most sincerely hope that he did, for he was a brave pilot and a daring fellow.”5 As further proof, Rickenbacker quotes his own diary, six days after his arrival at his aerodrome: “Resolved to-day that hereafter I will never shoot at a Hun who is at a disadvantage, regardless of what he would do if he were in my position.” He later makes a comparison to sport: “…with American flyers the war has always been more or less a sporting proposition and the desire for fair play- the anger it always arouses in a true American to see any violation of fair play-prevents a sportsman from looking at the matter in any other light, even though it be a case of life or death. However that may be, I do not recall a single violation of this principle by any American aviator that I should care to call my friend.”6 Whether or not the above statements are true and or some form of exaggerated hyperbole to make a more exciting book, it is important to note that they were at least presented as true. Rickenbacker is not unconcerned with the ethics of war or of his actions, but the way he defines ethics is different than what one might expect. The pilot seems to see war as a place where the usual peacetime boundaries of morality do not apply. He does not see (at least in 1919) the war as an amoral vacuum, rather one where laws of fair play and gentlemanly conduct have a high priority. In other words, it is acceptable to kill, as long such killing follows the predescribed rules of fair play. The only occasion of anti-German sentiment in the entire book seems to support this idea. It occurs when an enemy aircraft pursues a shot American machine upon its descent: “Anybody but a Hun would have turned away his eyes from so frightful a spectacle. But this Fokker Hun was built of sterner stuff. Instead of turning away to attack the rest of the 95 formation, Fritz stuck steadfastly on Sumner’s tail, firing steadily at him as he descended!”7 Thus, the reader is left with

4 Ibid., 118. 5 Ibid., 176. 6 Ibid., 275. 7 Ibid., 197.

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a seeming paradox—Rickenbacker enthusiastically hunts and kills people that he respects, while simultaneously wishing them no ill will. Though the pilot was clearly an atypical person, this experience was not atypical. In her book An Intimate History of Killing, Joanna Bourke describes how “There were numerous ways in which exceptionally aggressive acts could be experienced as enjoyable.”8 Bourke makes convincingly clear due to her numerous case studies that a sizeable number of people in warfare could enjoy the killing of others and did so repeatedly. These people were apparently usually not sociopaths or otherwise troubled, but regular, “normal” individuals. Arthur Gould Lee, a Royal Flying Corps veteran who wrote of his experiences in Open Cockpit, a memoir published in 1969, described some of the dual and contradictory responses he had to the conflict. In the foreword, he states “…I was to feel those first shattering impacts of seeing men killed, and of killing them myself, and of escaping the same fate, again and again, by the most unholy luck.”9 Later he states “…the daily risk of a violent end was accepted unconcernedly. It was something we never spoke of and seldom consciously thought about.”10 Films concerning the air war offer unique opportunities to discuss the moral issues involving killing. The experience of the ground was for most men defensive—days of waiting in the trenches while being shelled. During the real moments of attack, going “over the top,” often involved killing enemy targets under extreme fear and duress. Flyers, on the other hand, were involved in a more offensive combat. They were often separated from their commanders and personally engaged enemy fighters. The men flying would know that the enemy lived in a similar situation to his own, and could decide for themselves when to attack, when to retreat or when to spare the life of a combatant. For these reasons, veterans of the air war confronted killing in a different and more direct manner than most of their ground counterparts. Lee describes his observations of some of his fellow flyers: “Some pilots and observers, not a very large proportion, really did not know the meaning of fear. They were men of steel. Their minds never dwelt on their risks, never

8 Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing (London: Granta, 1999), 370. 9 Arthur Gould Lee, Open Cockpit: A Pilot of the Royal Flying Corps (London: Grub

Street, 2012), 6. 10 Ibid., 6–7.

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considered what might happen to them. Maybe they had no imagination. To them air fighting was a sport. This was how Richthofen regarded it - until he was wounded, when his attitude changed. And such aces as Bishop, McCudden, Collishaw, MacLaren, Nungesser, McKeever and the American Luke [he does not mention Rickenbacker], ruthless killers all, apparently never knew a twinge of fear in even their most desperate exploits.”11 There is, of course, no way that Lee could have known what was going on in the minds of the flyers on their missions, many of whom he probably never met. However, the observation that he saw them as ruthless killers is significant. Some clearly enjoyed the conflict and of amassing as many trophies as possible. Other experiences between the air and ground war were similar. Many if not most soldiers formed an exceptionally strong emotional attachment to their fellow comrades. The experience of this will be discussed among the infantry in the next chapter, but this was a clear experience to flyers. In Fighting the Flying Circus, Rickenbacker writes: There is a peculiar gratification in receiving congratulations from one’s squadron for a victory in the air. It is worth more to a pilot than the applause of the whole outside world. It means that one has won the confidence of men who shares the misgivings, the aspirations, the trials and the dangers of aeroplane fighting. And with each victory comes a renewal and re-cementing of ties that bind together with these brothers-in-arms. No closer fraternity exists in the world than that of the air-fighters in this great war. And I have yet to find one singled individual who has attained conspicuous success in bringing down enemy aeroplanes who can be said to be spoiled either by his success or by the generous congratulations of his comrades.12

Other pilots had similar but more nuanced feelings. Gould Lee recalls that the daily risk of death “…bred a hitherto unknown bond with other men-comradeship forged in the heat of dangers repeatedly shared. How remarkable was the understanding we found in each other, the camaraderie on the ground, and the unity and trust during our deadly combats in the skies.13 Yet most of us had never met until a few weeks, or even 11 Ibid., 67. 12 Rickenbacker, 34–35. 13 Lee, 7.

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days, before.” Later, however, he writes: “Yet this fraternity, in spite of its common perils and pleasures, was no infallible sphere for strong, enduring friendships. It was not only that we were never a band of entirely amicable brethren, for there were always some who heartily disliked others, and for no discernible reasons, though in the air, all such differences vanished. It was that too often there was insufficient time to get to know a man before he disappeared over the other side.”14 Any experience of any war is a unique experience to unique individuals. However, it is clear that for many, the air war was an odd combination of camaraderie, killing, the daily threat of being killed and a degree of thrill. It could honestly be said that for many soldiers, the experience of the air war was not an entirely or even mainly negative experience, something that relatively few members of the infantry would probably state. The experiences and perspectives described by Rickenbacker and Lee and discussed above were not uncommon among airman. Taken as a whole, this set of experiences when filmed forms what I call “the Dark Adventure”—a series of movies that treat the war in the form of standard adventure narratives, but with an added element—the threat of real death. In air narratives, both fictional and true accounts, this threat of real death amidst the exciting and sometimes spiritual background of air fighting accounted for a combination of traditional Hollywood adventure and the serious realism of the geopolitical tragedy of the war.

The Air War in Hollywood There is clear evidence that the public was interested in the air war, as evidenced by the frequent newspaper accounts of the kill tallies of aces, public lectures given by Rickenbacker upon his return (the Detroit Free Press reported that “Young and Old Listen Raptly to Recital of Ace’s War Experiences”15 ), that Fighting the Flying the Circus was a best-seller16 and the fact that publishers gave him $10,000 for syndicating the book in newspapers.17 In his book Flying on Film, Mark Carlson describes that a large number of films in the late teens and early twenties featured stunt

14 Ibid., 97–98. 15 “‘Rick’ Tells Story of Fighting in Air,” Detroit Free Press, May 5, 1919. 16 “Tabloid Book Review,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 1, 1919. 17 “Biggest Money-Makers Among Past Memoirs,” New York Times, Sept. 24, 1922.

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flying.18 Although films (such as The Big Parade) might briefly mention aerial combat or a famous ace (as in The Service Star, a lost work from 1918), movie studios mostly avoided the air war until the mid-1920s. A key exception to this is a movie that has already been discussed in Chapter 1, Allen Holubar’s The Heart of Humanity (1918). The film does contain aerial combat scenes, which mostly combine footage of planes taking off and landing with, being seen from the land from a distance, and a few shots actually taken inside airplanes. There are some shots of pilots in cockpits, but these are filmed from a stationary plane using a wind machine and lighting techniques to attempt to give the illusion of motion. Aside from this film and lost picture mentioned above, instances of aerial combat on film are rare. The most likely reason for this avoidance was simple—there was not much history of aerial cinematography. During the war, reconnaissance aircraft would have still cameras mounted on them, and these would be very occasionally filmed. As aircraft began to be associated with public consciousness beyond the war, films could include shots of airplanes taking off or landing, but beyond this, there is little history of taking dynamic pictures of aircraft in flight, and even fewer still of them in combat.

Wings Although there is no extant documentary evidence as to the precise reasons why the green-light was given for the Wings project (the title never changed from conception to release), a look at recent successful films provides the likely answer. As discussed in the last chapter, MGM had a huge hit with The Big Parade and Fox had followed this up with the very successful What Price Glory. In the mid-1920s, Paramount Pictures was in a strong position. It was the biggest and most commercially successful studio in Hollywood, only having begun to be threatened by the three-way merger of MGM in 1925. Given that the rival studio had a megahit with The Big Parade, from a film co-written by a veteran, it would seem natural that Paramount would want to find their own war material.

18 Mark Carlson, Flying on Film: A Century of Aviation in the Movies, 1912–2012 (Duncan, OK: BearManor Media, 2012), Kindle edition, Chapter 1.

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Paramount executive Jessie Lasky was introduced to John Monk Saunders by George Palmer Putnam.19 It would be a fortuitous meeting for both men. Biographical information on Saunders is scant and comes mostly from his obituary. Born in Hinckley, Minnesota, Saunders had an ideal resume for such a project—he was familiar with the material being an alumnus of the United States School of Military Aeronautics and fought in the Air Service during the war. After leaving the military, he became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and later the New York Tribune. During this period, he began writing fiction and later screenwriting, a process which was interrupted by his departure for the UK where he became a Rhodes Scholar.20 Like Laurence Stallings, Saunders could be used for publicity purposes from a studio who wished to make an “authentic” war film. He also had a proven pedigree as a writer and intellectual. According to a widely published article written by Saunders, the writer pitched the film to Lasky in the studio executive’s New York apartment. This in of itself is significant, indicating that there must have been some level of personal relationship between the two for it to take place in a private residence, with no others present (or at least reported). Saunders accounted that Lasky had no issues with the basic storyline and listened to the writer’s arguments that an air war film would be a unique and dramatic subject, but indicated that he had major reservations about the budget. Saunders admitted that the project would only be possible if treated as an epic.21 At this point, sources diverge in their account of events. William Wellman Jr. reports that Lasky proposed the project to Darryl Zanuck and “New York bankers” and was promptly refused, thinking it “pure insanity.”22 According to Wellman Jr., a “desperate” Saunders suggested to Lasky that with the assistance of the US government, the film’s cost could be greatly reduced. Agreeing, Lasky sent the writer and producer Lucien Hubbard to Washington to try to persuade the military. According to Saunders, at the same New York pitch session, the writer suggested that Lasky enlisted the aid of War Department for assistance

19 William Wellman, Jr., The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006), 103. 20 “John M. Saunders Suicide in Florida,” New York Times, Mar. 12, 1940. 21 John Monk Saunders, “The-War-in-the-Air,” New York Times, July 31, 1927. 22 Wellman Jr., 103.

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in filming and the producer promised that he would green-light the film if the appropriate government resources could be gathered. Continuing the account, Saunders managed to convince the War Department of the project’s merits with the assistance of Will B. Hays and the production was a go, with producer Lucien Hubbard being only assigned to the project afterwards.23 The writer does not describe how he convinced the military to assist the film, but it is likely that his experience as a veteran helped. Helping film-makers was not new to the Armed Forces but no previous film had used aeronautics to this level or in the same way. Saunders’ rough outline was turned into a screenplay with the assistance of Hope Loring and Lewis D. Lighton. The writer would assume a greater role than that of screenwriter, eventually be credited as a technical advisor and working with the director on set.24 Despite his war experiences, the finished screenplay would not be particularly original, mostly incorporating war tropes from other films into an aerial combat situation. A far greater contribution to the movie would be made by the director, fellow airman William A. Wellman. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Wellman was raised in a middleclass family. After being rejected by his own country’s air program, he enlisted in the Lafayette Escadrille, an all-American unit in the French Air Service.25 Wellman’s war experiences seemed like something out of a film and almost certainly influenced his later war and aviation dramas. In between his air combat experiences, he fell in love with an aspiring French painter who made a living as a baker named Renee, and eventually married her in a small ceremony. Wellman would crash several times, but he would ultimately survive the war. His wife, however, would not. After only a few months of marriage, Renee was killed in a German bomb attack in Paris. Wellman himself discovered the burned body and was only able to identify it due to her wedding ring.26 Like Rickenbacker and Lee, Wellman approached flying with an adventurer’s spirit. In a letter home to his mother, he wrote:

23 John Monk Saunders, “The-War-in-the-Air,” New York Times, July 31, 1927. 24 Wellman Jr., 103. 25 Ibid., 6. 26 Ibid., 32–44.

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“The front is very different from anything I ever dreamed of. A life of thrills and luck and I feel sure I have both in my favor.”27 He also experienced a strong sense of friendship and camaraderie. In another letter, the young pilot wrote “I have yet to see a group of Americans I admire more than these that are here…If it hadn’t been for one or two fellows I don’t know what I would have done, for about six weeks ago I got a pretty bad strain and with their aid I was able to see a real doctor and get fixed up all O.K….these fellows have at least one life long friend. No matter what they do or what happens to them I will always be ready to return their kindness. After all, friendship is the most wonderful thing in the world and most of it comes from generosity, not be necessary (sic) a ‘good fellow’ in the sporty sense.”28

After the war, Wellman was able to get a job as an actor due to a personal connection with Douglas Fairbanks. Finding that he disliked performing, he worked his way up through the ranks behind the camera and eventually became a director at Fox.29 After directing one film for Columbia, When Husbands Flirt (1926), his career stalled and he was forced to return to assistant directing and overseeing films of others after the original directors had been removed until When Husbands Flirt proved an unexpected hit upon release. Although the movie is now believed lost, the financial success of the project, shot cheaply in only three days, resulted in the offer of a contract from Paramount Head of Production Budd Schulberg.30 The most in-depth work on the making of Wings comes from The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, written by his son, William Jr. Much of the book incorporates elements from the director’s unpublished autobiography, but as the writer often does not cite sources, we are often left to assume that the information presented is the manuscript, which, unfortunately, is rarely quoted directly. A son’s obvious interest in preserving the legacy of his father also means that his book should be considered carefully (For convenience’s sake, I will refer to the son with the “Jr” suffix and to the father as simply 27 Ibid., 27. 28 Ibid., 16. 29 Ibid., 86. 30 Ibid., 94–97.

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“Wellman.”). According to Wellman Jr, it was Schulberg who suggested Wellman as the director for Wings . Although the writer is clearly biased in his father’s favour in describing his success in being assigned to the project, he is correct in stating that this is unusual and that he would not have the obvious choice. Paramount had several directors who were used to working on a large canvas, most notably Cecil B. DeMille, and Wellman had been until this time associated with Westerns, comedies and romantic films, certainly nothing approaching a “prestige picture” like Wings.31 Schulberg argued that Wellman was appropriate for the project due to his war experience, and in a meeting with Wellman, the director emphasized the same point, telling Lasky, “I know what these battles are all about. You’re worried about the damn budget. This is a great story. I’ll make the best goddamn picture this studio’s ever had.”32 Wellman and Schulberg managed to convince Lasky to assign the director to the movie.33 It was a huge coup for the film-maker. Given that the director had never been associated with so massive a project, the reason can almost certainly be ascribed to his war experiences and Paramount’s desire for some form of “authenticity.” Wings would therefore be written and directed by two air war veterans. Although previous war films had proved the public was interested in the subject, Paramount was taking a risk in spending so much money on a film that would require a large amount of technical innovation. The final budget for the movie was $2 million. According to Wellman Jr, it would be the most expensive film ever made up until this point.34 Wellman was brought on the project after many of the key personnel had been assigned, such as cinematographer Harry Perry, who would have to work with the director to devise a way to film the key flying sequences. Only one part had been cast, but this necessitated a rewrite of the screenplay. The film’s marquee star would be Clara Bow.35 From nearly any financial standpoint, putting in Bow into the film was a wise move. She was Paramount’s biggest female star and one of the most popular actresses in the world. Appealing to both sexes, her presence could be expected to help sell the movie to female audiences who might otherwise stay away 31 Ibid., 104–106. 32 Ibid., 106. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid., 114. 35 Ibid., 107.

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from a traditionally masculine subject. Finally, if the combat sequences were to fail and the film to receive bad word of mouth, the presence of a reliable star could prevent the film from totally flopping financially. Incorporating Bow into the story from narrative standpoint was a more difficult proposition. Put simply, the main body of the film concerned all-male groups training to fly combat airplanes and then doing so. The Big Parade and What Price Glory could plausibly work romance into the plot as infantry soldiers would have interacted with the French population. Airmen, on the other hand, mostly stayed at aerodrome when not flying (except of course, while on leave), severely limiting their ability to interact with women. Aside from a few cutaway asides, Bow’s presence is restricted to three major sections of the film, the prologue, epilogue and a sequence immediately after the intermission in which her character is falsely accused of sexual misconduct and shipped back home. Wellman Jr records that the studio had “announced” Charles Farrell and Neil Hamilton as the male leads,36 but I could find no record of such a press announcement from the studio. The two leads were instead to be played by Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, two relatively unknown actors cast by Wellman. The director felt that Rogers was reminiscent of his war comrades.37 Casting Rogers and Arlen may have worked in the film’s favour in an unexpected way. Bow and comedian El Brendel are the only name actors in the film, and each plays characters in line with their screen persona. However, by putting two unknowns in the leads may have heightened the sense of realism to the audiences, since having not seen them before, they had no pre-existing notions and thus, saw only the character. In any event, it must have quickly become clear to the studio that Wings was not going to be a screenwriter’s movie, nor an actor’s film. The picture was instead going to live or die on the plausibility of its aerial combat sequences. As the director explained in a New York Times piece, the main problem with shooting aerial photography was that the audience had no visual frame of reference.38 Early in the process, Wellman and Perry realized that the obvious source of this was clouds, but photographing these subjects necessitated simply waiting, with the entire cast and crew, for appropriate

36 Ibid., 108. 37 Ibid., 109. 38 “Some Difficulties of a Producer,” New York Times, July 10, 1927.

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formation to appear, incurring a great cost.39 It also became apparent that audiences would have a difficult time determining which flyer they were looking at, so it was decided that for certain shots, a camera would be mounted on the front of the planes, which would be operated by the actors themselves, many of whom had no previous flying experience. At one point, stunt flyer Dick Grace broke his neck while making the film.40 The shoot would be tedious, frustrating and expensive. In a New York Times interview, Arlen described his experience: “Billy Wellman told us that we were going to hate him like poison, every one of us, before the picture was made. We did. He told us that we would find it hard and relentless, and that after it was all over we would be glad of it. And we were.” The actor went on to describe how he found shooting the flying scenes, in which he was underdressed for the cold conditions, to be miserable.41 Though the film was about the air war, the spectre of The Big Parade and its massive success hung over the production. The director later stated: “I saw it [Vidor’s film] twenty-two times until I knew every cut and, I thought, every reason for it. I lay in bed and tried to figure out how I could have topped King Vidor and his direction. I had no success.”42 There are many similarities between the two pictures. Both involve men who are relatively innocent and were traumatized and matured by the war. Both involve a scene where a character returns home a changed man, while the home they left looks visually the same as when they left. Both films place an extremely high emphasis on friendship and camaraderie. It would not be accurate, however, to call Wings “The Big Parade in the sky.” The three crucial differences between the films are in the ways trauma, friendship, women and adventure were portrayed. Perhaps the most dominant idea in the reception of The Big Parade was its portrayal of trauma, both in the general horrors of war and on the effect of the protagonist. As mentioned in the last chapter, review after review discussed the audience emotionally engaging with effects of the violence of the conflict. Vidor’s film portrays a naïve character, completely unprepared for what he is to find in France, and the changes that will overcome him, both

39 Wellman Jr., 118–121. 40 Rosalind Shaffer, “Glimpses of Hollywood,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 31, 1929. 41 “Difficulties in Making ‘Wings’,” New York Times, July 8, 1928. 42 Wellman Jr., 114.

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physical and emotional. Although Wings does portray traumatized characters, the effects are nowhere near as extreme as in Vidor’s film. To begin, they are not as naïve in the respective films’ opening. Whereas Jim Apperson is somewhat adolescent, living a life of privilege, Jack and David are portrayed in a more adult manner despite their youth. They both fight over the same woman, but in Wings that woman is a sexualized, suburban, American and a long way from the earthy, rural yet near angelic Melisande. It is worth noting that, as evidenced by his letters to his family upon his departure, Wellman was aware that he might not return and appeared fully willing to make the sacrifice. The risk of sudden death runs through Wings , as exemplified by the scene in which Cadet White (Gary Cooper), a young trainee, dies after taking his lucky rabbit’s foot with him. A clear theme of the film is that the soldiers have no way of knowing when their next mission will be their last. This is historically accurate and something that was an emerging theme in the First World War popular culture at the time. As portrayed in many pictures of the period, different soldiers dealt with this fact differently. Eddie Rickenbacker describes how one soldier admitted he was scared upfront and asked the flight commander to assign someone else to his missions.43 Arthur Gould Lee states that he was not afraid of death, mostly due to his youth, but more afraid of the pain that might happen if his plane caught fire.44 The constant spectre of death was also a part of the experience of the infantry, but with a key difference—the trenches were places where physical violence was expected, with war sounds and daily shelling. Another key difference is in the portrayal of friendship. As indicated by the letter quoted above, Wellman places a high value on friendship and many of his films feature a close camaraderie between the characters. In Wings , the relationship between David and Jack is exceptionally close, almost brotherly. A key scene in the film is when the two men kiss on the lips as David is dying. Some may interpret the scene as being homoerotic, but Wellman and possibly Saunders are portraying something that many soldiers have reported—that the relationship among them is often the closest that would occur in their entire lives, more so than between spouses, but usually non-sexual. At the same time, however, it is worth

43 Eddie Rickenbacker, Fighting the Flying Circus, 41–42. 44 Lee, 68.

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noting that many war films of the era contained relationships that could be read as homoerotic, and that it is possible, as Michael Williams indicates, that archetypal imagery of two young male friends may act as an “alibi” for a homosexual reading.45 The film’s final scene is worth discussing. In it, Jack and Mary, now a couple, sit on Jack’s hot rod, an American term for a car built at home, and look at the stars. This scene is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, in addition to being romantic partners, the theme of friendship seems to continue as the two share a “buddy-like” relationship. The fact that the two look at the evening sky and remember their dead friend means gives the ending a somewhat spiritual note. Wings and The Big Parade also differ in their treatment of women. Going along with the more cynical tone of Wellman’s film, Mary Preston lacks the non-sexualized almost angelic qualities of Melisande. Rather, she (as is typical of Bow’s persona) is a man’s fantasy—the girl next door who will help with the car while retaining her feminine sexuality. She also has a maternal role, as is evidenced by the film’s midsection. In this sequence, Mary, who has joined the army as a nurse, finds a drunken Jack while on leave in Paris. As he is too inebriated to comprehend the order to return to the front, Mary tries to help Jack by giving him a place to sleep in her room. While changing her clothes, the military barges in and believing the two are fraternizing, forces Mary to resign and return to America in disgrace. Jack is never aware of what transpires until he reads about it in the newspaper, which spurns his final argument with David. Critics, both contemporary and modern, have been highly disparaging of this sequence, often claiming that it is tonally out of place with the rest of the film and superfluous to the main plotline and characters. Although the first charge is subjective, the second is correct. The fact that Jack, the nominal protagonist, does not remember any of the events portrayed means his character’s psychology does not advance. However, the scene is worth discussing for a number of reasons. The idea of disillusionment is rarely explicitly discussed in Wings , yet it is hard to think to describe the sequence without this concept, as the clearly stressed soldiers seek a hedonistic refuge in Paris. Jack is portrayed as being nearly helpless and an emotional wreck in this sequence, and this is possibly how a war nurse might see her patients. In his unpublished autobiography, Wellman 45 Michael Williams, Film Stardom, Myth, and Classicism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 158.

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discussed how men from his aerodrome would recreate with prostitutes, and his own wartime romance, in which he was able to express a degree of warmth and tenderness he was presumably not able to express in front his fellow soldiers, indicates the important role that women may have had to soldiers on the front, as both emotional and sexual release and a sign of a nurturing presence. This will be discussed in greater depth in the next two chapters. What is perhaps most unusual about the sequence is the perspective. Nearly every other scene in the film is concerned with the experience of Jack and/or David, but in this sequence, we see the former through the almost maternal point of view of his loving girlfriend. In other words, Mary seems to become the protagonist, but solely for this sequence, rendering it a near film within a film. Finally, the way the two movies portray danger is significantly different. In The Big Parade, death is seen as entirely negative and the sudden brush with mortality is a complete surprise that comes when the soldiers suddenly entire combat. When his friend Slim dies, Jim Apperson is in shock and moral outrage. Almost unable to contain his disbelief, he shouts “They got Slim!” as if to alert others about an unexpected occurrence. In Wings , the men are aware of the dangers from a much earlier time and lose Cadet White in basic training. They are aware that each patrol may be their last, and the death may come at any time. However, Wellman portrays the aerial combat sequences as being exciting and somewhat beautiful. In Wings and other films that I refer to as “dark adventures,” the real threat of mortality is consistently present with excitement and exoticism of combat. Wellman takes the threat of death seriously, but is not interested in presenting with the audience an altogether negative portrayal of the war. Thus, death and adventure are intertwined, and the thrill of a dogfight and the possibility of the end are textually interlinked. Due to the success of previous war films and Bow’s star presence, Wings was likely to be a box-office success under most circumstances, but Paramount received an unexpected stroke of luck early in 1927, when Charles Lindbergh completed his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris on May 21st. Lindbergh became an instant folk hero in both Europe and North America and this in turn helps to spur public interested aviation. As Wings was a technically innovative film on the subject, the studio was given a huge amount of free publicity. The studio adopted a “big” marketing campaign for the film. Many (though not all) posters for the movie depicted the title in huge letters,

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dwarfing everything else in the image. During the summer leading up to the film’s August 12 premier at New York’s Criterion Theater, newspapers ran serialized version of the movie written by Saunders. A novelization, credited solely to Saunders and not the other screenwriters, was also published. As planned, the movie received a “roadshow” treatment, with a more expensive ticket and, for theatres equipped, a synchronized sound with music and sound effects and the “Magnoscope,” a process that doubled the size of the projected image. Used mostly for the flying sequences, the Magnoscope process would usually be referred to by critics favourably, but was rarely the primary focus of the review. Information on the special process is scant, but it is likely that few audiences outside of large cities were able to see Wings with the adaptation. The Magnoscope was not essential to the movie’s success, however. The picture a immediate hit with both critics and audiences. At this film’s New York premier, Mordaunt Hall reported that Commander Robert Byrd stated to Lasky at the intermission “And I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t think it.” Later during the premier, a young Air Corps soldier yelled “That crash in No Man’s Land was a real bust-up.” Hall stated that “scores of others found the realism of the episodes highly exciting” and that the tension increased in the audience throughout the film. Hall’s review indicated that in addition to being exciting, the picture served a social purpose: “there is an underlying idea throughout some of the episodes that the motto of the gallant warriors of the clouds was: ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we (may) die’…This feature gives on an unforgettable idea of the existence of these daring fightershow they were called upon at all hours of the day and night to soar into the skies and give battle to enemy plans; their light hearted eagerness to enter the fray and also their reckless conduct once they set foot on earth for a time in the dazzling life of the French capital.” The only negative comments were for Saunders “conventional narrative” and for the epilogue, which the critic found too maudlin.46 Hall’s review and his report on the audience response must have been a great source of relief to Zanuck and Lasky. Not only did they have an audience-pleasing hit on their hands, they also had a movie that could be at least marketed at serving a legitimate social purpose—remembering the brave veterans of the air, something that print media were happy to play

46 Mourdant Hall, “The Flying Fighters,” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1927.

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along with. A Los Angeles Times reprint of the above interview with Arlen stated that “When a company sets out to make a photoplay which shall reproduce, as accurately as is possible to do so, the battles of the World War, it has a task on its hands.”47 An earlier story from the same newspaper noted that “…Wellman wanted to show accurately and truthfully how the flyers sough recreation in Paris and other places he had the Folies Bergere as one of the settings in ‘Wings.’ It was faithfully reconstructed down to the pictures on the walls.”48 Whether or not this fact is true, it does state that media saw the movie as more than an action epic—it was another way to remember the brave war veterans. More than one article would also emphasize Wellman‘s war experiences.49,50 The Washington Post compared him favourably with Lawrence Stallings.51 For the Chicago premiere, the Erlanger Theater was converted into a cinema for the first time. In a rave review entitled “‘Wings’ is Brilliant, Poignant, and in Spots’ Most Too Real,” Mae Tinee wrote: “The air stuff is heart stopping. It is almost too real. Impossible to forget those falling planes hurtling downward with fire devouring their vital-like strange, wild birds in agony.” Like Hall, Tinee found fault with the writing, which she called “just another story.” In addition, she found Bow’s presence unnecessary, arguing that “her role and the way she acts it add in the least to the interest of the whole.”52 The observations about the unoriginal script and Bow’s character would be repeated in many reviews. Robert E. Sherwood of Life magazine would write “What ‘Wings’ lacks in substantial dramatic construction-and it lacks plenty- it makes up in speed…’ Wings’ sweeps the spectator off his feet, carries him to the dizziest altitudes of melodrama and finally shoots him down in flames. It provides a harrowing evening in the theatre, and a superbly exciting one.”53 However, a reader 47 “‘Wings’ Adventurous Feat,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29, 1928. 48 “Tolerant Attitude Towards Flyers Stressed in Film,” Los Angeles Times, July 17,

1927. 49 “War Hero the Mentor of ‘Wings’,” New York Times, Dec. 4, 1927. 50 Marquis Busby, “‘Wings’ Triumph of Youth,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 15, 1928. 51 “The Spectacular Career of a Director of Spectacles,” Washington Post, Aug. 12,

1928. 52 Mae Tinee, “‘Wings’ Is Brilliant, Poignant, and in Spots’ Most Tool Real,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 1, 1927. 53 Robert E. Sherwood, “Wings,” Life, Sept. 8, 1927, 24.

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of the Chicago Tribune, perhaps emblematic of a less elitist audience, wrote that “I don’t know of any picture whose human appeal was so pronounced as that of ‘Wings.’ The optience (sic) literally lives through the parts…Tears come to the eyes of men and women alike when Rogers, the conquering hero, returns to the bereaved parents of his best friend. There is humanness as only a mother can understand and appreciate. There is sympathy for the man, a mere boy aged by the experience.”54 This response and the many accounts of repeat viewings of the movie may indicate that the movie was a far greater emotional experience to the average filmgoer than the reviews would attest. Shortly after the New York premier, Film Daily ran a description of the movie for distributors. Claiming it was “A sure-fire money-maker,” the paper went on to print: “Any audience will get a tremendous kick out of them [The air combat sequences]. It is unfortunate that the dramatic story was not stronger. Somehow or other, this fact does not vitally detract from the whole. ‘Wings’ is truly the epic of aviation in the Great War and, as such, is certain to make its deep impress on the box office of the country.”55 The fact that so many viewers found the film to be a moving experience, despite its hackneyed storyline, indicates that the spectre of death—always present in the film—helped to take the movie into the realm of the Dark Adventure. Instead of the glorious chivalry of Knights in the Air, as one might expect to find in a propaganda film, we see people fighting for a cause they believe in with an actual chance of dying, making the action/adventure elements that were read as both exhilarating and giving the film some substantive weight. From a financial standpoint, Wings was a huge success. In New York, the film was “the greatest hit in the history of Broadway” according to a Moving Picture World interview with Paramount executive A. Griffith Grey. In the September 10 interview, Grey stated that every showing of the film had sold out since its release and the film had made $30,115 in advance tickets alone.56 The movie would run for almost a year in New York,57 and the LA Times reported that the movie was attracting

54 C.A.G., “The Greatest Picture,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 5, 1928. 55 “Wings,” Film Daily (New York), Aug. 21, 1927. 56 “Big Advance Ticket Sale for ‘Wings’,” Moving Picture World, Sept. 10, 1927. 57 “The Spectacular Career of a Director of Spectacles,” Washington Post, Aug. 12,

1928.

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bigger and bigger audiences the longer it was released.58 Harry Holt, the treasurer of the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles found that he had “never observed an attraction at this theater which has drawn so many ‘repeat’ patrons. He declares that some people have seen it four times and it has become a custom for the ticket to sellers to even know some of the patrons by their names as they come up for seats for a third or fourth viewing.”59 The theatre ended up cancelling its bookings for other films to keep showing Wings , meaning that Wellman’s film exceeded even the expectations of its distributor.60 Even more interesting is that the review is a one-page layout in which the magazine sought the opinions of three veterans’ fliers in response to the film. Richard H. DePew, Jr. wrote: “To those of us who were in the Air Service during the war… ‘Wings’, the new Paramount epic of wartime aviation, brings back sad memories of good comrades ‘gone west’ and vivid recollection of personal experiences”. DePew felt the movie was “Thrilling always, it is harrowing in places, but up to the time of the climax is faithfully portrayed. Then, at least to this writer, the spell was broken and the illusion of reality destroyed and replaced by a vague feeling of resentment at an overdose too gruesome improbability. This feeling was shared by two companions who were also ex-aviators.” In an extremely high compliment to Wellman, Charles P. Porter commented “After viewing ‘Wings’ I know that no one need miss seeing the actual manner in which our Air Force conducted its warfare in France.” Donald Hudson commented that the film “has undoubtedly some of the best photography of flying that has ever been taken, and it shows the danger and horror of air fighting in a most realistic and gripping way.” Although he complained about “The weakness and improbable ending of the story,” Hudson concluded with a tribute to his fellow soldiers: “If you want to get a thrill clear down to your toes and drop a few years, or if you want to have your suspicions confirmed that your son, brother, sweetheart or husband were real death-defying heroes because they flew during the war- go to see ‘Wings.’”61 These reviews help to

58 “Aerial Film Attraction to Crowds,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12, 1928. 59 “Air Picture Enters its Sixth Week,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 1928. 60 “Film Now in Eighth Week Here,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 4, 1928. 61 Epes W. Sargent, “In ‘Wings’ Paramount Writes Cinematographic History,” Aug. 20, 1927.

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indicate the movie could be read as a simulacrum of air war experience—at least in the scenes where the planes were flying. Edwin Schallert of the LA Times made an interesting comment on an essay on the flaws of the contemporary film, making him one of the few to question the off-stated realistic content of the movie: Giving an artificial tone to plots is perhaps the most persistent offense that the films fall into…‘Wings’ is a particularly fussed up pictured, and it could have been told with a finer-grained simplicity than any other story. The screen had something big to say in ‘Wings’ and it should have said this without trying to say it. There has been no great picture of air warfare preceding. It would have been enough to have let the human action take its own power. This isn’t the fault of the story in itself, for that could pass; but the treatment, the acting and frequently the direction tend to emphasize rather than subdue the note of artificiality. ‘Wings’ nevertheless has great force as a picture. Its air scenes remain unrivaled, and tremendous. They compensate abundantly. But the picture could have been something far greater than the huge spectacular achievement that it is and could have made its massage of the tragedy of aerial conflict ring much truer even than it does.62

However, the anonymous critic for The Washington Post felt differently. In his or her review, the critic stated: To win the approbation of a public surfeited with such a procession [of previous war films], it is was necessary for ‘Wings’ to be different. And different it is. It confronts us with the terror and the glamour of warfare in the skies, and it brings us face to face with a war so big, so real, so all-enveloping in its cruelty and power that the struggle itself becomes the thing of supreme moment and the drama a drama of humanity in its clutches rather than of the effect upon any group of individuals.63

The discourse of the realism of Wings in contemporary print media is relevant to a cultural study of the film’s impact, but frustrating. As stated in previous chapters, the concept of realism is always relative, as movies, even documentaries, do not convey an objective reality. What then, did people

62 Edwin Schallert, “Can There Be a Cinema Classic?” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 22, 1928. 63 “Wings,” Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1929.

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mean when they called the film realistic, while simultaneously critiqued its hackneyed story and what many found to be the unnecessary emphasis on Bow’s character? It is likely the air combat scenes, which had never been shown on screen before to that scale, appeared to the audience as realistic, perhaps due to the fact that they had never been exposed to anything like it before and had no frame of reference. What caused the audience to perceive the movie as evoking reality was not the storyline, but the style—nothing had been presented in this way before, and an audience with no expectations was swept along for the ride. Other films, such as the previously discussed The Heart of Humanity, had featured aerial combat sequences, but none had to anywhere near the extent of Wellman’s film. The lack of models and fact that real airplanes were performing actual stunts must have been thrilling, not to mention novel to most audiences. When the picture came to premier in the UK, a similar presentation to that of the New York opening was presented at the Carlton Theatre in Haymarket on March 26, 1928.64 The Bioscope would report that the film was a major hit as “Within three days of the opening night, it was impossible to secure reservations for three weeks. ‘Wings’ has played to capacity audiences at practically every performance.” The trade publication also reported that Winston Churchill saw the film twice, which was not uncommon as “A large proportion of the audience consists of people who have already seen the show several times…An ex-airman who came to the Carlton at last Tuesday’s matinee and applied for seats for the same evening’s performance admit that he was seeing ‘Wings’ for the 19th time.”65 In its review, the magazine encouraged theatre owners that “The air pictures will please any audience” but that they were “connected by a thin and unconvincing story.” In contrast to their American counterparts, the British publication complained about the portrayal of the fliers, commenting “It is to be regretted that the producer has been obliged to fit it [the air visuals] in to a common-place story which robs the subject of its epic value and shows the heroes of the air to be nothing but ordinary mortals, jealous, quarrelsome and drunken and sloppily sentimental

64 “A Drama of the Skies: Paramount’s Air Spectacle,” Bioscope, Mar. 22, 1928. 65 “‘Wings’ Hypnotizes London,” Bioscope, May 30, 1928.

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in turn.”66 After the film’s successful opening in London, the roadshow presentation was released throughout the entire country.67 The film would receive another honour that would seem more impressive in later years than it appeared at the time. The movie was chosen as the “Best Production” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the 1927–28 season, beating out Lewis Milestone’s The Racket and another war film, Frank Borzage’s Seventh Heaven. At the time, the Academy was a new institution and the most of the preannounced winners did not attend the ceremony to pick up their statues. Wings ’ status as the answer to the trivia question “What film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture” is further threatened by two additional facts. The first is that for the 1927–28 ceremony, the Academy actually gave out two “Best Picture” awards, one for “Outstanding Production” and one for “Unique and Artistic Production,” thereby roughly dividing Hollywood product in entertainment and art. The latter award was won by F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans (1927). Wings ’ victory also becomes less impressive when one takes into account that the Academy disqualified Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus (1928) from contention. Fearing that Chaplin would dominate all of the categories, the board presented him with an Honorary Oscar. Wellman was not nominated and the movie received only one other award, for “Engineering Effects,” a catch-all category for technical achievements not covered by the Cinematography or Interior Decoration awards,68 that was almost certainly a reward for the dogfight sequences. The success of Wings spawned a series of aviation films from other films, such as Fox’s Across the Atlantic (1928). The reasons behind the release of these films were many, but Wings demonstrated that aviation could both be made technically and the fact that the public was willing to pay large amounts of money to see them. One of the least discussed after-effects of Wings was a follow-up film from Paramount, The Legion of the Condemned (1928). Written by Saunders, directed by Wellman, and starring Gary Cooper, the movie was so similar to Wings that it was

66 “Wings,” Bioscope, Mar. 29, 1928. 67 “‘Wings’ on Tour,” Bioscope, Apr. 26, 1928. 68 Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy

Awards (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986), 3.

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frequently referred in contemporary writing to as a “companion piece”69 or a sequel.70 The movie continued on many of the “dark adventure” themes hinted at in its predecessor. Unfortunately, the film is lost, but the themes of the movie as they appeared to writers at the time can be constructed from newspaper reviews. A New York Times review summarized the film thusly: “…an outfit of runaway adventures in the French flying corps whose declared wish was death-so long as they might go down in a burst of glory. / The shortest life, and the merriest, was their idea. The whole story is geared to this high pitch. Virtually all the characters are haunted by some spectral past, and the only escape the see lies through honorable death.” The piece goes on to describe that the plot of the film involves a series of young men with nothing to live for who embrace highly dangerous missions, knowing that eventually they will perish. Mae Tinee describes scenes where the men’s death wish is so great that they fight over likely suicide missions.71 Evidence seems to indicate that this film was much darker thematically than its predecessor, as its characters were apparently not the somewhat innocent friends of Wings but hardened and cynical (and possible severely mentally disturbed). It is perhaps significant that the characters in the film, like Wellman, are flying for Lafayette Escadrille, meaning they voluntarily joined, not particularly influenced by war fever or patriotism. The “Dark Adventure” war film cycle of the late 1920s and 1930 capitalized on the war trauma portrayed in The Big Parade and What Price Glory, but combined it with standard elements often found in fictional portrayals of war—brotherhood, spectacle and action. However, as these films found popularity, other war works were released that would take the portrayal of trauma and negativity even further. These works, among them Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1927) and R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End (1928), would later find success on the screen, as will be discussed in the next chapters.

69 “Dark Angels of the World War,” New York Times, Feb. 5, 1928. 70 “Projection Jottings,” New York Times, Oct. 9, 1927. 71 Mae Tinee, “‘This Legion of Condemned’ Is Rival of ‘Wings’,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr. 12, 1927.

CHAPTER 4

James Whale: “A Britisher Who Thinks, Cinematically, Like an American”

James Whale is responsible for many of the iconic images of the 1930s. Known almost exclusively to most cineastes for four horror films he made while he was Universal’s star director in the first half of the 30s— Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Whale’s horror movies bear a unique stamp of an auteur, containing elements of “camp,” concerns with the outsider, and disabled or different bodies. Many of the thematic elements of his films are have been interpreted from a Queer Studies perspective, aided by the biographical knowledge that Whale lived as a nearly-openly gay man during his years in Hollywood. Limiting an analysis of Whale’s career to these four, albeit exceptional films, does not give full overview of Whale as an artist. A review of the director’s filmography reveals a number of impressive movies of varying genres. Whale made as many war movies as horror films, and these pictures represented some of his most personal output as a director. It is of note that the first three of Whale’s first films as director were all related to the Great War: Hell’s Angels, Journey’s End (both 1930) and Waterloo Bridge (1931), which are the concern of this chapter. The Old Dark House also has some thematic elements related to the aftermath of The Great War, and he intended The Road Back (1938), whose

© The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_4

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storied production severely damaged his career, to be his magnum opus. I will discuss that film’s difficult production and reception in a subsequent chapter. Here, I want to analyse the reception of Whale’s first three films both in terms of the commentary on the Great War and their perceived Englishness, or lack thereof. Although many of the great directors from classical Hollywood were born overseas (such as Michael Curtiz, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tourneur and of course, Hitchcock and Chaplin) Whale’s movies often retain and essential Englishness, except when they self-consciously do not, such as in his musical Show Boat (1936), which is set in the American South, the weirdly American England of Hell’s Angels and the very un-German Germany of The Road Back. Whale was a war veteran himself. Born to a working-class family in the small West Midlands mining town of Dudley, the director had a relatively uneventful life until he joined the Army during the war. Like R.C. Sherriff, whose play Journey’s End he would later direct, Whale was selected for officer training, eventually becoming a Second Lieutenant in 1916.1 Also like Sherriff, Whale saw the realities of trench life and the Battle of Passchendaele. Whale was captured in August of 1917 and spent the remainder of the war in German POW camp. According to James Curtis, one of the director’s biographers, although Whale occasionally spoke about his war experiences, it was usually in the form of a humorous or amusing anecdote.2 In keeping with his reserved nature, he rarely discussed the intense feelings of fear and melancholy he must have felt. Although his time in the POW camp must have obviously been difficult, he managed to discover a new passion-directing theatre. With endless hours and little to do, many camps ended up putting on plays for the soldiers (something Jean Renoir would later portray in Grand Illusion [1937]).3

1 James Curtis, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 17. 2 Ibid., 20–21. 3 Ibid., 20–24.

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Journey’s End: The Play Throughout the 20s, Whale worked as an actor, director and set designer in various capacities. By 1927, it might be phrased that he had risen to a level of basic respect without experiencing a great degree of fame. His selection for the Stage Society production of Journey’s End is probably owed equally to his willingness to work cheaply as much as to his status as a veteran. The play, which is now a standard syllabus text in much of the UK, was written by R.C. Sherriff, who like Whale, was a Great War veteran and relatively unknown. Although not the first choice (Miles Malleson turned the job down).4 James Whale would prove to be one of the prime reasons for the success and of both the play a subsequent film. Sherriff describes Whale’s selection as director as “last resort” and that “That the Stage Society should offer him the play was a measure of their desperation.”5 Whale designed the interior of the trench dugout, the play’s only set, himself.6 Sherriff apparently understood that having a fellow veteran as director would provide an element of authenticity. Upon seeing Whale’s set design he observed “Above all it was real. There may have never been a dugout like this one: but any who had lived in the trenches would say, ‘This is it: this is what it was like.”7 The two performances went surprisingly well. As Robert GoreLangton observes, the long term of success of the play was ultimately due to London theatre critics championing the production, particularly James Agate in a rave, nearly rapturous, review on the BBC.8 Eventually, mainstream producers became interested and the play was transferred to the West End. Laurence Olivier, the initial Stanhope, had moved on to another project and was unable to reprise his role and was replaced by Colin Clive. The initial West End performance was attended by high ranking figures in the British military as well as many of the London literati.9 The audience on the opening night was so overcome with 4 Robert Gore-Langton, Journey’s End: The Classic War Text Play Explored (London: Oberon Books, 2013), 67. 5 R.C. Sherriff, No Leading Lady (London: Gollancz, 1968), 46–47. 6 Gore-Langton, 67. 7 Sherriff, 47–48. 8 Gore-Langton, 69–72. 9 Ibid., 76.

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emotion that at the conclusion there was initially no applause, until an avalanche of sound burst out.10 Reviews were extremely positive.11 The first few performances of the play were so successful that producer Maurice Browne was able to negotiate the most expensive deal for a non-musical play on the West End. Journey’s End was guaranteed a run of twelve weeks (it long surpassed that) at £1000 a week.12 A common theme in the reception of the play was its supposed accuracy in terms of the war. Despite the lack of explicit romance and all male cast, as Sherriff stated in his autobiography: “What they [the public] had never been shown before on the stage was how men really lived in the trenches, how they talked and how they behaved. Old soldiers recognized their sons, their brothers or their husbands, many of whom had not returned. The play made it possible for them to journey into the trenches and share the lives that their men had lead. For all this I could claim no personal credit. I wrote the play the way it came, and it just happened by chance that the way I wrote it was the way people wanted it.”13 The play’s felt authenticity must be at least partially explained by the fact that it was written by one war veteran and directed and designed by another. There was a sense that the Journey’s End presented the realities of the war experience in a way that no previous work in England culture had. In a piece for The Yorkshire Post newspaper, Sergeant Ormshy, a V.C. who saw the play as part of a visit to London for Armistice Day, commented on behalf of his colleagues: “We would like ‘Journey’s End’ to be seen in every town in the country. It was so real. It was the finest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Sergeant Welch, another part of the group, stated that “There were some moments that brought back to my mind scenes in dugouts which I thought I’d forgotten. I saw men I’d known, the reckless, the indifferent, the nervous, the man that was almost afraid and pretended that he didn’t care a damn.” The reporter then describes Welch’s wife commenting that the family was trying to forget the conflict, to which her husband “…insisted that the play ought to be seen by young folks who knew nothing about the war.” The reporter then quotes Welch a final

10 Curtis, 70. 11 Gore-Langton, 76–77. 12 Ibid., 77. 13 Sherriff, 109.

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time: “It’s real, it’s true, and they [the young people] ought to know it. Then they would understand the Centograph service and the big silence better.”14 Despite the fact that a play cannot disseminate through an entire nation in the same way a novel or a film can, Journey’s End would become a major touchstone in British culture, both through touring companies,15 the film adaptations and later through other productions. The London correspondent in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported that the brutal winter of 1929 caused a population decline in most West End theatres except for Sherriff’s play, which was continually popular. Again, the commentator mentioned the play’s realism stating that “It tells of war without frills or flourishes, as war was.”16 Sherriff’s manuscript was put on auction during an Armistice commemoration event by the League of Nations Union in November. It was sold to Sir Walter Lawrence for £1500. The same evening, King George V, Queen Mary and the Duke and Duchess of York attended a performance of the play. The monarch told Sherriff that he enjoyed the production.17 Whale, who had spent the last decade in obscurity, was suddenly thrust into the top ranks of the British theatrical scene. The perceived perception of Journey’s End’s authenticity, facilitated by Sherriff and Whale, meant the play could perform two functions in contemporary English culture. First, as the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer article indicates, it was a memorial device, a way for soldiers to remember their own experiences, and to share those experiences with wives, children, and others who had not served. Second, it allowed the government and cultural gatekeepers to use it as a way to memorialize the war experience, praise veterans, and more importantly, stoke a sense of national pride. What led to this reputation for authenticity, and the play’s immense cultural and critical respect? The most obvious explanation is that many elements of the play are indeed authentic, as attested to by the war experiences of Whale and Sherriff. Both novel and film versions of Journey’s End are works of detail, in which the small mundane

14 “Yorkshire V.C.’s,” The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Nov. 12, 1929. 15 “‘Journey’s End’,” The Daily Mail (Hull, England), Nov. 12, 1929. 16 A.E., “‘Journey’s End’,” The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Feb. 21, 1929. 17 “‘Journey’s End’ Manuscript for Nation,” Courier and Advertiser (Dundee, Scotland), Nov. 15, 1929.

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aspects of life take on great importance, such as the long discussion about the what will be had for dinner early on. These details help to add to the perceived reality of the presentation, as instead of they appear to show, not didactically explain, what the experience of the war actually like. Many Great War works involve naive newcomers to military life losing their innocence during the horrors of war, or emotionally scarred veterans dealing with their trauma after they returned home. By contrast, in Journey’s End, the audience is presented with a cast of characters for whom the innocence has already gone, with the notable exception of Raleigh (David Manners), a new soldier fresh to the trenches. Raleigh, who at times may be considered to be an audience surrogate, wants to discuss the war and all its bloody details to prepare himself for battle. He is unaware that the other characters understand through experience that psychological survival is contingent on ignoring these very things, focusing on the mundane details of everyday life, or the memory of a previous, now idealized existence that was left back in England. The play presents these coping strategies in a matter-of-fact manner, giving the work a subtlety that many other works that more self-consciously try to present the war experience lack. Despite its essential Englishness, Journey’s End went on to become a successful production in America. Whale followed a company of British actors to New York to prepare the Broadway production, this time starring Colin Keith-Johnston.18 The play was also an immediate success on Broadway. Curtis quotes actor Jack Hawkins as saying “The day after the opening, the theatre was booked solid for the next three months.”19 At one point, a special performance was given for cadets at the West Point military academy. The New York Times reported that “The players received what was said to be the longest applause ever given by the cadets to any organization.” The cadets apparently thought the play realistic as the reporter stated: “It seemed to the future officers of the United States army that the actors were thoroughly in sympathy with the odd situation in the World War which they presented.”20 The success of the American production of the play, and the arrival of Whale in the United States to supervise the transfer, co-incited with a

18 Curtis, 74. 19 Ibid. 20 “West Point Ovation for ‘Journey’s End’,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1930.

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difficult time in Anglo-American relations. During 1929 and 1930, much of the national debate in America concerned two interrelated economic issues of concern to the UK: the payment of European war debts to the United States and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. The United States had loaned Britain and France, as well other European countries, huge amounts of money to fund the war. Some argued that these payments were unduly punitive, particularly for an ally, and should be reduced or forgiven.21 At the same time, the Republican Congress enacted and President Herbert Hoover signed into the law the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, designed to protect American farmers from foreign competition. Considered by most historians to be a disastrous piece of legislation, as stated by Douglas A. Irwin: “…Western Europe reacted with visceral hostility to the higher American duties. The European press and public opinion, industry and agriculture, and government officials were all appalled by the action. Here was the world’s largest creditor nation, with a substantial trade surplus, restricting trade of countries that were trying to pay off their burdensome World War I debts.”22 British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald had also negotiated a difficult naval treaty with Hoover the previous year.23 At a time of relatively high tensions between the two Allies, the popularity of both play and film of Journey’s End, indicated that American audiences were not disinterested in an English perspective on the conflict, nor where unable or interested in empathizing with characters from other countries. Hollywood was undergoing a fairly rapid transition to synchronous sound. Previously considered little more than a novelty, the success of all or part “talkies” had quickly created a demand for screenwriters who could write realistic-sounding dialogue, as well as actors who could deliver it and directors who could guide them. Whale’s arrival in America could not have happened at a more fortuitous time for his career. A director with a proven track record of dealing with dialogue surely caused him to be attractive to movie studios. Due to the success of the play, Whale was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures.24 This brief contract

21 “Be Just to Great Britian,” The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 17, 1930. 22 Douglas A. Irwin, Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 163. 23 Kevin Morgan, Ramsay MacDonald (London: Haus Publishing, 2006), 64–65. 24 Curtis, 76.

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employed Whale as a dialogue director, but he ended up having relatively little to do and played a minor artistic role in the films that he was involved in.25 Whale’s main stroke of luck came when he was selected to direct the non-combat scenes (and assist to develop the sound story) by Howard Hughes for Hell’s Angels .

Hell’s Angels Hughes remains one of the colourful figures of the twentieth century, and the production history of Hell’s Angels , which began two years before Whale’s crucial involvement, is one of the tycoon’s typical excess. From the start, the film was planned as an epic, budged at $2 million, all of which would be put up by Hughes personally.26 In a 1929, interview, Hughes reported “We [Hughes and original director Marshall Neilan] worked on the story together. Neilan wanted a story of the German flying corps. I was afraid to confine the story just to the Germans, so I thought it was better to go with the story alone.”27 The businessman then argued with Neilan to the point that he was released for his duties, though sources do not indicate if he quit or was fired. Luther Reed was chosen has replacement, but walked off the project after two months. Hughes then took over as director. As he was a flier himself, he had some technical knowledge about aviation that would be of great assistance to the production. Unlike Paramount for Wings (1927), he did not enlist the help of the US Air Corps and instead spent around $500,000 purchasing forty warplanes for use on his film.28 This purchase and Hughes’ total control gave rise to one of the problems that would plague production from a financial standpoint—as his own producer and financier, Hughes could spend as much money as he wanted to, without having to justify his choices to anyone. At one point, he flew one of the film’s planes for a particularly dangerous stunt, which resulted in a crack in his skull and damage to his brain and spinal cord.29

25 Ibid., 77–84. 26 Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske, Howard Hughes : The Untold Story (London:

Little, Brown and Company, 1996), 47. 27 Marquis Busby, “‘Hell’s Angels’ to Take Flight,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 1929. 28 Bogart Rogers, “4 Million Dollars and 4 Men’s Lives,” Photoplay, Apr. 1930, 48. 29 Rogers, 48–50.

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Although the director would survive, publicity would report that the film cost the lives of three of the crew. The first involved a mechanic who failed to jump out of an intentionally crashed plane in time. In the second, a pilot crashed while filming a battle scene in Oakland, California and a third fatality occured while a plane was being transported for the production.30 Bogart Rogers reports that another, a camera operator who had a stroke during the film, possibly due to stress, is debatable.31 An LA Times story also reported that there was a near miss when a plane crashed into to multiple cameras, almost killing one of the operators.32 The movie began production on Halloween, 1927,33 and finally seemed to finish in February, 1929.34 Like Wings , the film took a very long time to make, particularly for its era. Press reports reveal that in mid-1929, the movie was considered almost finished and that Hughes had even booked the George M. Cohen Theater in New York for the premier.35 Apparently near the last moment, the tycoon felt that he needed to convert the film to sound. Whether this was actually a financially necessary is an open question. MGM was still releasing silent films well into the year, and it is possible that the film would have a financial success even given its silent status. Hughes stormed ahead, however, adding another $1.7 million to the budget.36 The new sound script was written by Joseph Moncure March, from the silent story written by Hughes and Neilan.37 An LA Times story stated that Howard Estabrook had been hired, but his participation appears to have minimal.38 Just how much of the silent film’s story was altered is unclear. Most sources do indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the original plot. According to Jean Harlow’s biographer Irving

30 Rosalind Shaffer, “Tragedy Stalks Realism in Films,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1929. 31 Rogers, 102. 32 Marquis Busby, “‘Hell’s Angels’ to Take Flight,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 1929. 33 Rogers, 33. 34 Brown and Broeske, 52. 35 “‘Hell’s Angels’ Almost Ready,” Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1929. 36 Brown and Broeske, 53. 37 Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, Howard Hughes : His Life and Madness (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979), 66. 38 “Estabrook Will Start Work on ‘Hell’s Angels’,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 31, 1929.

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Shulman, a majority of the screenplay needed to be re-written, which implies more than just writing dialogue for the sound scenes. As was his proclivity, Hughes told March that money would be no object with the new script.39 The long series of artists involved with the project increased when Whale was brought onto the production. Although Whale would be credited as “dialogue director,” Hughes’ Photoplay interview states that Whale was hired to “stage the talking version”40 and his biographer Mark Gatiss describes Whale as influencing March with the writing and “supervising the post-production.”41 A New York Times interview even states that Whale convinced Hughes to re-shoot the film in sound, but no other source supports this. The article later contradicts itself, stating that Whale “…had been drafted by Mr. Hughes to supervise the dialogue alone, not only suggested that most of the story be scrapped but that the cast be changed.”42 It is more likely that the second statement is true, that Whale heavily influenced the story, but only after Hughes had decided to re-shoot the picture. Given Whale’s close involvement with the story, dialogue and postproduction elements of the film, along with its thematic similarity to his other work, it is not an unreasonable argument to consider Whale a co-auteur of the project with Hughes. In fact, it appears that after production of the sound sequences began, the tycoon finally relaxed control, possibly due to lack of interest with any scenes not involving airplanes. Few accounts of the production mention Hughes prominently in relation to the actors after the casting of the sound elements were completed, and he seems to have been far more interested in innovating new ways of recording airplane sounds, which necessitated an invention of a new microphone. The obsessive producer seemed more proud of providing authentic audio effects that pilots would recognize than a plausible human story.43

39 Irving Shulman, Harlow: An Intimate Biography (New York: Random House, 1964),

74. 40 Rogers, 120. 41 Mark Gatiss, James Whale: A Biography (London: Cassell, 1995), 45, 47. 42 “British Director’s Views,” New York Times, Apr. 13, 1930. 43 Phillip K. Scheuer, “Hughes Expects to Laugh Last,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1930.

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James Hall and Ben Lyon were held over from the silent version, but Hughes decided that actress Greta Nissen’s Norwegian accent would render her implausible as a British aristocrat.44 She was replaced by Jean Harlow, a-then unknown actress who had been given her big break. The casting of Harlow did not negate the film having some decidedly inconsistent vocalizations. Hall, Lyon and Harlow were all playing English characters but spoke in an American vernacular, as did John Darrow, who played German Karl Arnstedt. By contrast, American actor Lucien Prival adopted a stereotypical Teutonic intonation as the German antagonist. Much of the supporting cast would be played by both Americans and English actors. By the time of its release, the movie’s extremely long gestation had become an industry joke in Hollywood. Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele quote a statement that “the only living person who could remember when Hell’s Angels started” was 10545 and Lyon had joked that he wished he would live long to see the film open.46 The abovementioned Photoplay interview seems to imply the Hughes was slightly mentally ill for his investments in the movie and also implies that he may have been overly zealous in demands for dangerous aerial stunts.47 The final film would feature Whale’s dialogue scenes (consisting of the bulk of the film) complimented by Hughes’ silent combat sequences, with overdubbed sound effects. A few of the silent exteriors with Hall and Lyon feature their voices, added in post-production. Adding to the prestige quality of the production, one episode, a society ball, was shot in two-strip Technicolor. Pre-release publicity for the film played up its enormous budget along with, somewhat morbidly, the fact that three of crew perished making it. According to both the New York Times and Photoplay, the final cost of the film was over $4 million.48 Hell’s Angels concerns itself with the story of Monte (Lyon) and Roy Rutledge (Hall) two brothers who are students at Oxford when war breaks out. Roy is a straight arrow idealist while Monte is hedonistic and sexually promiscuous. Both men are somewhat immature and in love with 44 Shulman, 73. 45 Barlett and Steele, 67. 46 Muriel Babcock, “Lyon Out of Air Pocket,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 1930. 47 Rogers, 30–33, 118–119. 48 Rogers, 30–31, “An Angel to Angels,” New York Times, May 11, 1930.

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the same woman, Helen (Jean Harlow). After playing a role assault in defending London from a Zeppelin attack that fails partially due to the treason of their German friend Karl (Darrow), the brothers are posted overseas. Monte, who is considered by the other men in his unit to be a coward, volunteers for a near suicide mission in which a captured German plane is used in a bombing mission to prove his bravery. Roy joins him and the two men are captured as spies, but not before Roy suffers a final indignity when Helen reveals that she never loved him. After their capture, Monte panics and offers to give the German vital Allied war plans in exchange for his life, but Roy kills him before he has the chance. Roy is executed by firing squad just before the battle commences, implying that the mission was a success. In its framing device of two men (in this case literal brothers) fighting over love of a woman who follows them to the continent, as well as two large aerial combat centrepieces, the movie follows basic premise and structure of Wings , but Hell’s Angels is a far darker, cynical and at times subversive film. The picture’s most subversive element may not be intentional but it comes from an intriguing source—the performance of James Hall as Roy Rutledge. Hall’s character is written as an absolute straight shooter idealist, the kind of that would often be played in contemporary films by Richard Barthelmess (although not in his First World War picture The Dawn Patrol [1930]). However, his performance seems to suggest that Roy is somewhat dense and almost childlike in his beliefs, as well as myopic in his inability to understand that cynical outlook on life shared by both Helen and his brother, and presumably by society at large. It is hard to understand why he would find himself attracted to a woman as unwholesome as Helen in the first place. Whether this is intentional on behalf of Whale or a result of mannered acting by Hall is impossible to ascertain with certainty. Another ambiguous element of the film is its depiction of Monte’s cowardice, or perhaps, lack thereof. In the second half, it is revealed that Monte feigns illness to avoid flying and he later concedes that he is faking due to his fear of death. Later, he is willing to betray his country and collaborate in exchange for his own life. However, the arguments he puts forth—that the war is a joke, that the men are being abused by the governments who actually believe their own propaganda and that he is simply expressing his human desire to live—are not condemned by Whale and/or Hughes, either through dialogue or cinematic technique. This may be due to Whale’s somewhat proscenium camera work,

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which results in visual ambiguity regarding which character the audience is intended to sympathize with, but it may also be an intentional thematic statement. The movie is also more sexual than Wings , as in the scenes where Monte encourages Roy to cavort with prostitutes before their likely suicide mission. Again, Whale does not condemn this activity, nor does he use any techniques to indicate that this practice is not ethical. As mentioned by nearly every reviewer, the centrepieces of the film are the two aerial combat sequences directed by Hughes, but the framing storyline is imbued with fatalism, a theme that would run through much of Whale’s subsequent work. Neither Roy nor Monte seemed particularly content before the war started, and the home front lacks the innocence or beauty found in either The Big Parade or Wings . The stakes for the characters are more basic, primarily, survival. The two characters in the film who perform noble actions—Roy and Karl—end up dead, while Monte, who is willing to betray his country, also ends up dead. The dark adventure comes from spectacle and the potential for the characters to survive, not to find love or necessarily live up to high ideals. Reviews tended to be conditionally positive, giving exceptional praise to aerial scenes but condemning the story as hackneyed and unoriginal. The world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater was a typically Hughesian mega event, featuring $11 seats and an airplane show over the city.49 Myra Nye reported “Never was the sky of Hollywood more brilliantly illuminated, never were the white smoke screens made by airman more lavish and never were the air stunts more brilliantly hazardous.”50 The movie was preceded by a half hour live prologue,51 and the film finally began at 10:45, ending at 1:30 a.m.52 The spectacle would be repeated in New York. Rosalind Shaffer of The New York Times attended the premier and described “parachute jumpers flying through the rays of light which were shot into the sky from the first and were augmented by rainbow lights directed on planes by the arcs from the boulevard.” When she finally described the actual film in sixth paragraph, she states “The showing of ‘Hell’s Angels’ proved a sensation, due to mainly to the

49 “And Now All That Trouble Seems Not Half So Futile,” Washington Post, June 22, 1930. 50 Myra Nye, “Society of Cinemaland,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 1930. 51 Muriel Babcock, “Lyon Out of Air Pocket,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 1930. 52 Edwin Schallert, “Great Thrills in Air Feature,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1930.

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remarkable air scenes…Probably no one will ever equal these air scenes. But the story they illustrate unfortunately must have partly fallen on the cutting room floor, for by the time the heroine, Jean Harlow…goes wrong, nobody cares.”53 The New York premiere would also have the gimmick of opening at two theatres at the same time.54 Photoplay called the film “severely handicapped” praising the performance of the two male leads while criticizing Harlow’s character. The review concludes by saying “Now don’t mistake. ‘Hell’s Angels’ is worth seeing. But $4,000,000 worth?”55 In his review, Mordaunt Hall shared the complaints, finding “in every instance when so soon as the producer forgets Helen, the flaxan-haired creature, and takes to the war, his film is absorbing and exciting. But while she is the center of attraction the picture is a most mediocre piece of work.” He would find fault with the Oxford scenes as well.56 In a rare second review, he called the movie “a strange combination of brilliance and banality.” Hall presented an unusually long description of the zeppelin attack, indicating what he thought was the film’s highlight.57 The unknown critic for The Chicago Daily Tribune writing under the pseudonym Mae Tinee gave the movie a four star review, raving about the aerial sequences: “There has never been anything to compare even faintly with the air stuff in ‘Hell’s Angels’. There are examples of physical daring that make you shudder” while still contrasting them with an “unremarkable” story, and finding Harlow “no great shakes an actress.” However, owing to the movie’s cynical tone, she applauded Hughes “for omitting marshmallow sauce from the finale!”58 Ironically, although Harlow was criticized the most for her performance, she would be the only actor from the film to attain stardom. In a 1929 interview, James Hall stated

53 Rosalind Shaffer, “‘Hell’s Angels’ in Spectacular First Showing,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 8, 1930. 54 “Two Theaters for Talkie,” New York Times, July 25, 1930. 55 “Hell’s Angels,” Photoplay, Aug. 1930, 56. 56 Mordaunt Hall, “Hell’s Angels,” New York Times, Aug. 16, 1930. 57 Mordaunt Hall, “Exciting Air Battles,” New York Times, Aug. 24, 1930. 58 Tinee, Mae, “Long Awaited Air Spectacle Wins Four Stars,” Nov. 23, 1930.

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that Roy Rutledge was “…the most wonderful part I’ll ever have.”59 He was right—neither Hall nor Lyon reached anything close to the heights of Hell’s Angels in their careers. The real star of the film was its aerial sequences. The popular press contained few descriptions of the films sociological importance or its role as a tribute to veterans, most likely because the movie had a far more ambiguous portrayal of patriotism than its predecessor Wings , and the fact that All Quiet on the Western Front, discussed in a subsequent chapter, had already caused a major discussion about the war in popular culture. One of the few accounts relating the movie to the historical event it was based on was an LA Times article by air veteran Major C.C. Mosley. Mosley had a strong emotional reaction to the film: “I saw ‘Hell’s Angels’ last Tuesday night and what I picture that is! It actually shows you the things the gang who flew at the front has been trying to explain for twelve years…My sleep has been ruined every night since Tuesday, fighting the war all over again in my dreams…I almost passed out helping keep the ships from colliding in the big ‘dog fights’ where about forty or fifty skips are milling around exactly like the big scraps during the war.” In a compliment to Hughes, the Major was impressed that the planes were “hauled around in the sky by regular pilots who know their stuff.” Apparently impressed by the portrayal of Karl and ignoring Prival’s stereotyped role, he found “The Germans, instead of being portrayed as terrible ogres in the usual silly manner, are, on the contrary, shown as real human being they are, with high ideals, unselfish, lovers of home, country and friends and strange as it may seem now, are, after all, about the same as ourselves.” Moseley’s only criticism was for “The scene at the officers’ mess where Ben Lyon is denounced as yellow, is, of course, one of the little Hollywood touches that someone sneaked in on Mr. Hughes-it isn’t at all like an officers’ mess or anything that ever happened in one—but don’t let that bother you. Forget it and watch the flying; it is probably the nearest approach to the flying done at the front during the great war that will ever be made.”60 Moseley’s reaction indicates that despite the complaints from several critics about the storyline and Harlow’s performance, Hughes had

59 “Hall Weary of Hero-Ing,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 1929. 60 C.C. Mosley, “War Ace Gets Thrill from Air Combat Film,” Los Angeles Times, June

1, 1930.

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achieved his “artistic” goals. He was always more interested in presenting an “authentic” portrayal of the air war in its most literal aspect—the air fighting. He had delegated the storyline and direction of the actors, at least in the sound version, to others, because that was what interested him the least. For Hughes, realism was technical recreation of the mechanics of flying. The psychology and the effect of trauma on the fighters were nowhere near as important. It was Whale who gave the movie with a sense of human interest regarding its war experiences to provide something beyond tedium to audiences as they waited between the battle scenes.

Journey’s End: The Film Despite working on almost every production of Sherriff’s play in the United States and United Kingdom, Whale was not the first choice for the director of the film version. Even though he had essentially been the auteur behind the non-combat scenes of Hell’s Angels , the fact that Hughes was given sole credit as director and was generally seen as the mastermind behind the production presumably did not advance his reputation as much as it should have. The film rights to Journey’s End were bought by Gainsborough Pictures, who were motivated by an attempt to keep American producer Morris Gest away. Curtis describes their motive as to “keep the rights to Journey’s End in British hands.”61 The first choice for director was V. Gareth Gundrey. However, a number of factors got in the way of Gundrey’s candidacy as director. It was decided that to save time and rush the film out before Universal’s All Quiet on the Western Front , the movie would be made in America, owing to the lack of appropriate sound studios in the UK. Gundrey had also directed only silents, and it was known that Whale was about to assist on the sound scenes in Hell’s Angels. Curtis reports that the latter artist was selected for the film, mainly due to his experience with the stage play and the fact that he was already in the United States.62 Again, Whale was in the right place at the right time. The production of the film of Journey’s End would be a conundrum— a movie about a very British subject, with a British director and a mostly British cast (David Manners, the film’s Raleigh, was Canadian but spoke

61 Curtis, 91. 62 Ibid., 91–92.

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with a diction that meant he could appear passable as English and German Werner Klinger played the captured Teutonic POW), but filmed in the United States. Colin Clive was temporarily released from his role on the West End to play Stanhope in the film.63 Instead of Gundrey, the script would be mainly adapted by Joseph Moncure March, whom Whale had worked with on Hell’s Angels . The movie would hone very closely to the play, only opening up to show the exterior of the trench and some of elements of the mission that ultimately kills Uncle (Ian Maclaren). This would not be uncommon for the time of cinema’s transition from silent to sound.64 Despite the fact that Whale had previous experience with Hell’s Angels, James Curtis reports that he focused heavily on the actors to the exclusion of the formal elements of film-making.65 Judging from the cinematography and editorial strategies of the finished film, it seems possible that Whale used multiple cameras simultaneously, more in an attempt to “record” the play as opposed to making a work of cinema. This would not be uncommon in this era, as Robert Florey had used the same approach when filming the Marx Brothers musical The Coconuts (1929).66 However, the attention that Whale paid to the actors is certainly one of the prime reasons behind the success of the film. Although efforts were made to find someone other than Clive for the lead,67 including Colin Keith-Johnson, the choice to import the actor would be a wise one. Even though he does not appear until well into the first act, Clive dominates the movie. Perhaps Whale’s greatest achievement as director, despite his relatively primitive camerawork, was to guide his star in modulating his stage performance into a screen one, particularly impressive considering that it was the actor’s first movie. Whale’s familiarity with the play (and probably his personal experiences in the war) served him well in adapting the complex series of character interactions to the film. Due to its relative lack of battle sequences, Journey’s End is in many ways a chamber piece,

63 Ibid., 98. 64 Ibid., 97. 65 Ibid., 98. 66 Joe Adamson, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo: A History of the Marx

Brothers and a Satire on the Rest of the World (London: Coronet Books, Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 78. 67 Curtis, 97–98.

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unusual in cinematic depictions of war. With the exception of the cook (Charles K. Gerrard), who is a stock Cockney comic relief, all of the major characters are relatively complex. One of the reasons that the play and film have often been seen as being authentic may be the details the films provide—the men are not going to have beef for dinner, they are going to a specific type of beef, prepared in a special way, due to their current war conditions. Likewise, many of the characters are from specific cities, and are identified with what they did in their pre-war lives. Nevertheless, despite the heavy emphasis on fidelity to the play and to the character’s motivations, Whale did make some innovations for film, notably in the sound design. The sound, credited to Buddy Rose, features the ever-present sounds of shelling and explosions in the background. The effect is surprisingly subtle, particularly for the period, and serves to reinforce the unusual surroundings of apparently desperate circumstances. Conversely, long stretches of quiet also at times provide an aural contrast and prevent the audience from becoming so accustomed to the shelling that they filter it out and disregard it. One of the most original aspects of Journey’s End, both play and film, is its focus on the way the characters communicate. Although many war films before and since have focused on the subcultures and convergent communication produced by war experiences, both the film and play share a continual focus on paralanguage often not found in other works. It is unusual in Journey’s End for characters to say in conversation what they directly mean about emotional matters, and nearly unheard of for two men to say this to each other. Although Stanhope may sometimes speak directly about his thoughts and fears to Uncle, the older man acts more as a psychologist or counsellor as opposed to anything else, rarely stating his own inner dialogue. Conversely, characters often make their thoughts obvious by not saying what they are really thinking, such as Uncle’s insistence on not talking about their impending raid with Raleigh. He is trying to maintain an illusion of normalcy and that danger and death are not just around the corner, yet both men know it is just an illusion. The title, selected by Sherriff, is telling. After Raleigh arrives, all of the characters have reached their final destination; they are merely waiting for their final execution. Whale completed post-production of the film in early March 1930, and the movie was set for a New York premier on April 8th. Like many of other films discussed in this book, it was a prestigious “roadshow”

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attraction, with a $2 ticket.68 Curtis mentions a New York World article that stated “a seemingly stunned audience remained seated and inarticulate for a full minute after the picture had been completed and the lights had been turned up.” The same marketing strategy for The Big Parade and Wings was used for Journey’s End—inviting real soldiers to a special screening. The day after the premier, a soldiers-only screening was presented, attending by General John J. Pershing, the American Commander-in-Chief himself.69 The movie was a huge critical and commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite his conflict with producer George Pearson about the fidelity to the stage play, Whale was critically vindicated. The Christian Science Monitor reviewer commented in its opening sentence that “The virtue of this film is that it is so faithful a reproduction of the stage play.”70 The Washington Post, again in its opening line of a notice indicating the film was opening, stated that the movie “has been pronounced a perfect picturization of a perfect play.”71 Nelson B. Bell’s review of the picture next day stated “Expanded beyond the rigid limitations of the stage to embrace something of the ghastly horror of No Man’s Land and the sanguinary spectacle of a trench raid, Journey’s End is a masterpiece of grizzly realism that may be relied upon to move audiences as profoundly as the grim drama of the front line from which it was adapted.”72 In Atlanta, critic Robert Moran described that “War is painted here frankly, freely and at times almost brutally. It is no glorious adventure to which your actors carry you with joy. It is shown has a monster, taking everything and giving nothing, and throughout the effort is made to prove that it is futile, absolutely useless and entirely unnecessary.” Moran’s comments indicate a common audience reaction—reading the play’s portrayal of war trauma as anti-war sentiment, something that as stated above was not shared by Sherriff.73

68 Ibid., 103. 69 Ibid., 104. 70 “Journey’s End,” The Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 23, 1930. 71 “Greatest of Trench Dramas Converted into Tense Film,” The Washington Post, May

25, 1930. 72 Nelson B. Bell, “Journey’s End,” Washington Post, May 26, 1930. 73 Moran, Robert, “Journey’s End,” Atlanta Constitution, May 27, 1930.

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The British reception to the movie was similar, but if anything more enthusiastic and sometimes tinged with national pride. The critic for The Devon and Exeter Gazette was impressed by the movie’s portrayal of Englishness, beginning his rave review by stating that the play would “above all others of its kind will go down to posterity because it epitomises the attitude of all Englishmen towards war.” Making no apparent distinction between play and film, s/he continues: “Its characters appearnot as imaginary figures-but as the living prototypes of men of every class which every onlooker will recognize and place himself in.” The critic closes the review by reminding readers that “Again I would urge as many patrons as possible to attend the early afternoon performances, thereby escaping the rush for admission to see this remarkable picture this evening.”74 Another rave review from a critic using the initials F.G.S. was one of the few in which I was able to find a description of an audience reaction. Beginning with a by-line that states the film was “A Truly Impressive British Picture,” she/he goes on to state that the sold-out audience watched the movie “with a tenser interest than I have ever seen before in a cinema theatre.” F.G.S. continues: “There were at times distinct threats of hysteria amongst the audience. On several occasions one heard that sudden catching of the breath, a laugh which was almost a sob, as some one of the many terrible situations was saved by timely humour.” In regard to the Britishness of the picture, the writer has a sense of national pride: “Thank goodness it is the work of Englishmen- there are no women in the film- and the fact that happened to be produced in an American studio means nothing. It is ours, and it is magnificent.” The writer spends several paragraphs emphasizing the picture’s realism and then, in a statement that would have pleased Sherriff, states “‘Journey’s End’ left me sad, but proud. Several days have elapsed since I saw it, and this is the tenth time I have tried to write it. To do it justice is almost impossible, for it is as big as the war itself. It must necessarily be so to succeed.” F.G.S. closes the review with a warning: “You must go and see ‘Journey’s End’ as a film, but go prepared for an experience which no other picture has yet given you. And also, remember it may be too strong meat for anyone who suffered badly in the war.”75 This

74 “The Palladium,” The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Nov. 11, 1930. 75 F.G.S., “‘Journey’s End’—A Truly Impressive British Picture,” Yorkshire Evening Post,

Apr. 19, 1930.

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review indicates that for some audience members’ portrayal of war trauma and the function of a film as tribute and memorial to soldiers were not mutually exclusive. As Curtis indicates, “Michael Balcon’s wise decision to beat All Quiet on the Western Front into release paid off handsomely.”76 As acclaimed as Journey’s End was, it was nearly forgotten in the wake of All Quiet, as will be discussed in a subsequent chapter. To a degree, the movie has languished in a kind of obscurity ever since. Despite the success of the play as both a syllabus text in the UK and as performed theatre, the movie has never been issued on any home video format. Journey’s End is also a bit of an orphan film in the sense that it did not have the backing of a major studio behind it for periodic re-release. But perhaps the greatest reason that Journey’s End fell into obscurity is that its status as the current holder of the claim of “great realistic war film” was simply replaced by All Quiet on the Western Front .

Waterloo Bridge Waterloo Bridge is usually considered to be one of Robert E. Sherwood’s weakest plays. His biographer Walter J. Meserve describes the work as “Built on an extremely thin plot, the play has almost no intrigue, little action, and poor characterization.”77 The critical reception was harsh and it ran for only sixty-four performances before closing.78 Set over the course of two days in Central London, Roy Cronin, an American soldier in the Canadian army, meets Myra, an American who was once an aspiring actress but is now working as a prostitute. Roy and Myra initially feel a connection to each other as Americans in a foreign land. Roy develops romantic feeling towards the older and more cynical Myra, who rebuffs his advances but eventually becomes connected to the younger man, although it is not clear if her feelings are more maternal than romantic. The oblivious Roy feels protective towards Myra and ends up helping her financially, while Myra is torn between feelings self-loathing, affection towards Roy, and a cynicism that a romantic relationship could not 76 Curtis, 105. 77 Walter J. Meserve, Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist (New York: Pegasus,

1970), 59. 78 Harriet Hyman Alonso, Robert E. Sherwood: The Playwright in Peace and War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 114.

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possibly work. In a confrontation on Waterloo Bridge, Myra confesses that she is a street walker, to which Roy is unphased. Sick and cynical himself of fighting, Roy offers to desert, while Myra urges him to continue and promises to keep in touch. After Roy is escorted to his train by a military policeman, Myra lights a match during a blackout, hoping she will be killed in a German zeppelin attack. Although Sherwood’s writing is at times more complex than many contemporary reviewers would make it out to be (Roy is not quite as naïve is he may initially appear) the characters are indeed mostly ill-defined and the lack of a narrative drive may make the audience wonder why they are supposed to care about this brief encounter. Given the weakness of the source material, the strength of the film must be credited to Whale, whose sensitive direction turned what could have been a talky adaptation of an unoriginal subject into a uniquely empathetic cinematic experience. Specifically, the multidimensional performances that Whale produced from his leads are a key element in making the film compelling. Like the director’s previous film, Waterloo Bridge is a rich character study of how people cope with an exceedingly stressful situation, with a naïve young man (Raliegh in Journey’s End, Roy in this film) whose innocence contrasts with the disillusionment and survival skills of the more mature characters (almost everyone in Journey’s End, Myra here). Also like Journey’s End, Waterloo Bridge is a profoundly empathetic film, as Whale refuses to shame or condemn Myra’s prostitution. The director, a former prisoner of war almost never passes judgement on what anyone does to function or cope with extreme stress. Whale also resists the temptation to turn movie into a Fraudian drama with Myra as a mother figure as, in fact, Roy does most of the comforting. Centring the movie are the performances from Mae Clarke and Kent Douglass (who later acted under the name Douglass Montgomery). According to Curtis, Whale was displeased by Douglass’ performance,79 but he managed to produce a striking characterization from the young actor. In a role that could very easily appear to be childish or stupid, Douglass portrays Roy as a young man of integrity and empathy who reacts compassionately when Myra reveals her true occupation to him (perhaps because he suspected beforehand).

79 Curtis, 121.

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Waterloo Bridge is a critical film in Whale’s growth as an English director in America. He brings a level of authenticity and sense of location about London that would have been hard to find in a non-English director. Myra and Roy initially bond over being in a different country and culture, and an undercurrent of nostalgia for better days in the homeland contrasted with the intrigue of wartime London runs through the film. Whale wisely does not overstate the cultural shock elements found in the script, which makes their effect more natural when they do occur. His cinematic technique has also progressed from his previous movie. As Mark Gattiss writes “The advances Whale had made from the relatively static Journey’s End are remarkable. It was as if he had become fully conversant with the available technology and mastered it at a stroke.”80 It may be tempting to the visual success of Waterloo Bridge solely on cinematographer Arthur Edeson, who had been nominated for an Oscar for the previous year’s All Quiet on the Western Front , but in an interview with James Curtis, Clarke recalled that Whale and cinematographer Arthur Edeson were “Absolute blood brothers. They were in cahoots. He [Whale] would ride the camera on the high work, and he was always behind it, checking what he was getting.”81 A key difference between the play and film is the portrayal of fate, as exemplified by the portrayals of Myra’s death. At the end of the play, Myra attempts suicide by lighting a match during a zeppelin raid on England, calling “Here I am Heinie…I’m right down here….”, and death is then implied through the lowering of the final curtain.82 In Whale’s final cut of the film, Myra bids Roy goodbye, and then confidently walks down Waterloo Bridge without the match or dialogue, and then is killed by a German bomb. Whale renders these events ambiguous—was Myra the victim of bad luck, or did she want to die? Perhaps the best explanation of the film ending is that she was fated to die. Ethel Griffles, who played Mrs. Hobley, Myra’s landlady, stated in an apparent interview83 with The China Press, an English-language 80 Gatiss, 64. 81 Mae Clarke, Featured Player: An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke (Santa Barbara:

Santa Teresa Press, 1996), 78. 82 Robert E. Sherwood, Waterloo Bridge (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930),

173. 83 The article, which describes the cast’s feelings on the story and their interaction with Whale, is awkwardly written and is difficult for to determine the exact source. Griffies,

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newspaper published in Shanghai, that “The war in England did not cover so great a multitude of sins that Myra should have lived.”84 According to the article, members of the cast disagreed as to whether the ending was “too unnecessarily tragic.” As described, “Mr. Whale listened tolerantly to the tiredes of his charges [the actors], some emphatically in accord with Myra’s suicide, as it appears in the picture, and others lous [sic], in voicing that War – dreary London in those days – a fundamentally straight girl’s rotten luck – and spiritual atonement all wiped out her sins, and that she was, by all means, worthy of the boy, be he prince or guttersweeper.” Whale is described as saying “…very little, sometimes smiling almost wyly as an enthusiastic orator scored prudes, women, War, men, worlds – or while others dolled out deep regrets over Myra’s screen scenes.” Clarke is then paraphrased as saying that if she were in Myra’s position, the actress “would have begged for death to retain the morsel of ideal that the boy’s love had reconstructed in her….”85 It is worth noting that all three of Whale’s early Great War films end with death—Monte and Roy Rutledge in Hell’s Angels , likely the entire cast of Journey’s End, and Myra in Waterloo Bridge (Roy Cronin’s fate is left unknown and it is certainly possible that he may also have been killed on the battlefields). Clarke’s views on this are significant—given the fact that Whale takes none of the opportunities in Sherwood’s socially conservative text to shame Myra for being a sex worker (in fact, Whale never shames any of his characters in any films of his for their sexual desires or choices), it is unlikely that her death is, as Griffies apparently believed, a punishment from God. It is more likely that, as Clarke states, the connection between Myra and Roy is too pure to survive the cynicism and emotional void of the war—in the Whale’s universe of Waterloo Bridge, something as good as the bond between the two is too holy to survive. This interpretation was shared by critic Nelson B. Bell, who found “There is constantly projected from the silver sheet a sense that the two pivotal characters are nothing more than the pawns of inexorable fate, swaying their lives by war-bred and intangible terrors, rather than in any sense

who is described as “pedagogue to the brilliant group” appears to be the source, but this is not explicitly stated. 84 “Director and Cast Discuss Strand Film,” The China Press, Dec. 13, 1931. 85 Ibid.

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exercising even remote masteries over their own destinies. This, I take it, was the author’s intention.”86 This ending, was in fact, found so downbeat by New York audiences that the management of the theatre removed it from the film, presumably closing the movie as Myra waves goodbye to Roy.87 The same cut occurred in Detroit, after audiences “…it seems, left the theatre with tears in their eyes.” Critic Clark Branion found that “As a result of this cutting, one is left hanging in mid-air, with a fadeout of Myra walking back over the bridge. The structure of the film was incomplete. There was no question of censorship, but many people seem to cling fervently to the illusion that all of life’s tragic pranks must end with a smile.”88 It also seems likely that this cut was also made in Boston, where the critic for the Daily Boston Globe describing the film’s ending with Myra’s promise to marry Roy, without mentioning her death and finding it “too sudden for the audience to realize what has happened.”89 Clearly, if audience reaction to the film was so strong they were compelled to change the ending, it was an ironic demonstration of Whale’s success. Waterloo Bridge was Whale’s second film in a row to open to rave reviews. Perhaps the greatest compliment of all came from Robert E. Sherwood, who remarked that “Here and there in the dialogue are lines which, when I heard them, seemed to have a reminiscent ring, but the first scenes in the picture and all the middle scenes involving Frederick Kerr, Enid Bennet, and Bette Davis are not in the play I wrote. / These remarks are not offered in a spirit of complaint. They are offered in a spirit of gratitude to James Whale, who made a better job of Waterloo Bridge than I did.”90 The Baltimore Afro-American found the film “…subtly alluring in its beauty and its infinite variety. It is heart-breaking in its emotional appeal!”.91 while The Baltimore Sun praised Whale’s direction as “sensitive and in admirable taste.” The Washington Post reported that the

86 Nelson B. Bell, “Waterloo Bridge,” The Washington Post, Sept. 5, 1931. 87 Mordaunt Hall, “A Tarnished Romance,” The New York Times, Sept. 13, 1931. 88 Clark Branion, “This Picture Merited a Compelling Title,” The Detroit Free Press,

Sept. 5, 1931. 89 “Waterloo Bridge,” Daily Boston Globe, Sept. 5, 1931. 90 Robert F. Sisk, “An Author Gives Cheers for a Film,” The Baltimore Sun, Oct. 4,

1931. 91 “‘Waterloo Bridge’ at Booker T.,” Baltimore Afro-American, Oct. 24, 1931.

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movie was playing to “capacity audiences,”92 In a slightly less enthusiastic review, Mordaunt Hall found the film to have “… a scarcity of dramatic material, it is nevertheless quite touching in some of its episodes.”93 Norbert Lusk of The Los Angeles Times found it to be “…a picture that is quietly touching and in admirable taste from start to finish. Minus a strong climax and without any exciting sequences it is curiously gripping, and the carefully written, revealing dialogue is infinitely superior to the chatter turned out by the studios.”94 In Britain, the response to the film of Waterloo Bridge was also positive. A typical notice in The Manchester Guardian (the forerunner today’s Guardian) found that Clarke and Douglass “…are just like life, and so their story is as ordinary as their lives and so treated as to lack significance.” It also found Whale’s attempt at portraying the wartime capital as “…one feels that most of his care has gone into making sure of his wartime London. This is on the whole effective, though the chorus [girl], as usual, lives in a room of a size remarkable for Soho, and there is some disregard about raising the blinds night.” The writer, who was apparently not familiar with the play, felt that making a film set in London with American leads was an attempt to “…feel sure of the public of at least two countries.”95 Given Whale’s efforts at attainting naturalistic performances from his leads and realistic depiction of wartime London, it unlikely he would have been happy with this review, if he ever read it. Although most British notices were positive, many of them expressed some form of disappointment or scepticism at an American film’s ability to portray a British topic, praise for Whale at having succeeded in Hollywood, or disappointment Whale was not better known in his native country. One of the more extreme examples of this view was F.G. Stowe, whose review of the film is worth discussing at length. He begins his review with “It has been left to Hollywood to exploit, with ‘Waterloo Bridge,’ London in wartime—or rather to begin exploiting it, as it was left to the same colony to make the most, and often the worst, of the war at the actual front. / Perhaps we ought to take some comfort from the

92 “Sherwood Film an Arresting Screen Drama,” The Washington Post, Sept. 6, 1931. 93 Mordaunt Hall, “A Tarnished Romance,” The New York Times, Sept. 13, 1931. 94 Norbert Lusk, “Everyone but Critics Happy,” The Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 1931. 95 R.H., “Waterloo Bridge: A Film of London in War Time,” The Manchester Guardian, Nov. 19, 1931.

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fact that an English producer, James Whale, is responsible for it, but I would rather see Whale making pictures at Elstree.” Despite his obvious scepticism, Stowe goes on to note “It is very surprising how near America has got to an almost photographic presentation of some parts of wartime London….The thing is almost uniformly well done, and it must be James Whale who has done it, for the author of the play is an American critic who saw little of London at that time [sic].”96 G.A. Atkinson in his review of the movie noted that, in reference to Whale, “It amuses me to note how Hollywood absorbs our proven talent and launches it on the world as original creations on the Pacific slope.” Although Atkinson gave the film a positive review, he did find that “‘Waterloo Bridge’ is more Hollywooden than one has a right to expect from Mr. Whale. He should know better than to introduce scenes which shows screaming and panicstricken Londoners crowding into tubes and funk-holes because a German air-raid is in progress.”97 Hannen Swaffer apparently felt that Whale’s success in America was due to the lack of proper respect from his English countrymen. “When ‘Journey’s End’ came here, James Whale’s name was omitted from the announcements outside the kinema [sic]. Although he had done a perfect job, his name was suppressed. Nobody made him an offer here. So he went back to Hollywood. / I think it is scandalous.”98 The seemingly authentic nature of the portrayal of England in the film was also the subject of some of the American critics. In a piece for The Detroit Free Press, Clark Branion argued that “The significance of Waterloo Bridge [meaning the bridge itself]…is lost to the general run of American picture fans. Many of them, by the very nature of the title, might anticipate a travel film, and flight shy of it [the movie] in consequence.”99 Earlier, a piece without a byline in the same paper found “None but an Englishman could have painted with so un erring a brush the background of his beloved London….”100

96 F.G. Stowe, “Waterloo Bridge,” Worthington Gazette, Dec. 2, 1931. 97 G.A. Atkinson, “Chevalier’s Dirty Talkie,” The Era, Nov. 25, 1931. 98 Hannen Swaffer, “Are You Over Fourteen? What a Game It Is When the Censor Wakes!,” The People, Aug. 9, 1931. 99 Clark Branion, “This Picture Merited a Compelling Title,” The Detroit Free Press, Sept. 5, 1931. 100 “Tragedy Dominates the New Screen Offerings,” The Detroit Free Press, Aug. 29,

1931.

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With the release of Waterloo Bridge, Whale’s quick ascent from obscure English theatre director to a noted Hollywood auteur within the space of only three years was complete. Whale was hardly the only director from Europe in America, but for the rest of his career, he would carry his very specific English sensibility with him in a way that for example. Alfred Hitchcock would not. His films about The Great War were influential on the cinematic culture and helped shape the way the conflict would be remembered in both countries. A subsequent chapter will address his final Great War film, The Road Back (1937), but it is worth remembering that in addition to his obvious talent as a cinematic artist, Whale’s dark and cynical version of the Great War was exactly what British and American audiences were eager to consume during this period. As Whale pursued another fatalistic but very different film about a different kind of outsider—Frankenstein, his and Lewis Milestone’s portrayal of the war as source of human misery and deep psychological torment was now the standard cinematic conceptualization that all subsequent Great War films would build on.

CHAPTER 5

The Black Void

In Modris Ekstien’s article “The Cultural Impact of the Great War” he refers to people who saw the war as a “horrific blank, signifying nothing of world-historical importance.” Ekstien later refers to the war as a “Great Nothing.”1 I use the term “Black Void” to describe movies that portray this concept—that the war created a great, psychological negative space, a black hole in which meaning disappeared into. The Black Void constitutes a group of texts in various forms of media about the war which emphasize a heavy degree of trauma, fatalism and nihilism. Art that concerns itself with this concept tends to see the war as being essentially chaotic and meaningless and the cause of untold psychic suffering. Films that concern themselves with the Black Void tend to emphasize coping mechanisms for war trauma that include emotional dissociation, stoicism, and selfmedication with sex and alcohol. As with the Dark Adventure, many of these movies had actual veterans of the conflict serving in various artistic capacities. The apotheosis of this is the most successful of all Great War films—Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Unlike many of the movies in this book, All Quiet is still having a direct impact on contemporary popular culture. Images from the picture, including but not limited to the famous “butterfly finale”, have entered 1 Modis Eksteins, “The Cultural Impact of the Great War,” in Film and the First World War, ed. Karel Dibbets and Bert Hogenkamp (Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 1995), 202.

© The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_5

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the public subconscious in such a way that people who have never seen the movie have been exposed to its iconic imagery. In a greater sense, the film’s storyline has influenced the general perception of the First World War, namely, that it was a pointless conflict brought about by cultural elites and politicians that had a disastrous impact on the essentially apolitical, innocent lambs who fought it. Although it is a bold claim, I feel it is defensible to argue that All Quiet became the text that nearly all Great War films subsequently referenced. As Andrew Kelly indicates in his book on the making of the film, All Quiet was one of many works at the time dealing with the subject of war disillusionment.2 However, it is perhaps the most popular and longest lasting work in any medium in this vein. The movie was conceived, almost from the beginning, as exactly what it turned about to be—a prestige picture: a critically acclaimed, commercial hit about a major socio-cultural issue, as planned by the two studio executive behind its productions, Carl Laemmle and his son, Carl Laemmle Jr. It was designed to court controversy, but a certain kind of controversy that would be beneficial to its publicity. The fact that Universal was willing to spend so much money on its production was an indication of an astute reading of public tastes and attitudes about the conflict. Essentially, the Laemmles realized that the public was ready for All Quiet and would be receptive to its message. Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neus (literally Nothing New in the West, 1929) was one of many novels of the late twenties that described progressive and pacifistic themes concerning war. Although Kelly indicates that this period was a high watermark for this kind of war novel,3 this view existed earlier, as indicated by Laurence Stallings Plumes . However, Remarque’s book would go on to have a major global impact. At first, this may seem surprising as the book was written by a German in his native language, but the culture of anti-German sentiment in the United States and UK had sufficiently declined to make enough members of the public receptive to a translation and allow it to be a financial success. However, the message that the book sent—highly critical of German society and war leaders while being sympathetic to the average German fighter, was one that Allied audiences was receptive to hearing.

2 Kelly, 14–15. 3 Ibid., 42.

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There can be little doubt that Erich Maria Remarque was scarred for life by his war experiences, even though they were not quite as extensive as one might expect. As Andrew Kelly describes, Remarque was a philosophical pacifist who did not join the army until it appeared that he could not avoid enlistment, and surprisingly for a writer who’s most famous novel was about frontline soldiers, never served on any front, though he did see enough action to receive a major war injury.4 Kelly provides a long quote from Remarque that seems to sum up his attitudes: Our generation has grown up in a different way from all others before and afterward. Their one great and most important experience was the war. No matter whether they approved or rejected it, whether they understood it from a nationalistic, pacifistic, adventurous, religious or stoic point of view. They saw blood, horror, annihilation, struggle, and death…I [have] avoided taking sides from every political, social, religious or other point of view… I have spoken only of the terror, of the horror, of the desperate, often brutal impulses of self-preservation, of the tenacious hold on life face to face with death and annihilation.5

This quote demonstrates Remarque’s essential perspective was in many was similar to R.C. Sherriff’s, albeit with one major difference- Remarque lacked Sherriff’s patriotism. Having little loyalty to the German government or state he later became an American citizen.6 Also like Sherriff, he claimed he was writing an apolitical piece. This claim is particularly specious in Remarque’s case as his novels make explicit complaints about the German government and leadership. It is more accurate to say that his characters are not particularly interested in party politics, rather than having no opinion about the war or its causes and execution. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front is a plotless series of episodes, out of chronological sequence, told in first person from the point of view of Paul Baumer, a sensitive young student who enlist with his friends in the German Army while still in high school. The group of boys are killed one by one, and finally Paul himself dies, reduced to a mere statistic on a 4 Ibid., 50. 5 Kelly, 51. 6 Christine R. Barker and R.W. Last, Erich Maria Remarque (London: Oswald Wolff, 1979), 22.

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piece of paper, shortly before the war itself ends. One of the most unique and effective aspects of the novel is the mental perspective of the characters. Paul, though a naturally sensitive person, is at times almost clinically detached from horrific events that surround him. Although the book describes a near consistent series of physical and emotional tortures and humiliations, the protagonist greets these events with a kind of stoicism as a coping mechanism—it is better that Paul feel nothing than react to the horrors that surround him, lest he lose his sanity. Like the early stages of Sherriff’s career, Remarque also became a writer successful enough to find a publisher but not much else, as his first two published novels languished in obscurity. It is worth repeating another long quote from Andrew Kelly regarding the inspiration for the novel: I suffered from rather violent attacks of despair. When attempting to overcome these attacks, it happened that gradually, with full consciousness and systematically, I began to look for the cause of my depressions; in consequence of this international analysis my mind reverted to my experiences during the war. I was able to observe quite similar phenomena in my acquaintances and friends. We all were- and are often to the present day victims of restlessness; we lack a final object; at times we are supersensitive, at times indifferent but over and above all we are bereft of any joy. The shadows of the war oppressed us, and particularly so when we did not think of it at all. On the very which these swept over me, I began to write.7

The book, which was initially serialized in a German newspaper, was an immediate success. Kelly reports the impressive statistic that “Within fifteen months, over-two-and-a-half million copies were in print worldwide.”8 The novel was also critically acclaimed for many reasons, but a consistent theme in reviews was its realistic depiction of war life.9 For those who did not read the book in its bound form, there was another source. Kelly reports that sixty-four American newspapers serialized A.W. Wheen’s English translation.10 Like almost any successful novel published in the twentieth century, there was quick discussion about a film adaption. 7 Kelly, 53. 8 Ibid., 45. 9 Ibid., 44–49. 10 Ibid., 47.

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However, there would be many difficulties, both financial and aesthetic, in translating the novel to the screen. The most immediately obvious difficulty with a film of the novel is that it had no real plot and was told out of chronological order, frequently pausing for flashbacks. Another problem was the explicit content of the book—the gore, sex and scatological details often mentioned would not be able to filmed, even in the relatively liberal atmosphere of pre-Code Hollywood. There was also much about the movie that would not count it as a traditional commercial product. From a financial standpoint, it would be clear that a film version would require a large budget. Due to the battle scenes, many of which had never been shot with sound before, which would in turn require technical innovation in both the camera and sound departments. Despite a sexual liaison that occurs when the men trade food for sex, there is no real romance in the movie. Finally, the downbeat tone and bleak ending were far away from what was typically associated with Hollywood. The studio that would ultimately purchase the film rights would not be the most obvious—Universal Pictures. Universal was known as a “major minor” at the time, being a large studio but lacking the chains of theatres owned by the Big Five. Furthermore, its output usually consisted of a large number of “B” genre films, usually Westerns, along with an annual “Super Jewel” prestige picture, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) or The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Andrew Kelly reports that studio founder and President Carl Laemmle (himself a German immigrant) was interested in making the film because he personally believed in its political message. This is probably true to some degree, but his source is a publicity biography commissioned by the mogul himself, and it would naïve to suggest that his sole motivation was sympathy with Remarque’s viewpoint.11 Kelly goes on to report that the real impetus behind the film was Laemmle Jr, who wanted to move Universal into the big time with more artistic films.12 The question remains—what would have caused either Laemmle to believe that such a film was worth risking so much money on? To be sure, the studio would have been guaranteed a certain audience from the fact that it was based on a popular novel, and as previous chapters had shown, war movies could certainly be successful at the box office. The explosion of war-related material in 1929–1930

11 Kelly, 60. 12 Ibid., 62.

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indicated that the public was certainly receptive to war pictures. Although there had possibly never been a mainstream film as explicit and downbeat as All Quiet, the themes and ideas discussed were not totally new or unfamiliar to audiences. Thus, in a certain sense, it could be argued that a film of All Quiet would not have been a departure from the ideas in popular First World War discourse; it would rather be the fulfilment of them. The innovation and novelty of the film would not be in the newness of the ideas expressed (even seeing the war from a German perspective had been previously accomplished in John Ford’s Four Sons , (1928), but in the explicitness and intensity of their depiction. The Big Parade and Wings may have demonstrated the trauma of losing friends in war, and What Price Glory had demonstrated the psychological defence mechanisms employed by soldiers. But in All Quiet, almost all the soldiers die, and unlike in What Price Glory, the characters begin as sensitive innocents and then gradually become hardened. All Quiet would not only be the bleakest film of the losses of war in life, but also the psychological cost to those who fought it. The movie had a built in marketing strategy. Previous war films had used to the war to sell the audience they were seeing a “serious” movie that they could view with pride, as if they were taking part in a positive social experience, and this one would be no exception. The studio also had one other big film on the roster for 1930 that would be an almost guaranteed big hit—King of Jazz, a musical featuring superstar bandleader Paul Whiteman. The thought nearly certain success of that picture would mean that the year would not be a total loss were the war movie to flop (ironically, King of Jazz underperformed at the box office and All Quiet would help the studio make up for its losses13 ). The Laemmles must have sensed early on their marketing strategy of claimed fidelity to the novel and treating the movie with reverence, as Laemmle Senior flew to Germany, supposedly to personally negotiate the rights with Remarque.14 In actuality, the studio expressed interest in the film surprisingly early on, before the book had become the popular phenomenon it turned into. Kelly reports that Laemmle himself was indeed personally interested in securing the film rights for Universal, 13 Donald Crafton, The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926–1931 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997), 344. 14 “‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Opens Monday Night at Erlanger Theater in Premiere Road Show Production,” The Atlanta Constitution, June 8, 1930.

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finally paying somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000.15 Newspapers reported the surprising and apparently true fact that the mogul tried to encourage the writer to star in the film himself, perhaps an attempt to preserve fidelity to the book. Not surprisingly, Remarque declined, stating “I am not an actor.”16 The first choice to direct the movie was Herbert Brenon.17 Brenon was a logical selection, associated with successful films that were also known to have technical challenges (e.g. he had directed a film version of Peter Pan for Paramount 1924) that were also critically popular. The artist, however, wanted too much money,18 and the job instead went to Lewis Milestone. Milestone had been born in the Ukraine and came to America in his late teens. He enlisted in the American army and was assigned to the film division, never leaving the United States during the war. His experience in war training films meant that he would have been among the relatively few directors of his generation with formal education in filmmaking as opposed to on the job innovation. After the war, Milestone moved to Hollywood and eventually worked his way up the ranks.19 He was familiar with war material as well—he had won an Oscar for his handling of the direction of Howard Hughes’ war comedy Two Arabian Knights (1927). Thus, Milestone had a strong CV—he had served in the Army, had critically and commercial successful films under his belt, and perhaps most importantly, was willing to work for one third of the salary as Brenon.20 In a sign of his respect for talent, Junior Laemmle gave Milestone a relatively large amount of artistic control on the project, especially one so important to a fledgling studio. The first choice for screenwriter was obvious—Remarque himself, but the writer declined.21 The second was R.C. Sherriff, who also passed.22 Milestone selected Del Andrews, a screenwriter he had previously worked with, to write the 15 Kelly, 66–67. 16 “War Featured by Remarque in Local Bow,” Washington Post, Sept. 28, 1930. 17 George J. Mitchell, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” in The Cinema of Adventure,

Romance & Terror, ed. George Turner (Hollywood: The ASC Press, 1989), 62. 18 Kelly, 63. 19 Mitchell, 62. 20 Ibid. 21 Kelly, 69. 22 Ibid., 68.

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script after C. Gardner Sullivan provided an initial treatment for the adaption.23 Andrews lacked the name recognition and association with the war that both Remarque and Sherriff would have provided. Laemmle hired Maxwell Anderson, who had written the play What Price Glory with Laurence Stallings, to work on the film simultaneously. Milestone respected Anderson as a writer but detested his work on the film, believing that his adaptation undermined the grittiness of the original novel. Apparently, Anderson himself agreed, discarding his own work and using the treatment that Milestone and Anderson had written from Sullivan’s original work. Another Broadway writer, George Abbot, did a final re-write on the script.24 Sullivan’s and Milestone’s contribution to the screenplay would remain uncredited. Casting a film like All Quiet was a difficult proposition. A star would help to advance the downbeat film’s cause at the box office if the Laemmles had misread the openness of the public to the material, but might also overshadow the storyline and take the audience out of the movie, not to mention requiring a higher salary. George J. Mitchell reports that Phillips Holmes, a matinee idol, was briefly considered for the lead as Paul, but Milestone decided against it.25 James Murray and Douglas Fairbanks Jr were also rumoured to be in the running for the role.26 At some point, Junior Laemmle must have made a conscious and risky decision that one of his two big films for Universal that year would not have any proven box-office draws in it. The final selection for Paul Baumer was Lew Ayres. Ayres had never played a lead on film and had only one supporting part to his credit, albeit a major one—in MGM’s romantic drama The Kiss (1929) starring Greta Garbo. It would be a wise decision—Ayres’ depiction of the innocent and sensitive boy turned into a cynical and callous soldier would be one of the primary reasons behind the films’ strong emotional impact on audiences. The closest thing to a name actor in the ensemble was Louis Wolheim. A Wallace Beery-type known for playing tough characters, he would lead the cast and receive top billing despite the fact he had a clear supporting role. Wolheim’s performance as “Kat,” a tough yet

23 Mitchell, 63. 24 Kelly, 69–70. 25 Mitchell, 63. 26 “James Murray May Have Leading Role,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 12, 1929.

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empathetic army veteran who becomes a kind of father figure to the boys under his command would be memorable, not the least of which was the fact that he would provide a contrast to the rest of the youthful cast. Milestone, in a unique bit of casting, selected his friend Raymond Griffith for the small but crucial role of a French soldier whom Paul is unwittingly trapped in a pit with during a battle. Griffith had been a silent comedy star was not known for dramatic performances,27 but there are no reports of bad laughs coming from the sole scene in which he appears. Griffith therefore managed to escape the fate that was to result in actress ZaSu Pitts being cut from the movie after a preview replaced in re-shoots with Beryl Mercer as Paul’s mother. The audience reportedly laughed because they were familiar with Pitts performing in a then-popular comedy.28 For the role of Paul’s ill-fated comrades, Milestone selected a group of up and coming young male actors, plus Slim Summerville as comic relief as Tjaden, who is in the sequel The Road Back revealed to be the only member of the ensemble to survive the war (his fate is left unresolved in All Quiet ). There was one final critical player behind the successful the film. Arthur Edeson, the cinematographer, was like Milestone, not the first choice— that was Tony Gaudio, who had worked on Hell’s Angels , but declined because he didn’t want to do another war film.29 Aware that the movie would require technical innovation to shoot sound material outdoors, Edeson boasted that he owned a specially modified camera that made far less noise than the Hollywood standard. It is probable the reason that Edeson was selected was because his camera and methods meant the Milestone did not have to resort to using a “sound house”-a mini cubicle where the camera was isolated from the rest of the set, severely depleting its versatility.30 Edeson and Milestone would have to produce several innovations during the course of the film, as it would be one of the first sound picture to have full scale battle scenes, among them the shooting war scenes silent and adding foley during post-production. The cinematographer would sometimes use six cameras simultaneously.31 27 Mitchel, 63. 28 Kelly, 73. 29 Mitchell, 64. 30 Ibid., 65–66. 31 Ibid., 65.

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Due to the technical problems shooting sequences that had never been photographed in sound before, it is not surprising that the movie ended up well over budget, coming in 51 days behind schedule. To their credit, Universal did not try to make to make their prestige picture on the cheap, initially budgeting just under $900,000 for the production, a figure that would ultimately grow to $1.4 million.32 They allowed Milestone to spend $27,500 to buy actual German war uniforms and battle equipment33 and built a recreation of an entire German village.34 The trench and No Man’s Land sets had another, strange kind of authenticity of their own. An anecdote that sounds like publicity puff piece but, according to Arthur Edeson, actually happened, involved a sanitary inspector shutting down production until the conditions were made up to Orange County standards. The conditions in the trenches were evidently too accurate for peacetime Hollywood.35 Despite their faith in the film as demonstrated by the large budget and allowing Milestone a high amount of artistic latitude, the studio was indeed concerned that the ending would be too bleak, and the elder Laemmle actually suggested closing the film on a happy note.36 Milestone felt that the ending of the adaption of the screenplay, in which the audience is presented with a war report of a quiet day on the Western Front superimposed over Paul’s death, did not work. Close to the end production, he collaborated with cinematographer Karl Freund (Edeson had moved on to another project) over a new ending. Taking a cue from the novel, which mentioned Paul’s hobby of collecting butterflies, Freund suggested the now-famous “butterfly finale” in which Paul is killed by a French sniper while reaching for a butterfly, the first object of beauty he has seen in months, perhaps years. Milestone had already shot footage of Ayres looking longingly at a stray butterfly but the actor was making another film by the time Freud conceived the new conclusion, so the cinematographer’s hands doubled as Paul’s. In the final print, the use of music and sound during the sequences was particularly innovative—a folksy and forlorn accordion tune plays over 32 Kelly, 98. 33 Ibid., 88. 34 Ibid., 85. 35 Ibid., 88. 36 Ibid., 94.

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the scene (one of the few uses of non-diegetic music in the movie) but abruptly ends when the gunshot rings out. The final shot of the film, an image of the boys looking back at the audience as they march off to war, seen earlier in the movie and now superimposed over a cemetery of crosses, hauntingly occurs in total silence.37 Milestone’s movie was indeed bleak and depressing, and although the violence and scatological detail was less explicit, the motion picture was in certain ways more harrowing than the novel. The screenwriters’ solution to the book’s episodic narrative was to put the events in chronological order, beginning with the boys being encouraged to enlist while in high school and ending with Paul’s death. This narrative difference meant that the audience watches Paul lose his innocence, his hope, and then eventually his will to live, whereas Remarque’s novel essentially begins with him in that final state, with the flashback scenes only occurring in distant memory of another world. Thus, All Quiet is, like Journey’s End, a movie how about how men deal with war trauma psychologically, although the characters in both films do it in very different ways. Instead of distraction and self-medicating in alcohol, the men in All Quiet instead cope by feeling nothing. In a certain sense, Journey’s End is ultimately a movie about tacit acceptance of the trauma of meaningless death made by palatable by its explicit denial. All Quiet is a film where the men lose their humanity itself. Paul’s reaction at near the end of the film to death of Kat—his only friend left—is remarkable in that he seems to have so little emotion. He does not cry, nor does he become angry, he merely seems a bit perturbed, as if he had missed a train. If Paul were to accept the enormity of the tragedy, he would lose his mind, so his only way to stay sane is to feel nothing—the Black Void in which the absence of emotion is preferable to overwhelming trauma. In a certain sense, like the men in Whale’s film, he is already dead in all ways but physical by the finale. In All Quiet, the men begin as an extremely close-knit group, and then slowly become more and more mentally isolated from each other. They still feel the importance of camaraderie, but perhaps only because only other soldiers can identify with the war experience. The inability of people to act humanly towards each other is a consistent theme of All Quiet —Paul is unable to relate to his mother when he returns home on leave, French women are only interested in “romancing” the soldiers

37 Ibid., 91–94.

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for their food, and Paul quickly turns on a soldier suffering from shellshock, unable to show him empathy. The most obvious example of this is the celebrated sequence in which Paul mortally wounds the French soldier, played by Raymond Griffith, and ends up trapped in a hole with him throughout the night. Overcome with guilt, he helps the soldier, promising to contact and take care of his family, and indeed is almost unable to bear the idea that he killed a man with whom he has no quarrel. However, when he is rescued and back behind the German lines, he quickly forgets about his promises and indeed the whole encounter. Paul Baumer, the sensitive poet who collects butterflies, is now able to kill without feeling remorse, at least when the body is not present. This is the ultimate example of the Black Void—an underlying and overwhelming sense of negativity that pervades both Journey’s End and Milestone’s film that can only be dealt with through denial. Howard Hawks’ The Dawn Patrol , also released in the same year, is another example of this. The three movies argue that veterans were essentially morally and psychologically scarred by their experiences, and their very humanness, the positive traits associated with liberal humanism, have been removed, with nothing replacing them. Instead of a psyche, there is merely nothing, a void. Unlike Journey’s End and many of the other films discussed in this book, All Quiet is explicitly political. Two scenes in particular stand out— one in which the men, finally on leave, discuss the seeming incoherent reasons for the war and their lack of allegiance to the German justification for fighting it, explicitly renouncing patriotism. The other scene occurs when Paul returns to his village on leave and is shocked to discover his elderly high school teacher encouraging his students to enlist with the same war propaganda he tricked Paul and his friends with. The former pupil gives an angry and impassioned speech in which he demonstrates that the man has no idea what he is talking about knows little about the experience of the common soldier. Both of these scenes are in keeping with the common ideas at the time, particularly in America—that the war was started by elitist politicians who were guilty of using innocents as chess pieces. Although there were a sizable number of people who held this view during the war, to release a film with such an argument in the early 20s, when popular culture in the UK and US contained a heavy emphasis on war memorial and the anti-German sentiment expressed in Four Horseman, would have been nearly unthinkable. Nonetheless, the fact that audiences were receptive to and indeed, were willing to pay money to see a movie as bleak as All Quiet, indicates just how much

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these ideas had permeated the general consciousness in popular culture. The paranoia and mistrust of authority that had always been lurking below the surface in the 20s was now explicitly out in the open. All Quiet on the Western Front was all that the Laemmles had hoped it would be. It was a huge critical and commercial success. Like other war films before it, there was the sense that there was something greater than the release of a typical movie; unlike the reception of other films, such as Wings , there was no way the movie could be read as a patriotic tribute to any military. All of the other films discussed in this book to this point have had some elements of either a happy or at least hopeful ending (even Four Horsemen, which at least entertained the possibility that man might socially evolve into loving and accepting his fellow humans). All Quiet argued that there were close to zero positives about the war, that there was only pain, tragedy, loss and death. Most of the reviews of the film indicated that the movie was a major work of art, though quite bleak and difficult to watch emotionally. In the United States, the movie, though highly critically praised, did not meet with the superlatives as previous war epics. An exception was L.A. Times critic Edwin Schallert, who attended the world premiere in Los Angeles on April 21, 1930 at the Carthay Cirle Theatre and opened his review by stating: “It [the film] may well be called a preachment for peace. No motion picture has presented a bleaker, blacker etching of the horror of war than ‘All Quiet on the Western Front…until you have seen it you have never viewed the war portrayed on the motion-picture film….I cannot recommend that you see the picture for enjoyment. I can, however, say it is a courageous accomplishment.”38 However, many of the initial reviews, like Mordaunt Hall’s in The New York Times was still very positive but less hyperbolic, noting that the audience “most of the time was held to silence by its realistic scenes.” Hall spent much of the review favourably comparing the film to the novel, but did not discuss the film in geopolitical context.39 The reviewer for The Wall Street Journal was similar, praising the movie, calling it “intensely moving” but not discussing its emotional impact further.40 The extended review in The Christian Science Monitor described its bleakness: “‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is a

38 Edwin Schallert, “War Shown in Stern Reality,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 22, 1930. 39 Mordaunt Hall, “Young Germany in the War,” New York Times, Apr. 30, 1930. 40 R.G., “A Colossal War Film,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 1930.

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picture never to be forgotten by those who can stand a portrayal of war conditions in what is probably as endurable a guise as is possible, consistent with actuality.”41 A later Monitor review, this describing the film’s premier in Boston, discussed the perceived socio-political utility: “Since the armistice a whole generation has come to maturity which has no knowledge of the World War either as personal experience or as remembered current event [sic] The time is rapidly approaching, therefore, when schoolboys will be ripe for the sort of militaristic propaganda that sent the youth of Remarque’s story from the classroom to the trenches….The longer this picture runs, the more people it is seen by, the stronger the hope of deferring the ‘next war’ until means can be found of preventing war.”42 The British reception was even more positive, although many used even more emotionally intense language. The Evening Telegraph’s review, under a column sub-heading calling the film “Laemmle’s Triumph of Realism,” was typical: “The production merits all the superlatives that mean wonderful. It is a series of remarkable pictures knit expertly into a splendid whole, to tell the story of the hellishness of war as it appeared to the youth that took part in it. Here is an excellent argument against war that the rising generation, which did not know its horrors, should flock to see.”43 The same theme that the picture might serve a social purpose in preventing future conflict, was a common one, continued in The Citizen: “‘All Quiet’ is a talking film that must be seen and remembered, lest the day come again when overweening ambition and mistaken national aims embroil Europe in a welter of bloodshed.”44 A more succinct review for the Hull Daily Mail began “I cannot hesitate to call this film a masterpiece” and ended “The book is well-known to you, suffice to say it has been translated into one of the really great films of our generation.”45 Echoing a theme found in British reception of Journey’s End, a later Evening Telegraph story compared the two movies, praising both but 41 E.C.S., “‘All Quiet on the Western Front’,” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), May 30, 1930. 42 L.A.S. “‘All Quiet’ Filmed,” The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), June 3, 1930. 43 “‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’” Evening Telegraph (Dundee, Scotland), Feb. 17, 1931. 44 “What’s On This Week,” The Citizen (Gloucester, England), Jan. 13, 1931. 45 “What the Cinemas Offer,” Daily Mail (Hull, England), Jan. 20, 1931.

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citing Whale’s film as superior. The writer somewhat damns All Quiet with faint praise by noting “When Hollywood started to make ‘All Quiet’ they realized that their recent past history contained too many blunders to play about with the great war story and very wisely left out the ‘love interest’ they are so fond of introducing, and stuck hard and fast to Remarque’s ghastly chapter of war…” It is quite telling that an article called “America’s Best Talkie” spends much of its time comparing to it a superior British film.46 An intriguing report in the Nottingham Evening Post reports that 31 boys “between 14 and 18 years of age” fainted over the duration of the film’s run in Sheffield, all apparently during the shelling scene early in the film.47 The fact that all the fainting occurred during such a specific moment and not among other demographic groups does make one wonder if it was a youthful prank, but the sheer number is impressive. Another, more tragic response occurred in Newmarket, when Phillip Marshall Godley, a veteran, took his own life by cutting his throat after seeing the film. In the Coroner’s report, Godley’s wife reported that her husband was so overwhelmed by movie that he walked out of the film halfway through and had nightmares for days afterwards.48 Clearly, Milestone’s film had a heavy impact on audiences. No soldier survives and goes off with his love to recover from the wounds of the war, nor is there any of the spiritual comfort found in Four Horsemen. There is only the cold fact that millions of young men died for reasons that did not to many seem congruent with the war aims. The final shot, in which Milestone repeats the image of the soldiers marching off to war while looking back home, is superimposed over a shot of war cemetery, provides a reminder of what was lost, with no statement of any gain. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Louis Wolheim described the appeal of the picture: “Here is the first film that plants the audience firmly in the first-line trenches and allows it to see and feel war as it really is, to understand vividly the stupidity of it, its murderous worthlessness and the criminal, predatory and ruthless instinct that inspires it. Audiences like it because it lifts them from their theatre seats and takes them over the

46 “America’s Best Talkie: All Quiet on the Western Front,” The Evening Telegraph (Dundee, Scotland), June 20, 1930. 47 “Youths Faint at Cinema,” Nottingham Evening Post, Jan. 3, 1931. 48 “Tragic Reminder,” Northern Daily Mail, Jan. 27, 1931.

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top into the hell of a fierce attack…safely.”49 Wolheim’s comment, made just a few months before his death from cancer, indicated the important role that films could play from socio-psychological standpoint, allowing audiences a safe (for many) environment in which they could encounter the very darkest aspects of the human experience. All Quiet would reverberate throughout the thirties as the Great War movie that all subsequent films would in some way respond to. The parade of war films would continue into the decade, and will be discussed in the next Chapter, but few of these movies would be considered grand philosophical statements about the trauma of the war in the United States and Great Britain. In a very real sense, All Quiet had said everything that audiences needed to hear on that subject.

49 “Trench Life Depicted in War Film,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 7, 1930.

CHAPTER 6

Apocalyptic Futurism

Men Must Fight At a first glance, a casual observer might perceive that the portrayal of female characters in war films of the 20s was limited to a worried, weeping mother or concerned girlfriend or wife. However, a survey of the films already discussed does not support this contention. In fact, given the homosocial nature of the war film as a genre, it is counterintuitive how many portrayals of females are more than one-note worried criers and are used by their male directors as a critique of male attitudes at the time. As indicated in Chapter 2, the plot of What Price Glory concerns itself with a love-hate relationship between two male American soldiers whose conflict comes to a head over the daughter of a French bartender, Charmaine. Director Raoul Walsh clearly indicates that these men are not above using women in the “exotic” lands that they visit for sex, and initially Charmaine is seen as little more than an object for the men to fight over. As the movie continues, her portrayal is more complex and the film indicates that she is suffering from the fight between the two men. Walsh suggests that she is a person in her own right and not a thing to be fought over. Although somewhat idealized, Melisande in The Big Parade is also more than a type for Jim Apperson to fall in love with. King Vidor uses her character to demonstrate the suffering of the French civilian population at the time. She is another wounded person, who, like the protagonist, needs love to overcome the almost existential suffering of the war. The © The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_6

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lack of women in Journey’s End is telling. In this film, the men form a completely homosocial environment. Among some of the men, there is an undercurrent of homosexuality, although among others, sex and woman are completely removed from their lives, almost as if they do not exist, a form of denial of the memory of what they have lost. Men Must Fight , by far the most obscure film discussed in this book, is one of the few movies of its era, some might say any area, to take feminism seriously. Previous films argued for geopolitical, economic, moral and spiritual causes for the war, but Men Must Fight indicates causes that are social, and perhaps biological. The picture is relevant as a reflection of many contemporary views on these issues at the time the movie was released, as well an early demonstration of the growing fear that a repeat of the Great War was a possibility on the horizon. In this sense, the movie is also related to the next picture discussed in this chapter, Things to Come (1936). The movie is based on an unsuccessful play by S.K. Lauren and Reginald Lawrence, which ran for only 35 performances on Broadway.1 What encouraged MGM to produce a film adaptation is unknown. It may be possible that they saw the movie as a vehicle for their new star, English actress Diana Wynyard (pronounced WIN-yard). At the time, Wynyard was an up-and-coming actress who had an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Frank Lloyd’s Cavalcade (1933), a movie that had won the Oscar for Best Picture. In that film, the actress had played the matriarch of the Marryot family, observing thirty years of British history, worrying as her husband fought in the Boer War and her son in the Great War. One reviewer of Men Must Fight commented that her character was “a fairly legible carbon copy of Jane Marryot.”2 Wynyard had also played a supporting role in a previous film with Great War overtones, Rasputin and the Mad Monk (1932), reprising her stage performance as Princess Natasha. Men Must Fight would be only her third film, but she would receive top billing, indicating that MGM felt she was star material, probably in “prestige” pictures. Ultimately, Wynyard would not stay long at MGM, making only one other film at that studio, leaving for others such as Universal and eventually returning to the stage, despite her success in

1 “Men Must Fight,” Internet Broadway Database, http://www.ibdb.com/production. php?id=11646. 2 W.A. Whitney, “Loew’s Fox,” Washington Post, Apr. 1, 1933.

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Cavalcade.3 The only other star was Lewis Stone, who would go onto be best known for his performances as Judge Stone in the Andy Hardy film series but at the time was a reliable MGM actor, usually playing patriarchal authority figures. The director was Edgar Selwyn. Selwyn has more credits as a writer, directing only eight features, the best known of which is The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931), which featured an Academy Award winning performance from Helen Hayes. It is unknown whether he was assigned to or lobbied for work on Men Must Fight , but a look at his previous five features share an interesting commonality—four of them have female protagonists, concern themselves with traditionally feminine subjects and feature some of the biggest female stars of the time, such as Hayes, Bessie Love and Lelia Hyams. Therefore, it is possible that Selwyn was considered, either by himself, MGM, or both, as a George Cukor-like “women’s director,” with a talent for getting impressive performances out of female stars. As the film has not generally been available (it was released in a home entertainment format for the first time in 2019), I will discuss the film’s plot in greater depth than I generally have in this book. Men Must Fight begins with a prologue during the Great War, as Laura (Wynyard), an unmarried nurse, is has a passionate relationship with Geoff (Robert Young), an aviator. They discuss their love before he leaves in the morning for a mission in which he is killed, apparently never knowing that she was pregnant with his child. Later, she confesses her plight to her friend Ned Seward (Stone). Although she does not love Ned, Laura agrees to marry him to provide the child with a stable future. The narrative then jumps forward to the year 1940. During the preceding two decades, Ned and Laura have become extraordinarily successful, with Ned becoming the American Secretary of State and, with Laura, the leader of an international pacifist movement. Sometime during the 1930s, at least certain parts of Europe and Asia have come together to form the superstate of Eurasia. (This is an alteration from the play, where the United States goes to war with Uruguay. I do not have access to the play script, but I speculate that this change was made to increase the

3 Edwin Schallert, “Diana Wynyard’s Hollywood Return Delayed by Successful Engagement in London,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 6, 1934.

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similarity to beginning of The Great War.)4 The movie does not greatly discuss the details of this alliance but does mention that Eurasia includes at least Italy and the UK. Ned has used his influence as a peacemaker, and we are told that the United States and Eurasia are about to sign a treaty that will “end war forever.” Also at this time, Laura and Geoff’s son Bob (Phillips Holmes) is beginning a promising career as a chemist. He is engaged to be married to Peggy (Ruth Selwyn, the director’s wife). Things take a sudden turn towards the disastrous when, off screen, the American ambassador to Eurasia is assassinated, in an obvious of reference to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Believing that war is now inevitable and that it is his duty to support the President in the war effort, Ned eschews his pacifism, while Laura stands firm, driving a wedge between the two. Bob is caught between two conflicts—loyalty to each of his parents and fiancée and between his personal beliefs. Initially supporting Laura, he refuses to enlist, which outrages Peggy and her conservative and patriotic mother (Hedda Hopper). Bob intellectually acknowledges that the war (and apparently, all war) is ethically wrong. But he feels great social pressure to act “manly” from both his wife and father. Even so, he still refuses to enlist, willing to give up Peggy for his ethical beliefs. Things come to a head when Laura makes a television anti-war address to the anti-war movement from all over the world. During her speech, Laura, on behalf of the female sex, makes the only threat available to them—if politicians insist on continuing war, they will stop having children, because “if you have no men, you have no war!” The speech ends in a riot by male prowar forces, who are only calmed by Ned who tells them that until war starts, Americans still have their free speech rights. When the war officially begins soon after, Ned argues “Any talk of peace now is not only cowardice, it’s treachery.” Bob still refuses to go, stung by the loss of Peggy and the knowledge that if he does not enlist, someone else will in his place. Using the only tactic left to him, Ned informs Bob of his real biological father, the airman who died fighting. Although he still believes that war is wrong, Bob is genuinely moved by the fact that his biological father was a brave fighter and is aware that his country is in a state of crisis. He changes his mind and enlists, refusing a safe desk job that Ned had arranged for him, instead joining the 4 Brooks Atkinson, “War and Peace in a Drama That Is on the Side of Pacifism,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 1932.

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Air Corps. Given the devastating losses that America has suffered at the beginning of the conflict, both Ned and Laura know this almost certainly means he is going to his doom. The film ends as Laura, Peggy and Bob’s grandmother (May Robson) observe Bob’s squadron flying over New York City to defend against the Eurasian attack. The grandmother states that if only women ruled the world, there would be no war, but this will never happen. Peggy swears that she will never allow her son to fight, just as Laura had twenty-two years earlier. Upon its, release, Men Must Fight received mixed to positive reviews, but few raves. The anonymous critic for The Washington Post found that “It is not the story that makes the picture interesting, but rather the portrayals of the several major characters, some thoroughly consistent and others not so fired with the courage of their convictions…Lewis Stone, as the Secretary of State, whose excellent rendering of the part far exceeds the vacillation written into it.”5 Another writer for the same paper later called it “Daring in thought and speech….” Counterintuitively for a film with such a serious subject, the film was preceded by a stage show hosted by Milton Berle.6 In the most positive review I could find, the critic for The Atlanta Constitution called the movie “tremendously timely and effective” and termed the cast “brilliant.”7 In a longer review for the same publication, Ralph T. Jones argued the movie was “quite good screen entertainment, though handicapped as must all films be that are burdened with a mission. The finest entertainment is invariably devised for entertainment purposes only and every injection of high purpose lowers the amusement value of the offering.”8 In a negative review, Mae Tinee “found the film rather lethargic and long winded.”9 Although the notices of the picture were moderately positive, I found something telling in my research. Unlike most of the other films in this book, there were far fewer reviews written, and they tended to be shorter 5 “Lowe’s Fox,” Washington Post, Apr. 1, 1933. 6 “Imaginative Drama Shares Fox Honors with Milton Berle,” Washington Post, Apr. 2,

1993. 7 “‘Men Must Fight’ Now at Grand Has ‘Cavalcade’ Star in Cast,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 19, 1933. 8 Ralph T. Jones, “Diana Wynyard Star of ‘Men Must Fight’,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 18, 1933. 9 Tinee, Mae, “Film Predicts Wars as Long as Men Rule,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar. 13, 1933.

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and less in depth. This indicates that the movie was not as big of a prestige picture as many others I have discussed and had less of time in the consciousness of the public. The British reception was similarly tepid, with mixed to positive, but not raving, reviews. For example, a notice in the Leamington Spa Courier commented: “‘Men Must Fight,’ the film for the first three days of next week, is a startling picture which excites feeling as well as thought.” The review was positive, but only four sentences long, and the fact that the film was scheduled to run for only three days is indicative.10 An almost equally short but more mixed noticed indicated: “Wynyard…gives a tender and dignified performance. But it is a somewhat thankless role…Instead to be a smaller version of the ‘Cavalcade’ epic, it lacks the other’s consistency. It tries to be a stirring propaganda against war, but shows militarist side in its best light too.”11 With the exception of The Atlanta Constitution notice, these reviews reveal a general lack of enthusiasm around the film. There does not seem to be a sense that the picture was either an emotional powerhouse to audiences in the way many of the other Great War film have been. Box-office records for Men Must Fight are unavailable, but it is fairly clear that if the movie was profitable at all, it was not a blockbuster, and despite the press attention given the film on release as evidenced by a feature interview with Wynyard in the April edition of Photoplay 12 and the magazine’s praise of the film, the actress and Stone,13 the movie later disappeared from cinematic memory. It is possible that Men Must Fight ’s lack of success came from MGM’s difficulty in assigning a marketable genre to the movie. The protagonist is a mother concerned with traditionally feminine aspects (motherhood, pacifism) and the movie has certain traits of a “women’s picture”, yet it also has elements of the war and science fiction genres. The pressbook indicates several ways for theatres to sell the film, as a woman’s picture emphasizing Wynyard’s stardom, as a war film (a suggested tagline is “The Big Parade’ of Peace!” among

10 “Bath,” Leamington Spa Courier, Aug. 25, 1933. 11 “For and Against War,” Lancaster Daily Post, Sept. 22, 1933. 12 Doris Craig, “If You’ve Wondered About Diana,” Photoplay, Apr. 1933, 38, 108. 13 “The Shadow Stage” Photoplay, Apr. 1933, 54–55.

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others) and as a science fiction novelty, emphasizing the future technology.14 Perhaps the many varied themes and genres ended up alienating both men and women from the movie, or at least prohibited the studio from marketing it coherently. There are several other reasons for the movie’s obscurity, but the most likely is the short life of Wynyard as a major star. After finishing her MGM contract she made a few other films, one for RKO and two for Universal, before returning to England and having a successful career as a stage actress, only appearing intermittently in movies. The movie offers a wealth of sociological commentary about the nature of war, gender and politics in the early 30s. Men Must Fight is about the causes of war as both an abstract concept as well as the potential of the Second World War. Unlike so many films of its era, such as All Quiet , it does not solely blame governments for the problem of war, but also discusses the culpability of those who fight them as well as the sociological conditions that encourage those soldiers. The film’s final scene and very title argue for a gender essentialist position that the fundamental problem is men themselves—a very unique and unusual argument for the male-dominated film industry of the 1930s. Laura, the protagonist, never has a moment of doubt at any time after the prologue. She is convinced that her pacifistic beliefs are moral, and the film clearly takes her side. As the picture is concerned with psychological motivations of the characters, it is worth noting that Ned’s sudden change from peace-loving pacifist to patriotic zealot occurs so suddenly and quickly that it does not seem motivated. However, Ned may have been intended as a personification for the US government in the early days of the war. Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on a platform of keeping the nation out of war, something a majority of Americans agreed with, only to suddenly and with great rhetoric come out in favour of entering the conflict shortly after the election. In this sense, Ned’s actions, although not realistically motivated psychologically, are emblematic of the government he represents. The central (and not explicitly answered) question of Men Must Fight is the motivation behind Bob’s choice to enlist. He states that he has a general sense of patriotism and that he is moved by the fact that his deceased father was himself a soldier. It is defensible that the primary reason is simply the tremendous amount of sociological pressure that is

14 Men Must Fight pressbook, MGM, W.R. Ferguson, Manager of Exploitation, 1933.

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put on him by almost everyone except his mother. Like Laura, he intellectually accepts that if soldiers refuse to fight, war will end. However, with his masculinity being threatened by both his (adoptive) father and fiancée, he simply cannot continue down that path he had originally chosen, even if he believes himself to be logically and morally right. The film does not refrain from criticizing women for upholding the same beliefs. Men Must Fight also demonstrates how women can create a sociological environment where men are encouraged to pointlessly kill each other. Peggy and her mother are traditionalists and as such are portrayed as automatically and unthinkingly supporting the United States in whatever position it may hold, rightly or wrongly. In addition, Peggy feels that it is Bob’s duty to enlist, but, like Ned, does not give any intellectual or logical reasons as to her support for the war or the military. She simply expects that Bob enlist because it is what he is supposed to do. However, in the film’s final scene, as she realizes that she has sent her fiancée into great danger and has many worried days and nights ahead of her. sShe sees the futility of the cause, albeit too late to change anything. The closing scene is remarkably pessimistic, but is in keeping with much media of the early 30s, which often had a strong belief that traditional government and social institutions were not working and needed to be changed. The final moments, which gathers three generations of women together in one place, in a triangular composition, indicates that this change is unlikely to happen, and indeed, the cycle of war and violence is to repeat itself, unless the human race is destroyed first in the process, which the movie implies is a real probability. The grandmother, mother and fiancée speculate that war would never happen if women ruled the world, but as this will never occur, they are resigned to forever watching the sons, husbands and brothers they love fighting each other senselessly. Like many films of its era, Men Must Fight criticizes war in general, sharing the pacifist value that all countries are equally at fault while rejecting the standard argument of a “just war.” As Laura repeatedly states in the film, government cannot be relied on to stop war itself—it must be stopped by the soldiers—the common folk—refusing to fight it. For this reason, the film is much more expansive than nearly all the other early sound depictions of the Great War, even All Quiet , in its concern for the sociological reasons why individual soldiers might fight. Milestone’s film argued that men joined essentially due to naiveté. The very young

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soldiers of that picture were strongly encouraged to join by elite intellectuals who did not, and indeed, could not, understand what they were in for. In contrast, Selwyn’s film explicitly associates war, and by extension all violence, with masculinity. The director, along with playwright and screenwriter C. Gardner Sullivan, were acutely aware, as were men almost everywhere else, that men are often socialized to solve conflicts violently. Bob relates a story about how his mother chastised him for hitting a schoolmate who called him a sissy. Laura calls upon the mothers of the world to teach their sons the same thing—while presumably being well aware of the fact that this lesson is stronger when coming from a male figure. In this regard, Laura gets no help from Ned. After the war seems imminent, Ned’s entire modus operandi alters and he seems persistent, almost fanatical, in his association of war with masculinity. Bob shares the cultural association but it is much more ambivalent about it. He knows that the war is “a dirty rotten business” and in no way agrees with the conflict’s political aims. The film is ambiguous in its portrayal of why Bob finally enlists. He may be joining simply because of the calculation that if he does not go, someone will in his place (though this does not make complete logical sense in the absence of a draft). Bob may also be motivated by the legacy of his biological father, perhaps because he sees the hypocrisy of his adopted one. Selwyn clearly criticizes Ned for disowning his son for not joining while pulling strings for him to serve in a safe desk job away from the front lines. Bob may also make his choice due to his fiancé’s refusal to accept his pacifism. Peggy does not offer a rational, intellectual opposition to Laura and Bob’s philosophy. Rather, she is simply identified as a “traditionalist” by her mother and angrily refuses to accept Bob’s position. The most likely reason for Bob’s enlistment, however, is simply that the societal expectations placed on men are too strong for him to overcome. When trying to explain his decision to his mother, he tells her that, though he disagrees with the war, he must join. One of his statements sums up his attitude: “There are certain things a man must do.” Bob’s final choice underlines the film’s central thesis: that war may be unstoppable not for political reasons, but for social ones. Men will continuously feel the need to assert their masculinity through acts of aggression, and since men will always be in power, there will be no end to war. At the end of the film, the women wishfully muse that if only females had power

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in the world, war would be banned, but this is decried by Bob’s grandmother (May Robson, playing the picture’s ultimate voice of wisdom) never to happen. There are, however, a number of thematic contradictions in the film’s argument. The first is the continual association between femininity (particularly motherhood) and nonviolence. Selwyn does not seem to admit the possibility that women themselves may be violent or vengeful, although Peggy is sometimes portrayed as petty. Though Laura is strong willed and sticks to her convictions, this comes primarily due to her role as mother. Apparently, the movie believes the only thing that women can do to stop war is to stop having children. During her speech, she states “If you have no children, you have no men, and if you have no men, you have no war!” There are no mention of the concept that women may suffer from war in ways other than their roles as mothers, wives or sisters, nor the concept that women themselves could be violent and aggressive. The second is the movie’s inability to predict a world in which women will either serve in the military or hold major political positions. Grandmother Seward’s prediction that women will never rule the world is treated by the movie as something of complete and absolute certainty. Selwyn’s film is also worth discussing more generally as an example of the fear of the Second World War. This idea was an undercurrent in a much of 30s popular culture and political discourse. Like any geocultural event, there are probably many reasons for this, but probably the single direct cause of these fear was the rise of Fascism in both Germany and Italy. Particularly as Hitler took power, accompanied by a great deal of sabre-rattling about rearmament and German grievances about the Versailles treaty, many began to fear that another war was inevitable, although whether the fault would be Germans or the conservative hawks who were trying to oppose them was in question. The generation that had fought the Great War had seen what was literally the most destructive war in human history, and many realized, given the advances in technology that a second war of that magnitude would be even more destructive, perhaps apocalyptically so. As Men Must Fight ends with an aerial assault over New York City, caused by the aggressiveness of the soldiers who fight it, there is little doubt that a cataclysmic, possibility apocalyptic, event is occurring.

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Things to Come Things to Come 15 is not commonly discussed in the context of the Great War, although the conflict was clearly foundational to the picture and the work of literature it is based on. The movie is more often found in studies of science fiction than of war pictures, mainly due to its final act, which features a vision of a Utopian society. However, its vision of the Second World War, defined by the First, is intriguing, particularly given the prescience of its predictions. That feared conflict would break out in reality on three years after the movie was released. In order to fully understand the artistic intentions of the film’s makers, it is essential to describe the role H.G. Wells played as a popular writer and public intellectual in the 1930s. Wells is primarily remembered today for his seminal science fiction novels, such as The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897, later filmed by James Whale) and The War of the Worlds (1898), works that were instantly successful upon their publication. Although he had no formal training as a historian, his multivolume chronicle of the world, The Outline of History (1919–1920) became one of the bestselling works of that period, and Wells wrote many works in varied genres, both fiction and non-fiction. He was an ardent socialist and critical of the government. Wells’ works continued to be both popular and intellectually influential at this time. Like most bestselling writers, film adaptations of his works could be sold on the name of the author and popularity of the book alone. In addition to this, many of his works were naturally conducive to adaption in terms of their spectacle and visual subject matter, with the major problem being how to technically achieve some of the details described. However, one Wells work that would not seem to lend itself to the screen is The Shape of Things to Come (1933). The book takes the format of the papers of the fictitious Dr. Phillip Raven, supposedly edited by Wells after the former’s death. In the manuscript, Raven claimed to, while sleeping, receive communications of a history book published in the year 2106, which he would then transcribe. Although The Shape of Things

15 The film’s official title is unclear. Contemporary publicity material always include H.G. Wells’ name prominently, and it appears in a card shortly before the proper title in during the opening. In this book, I refer to the film as most sources do, though a case could be made that the actual title is H.G. Wells’ Things to Come.

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to Come is almost always described as a novel, it has no major characters and long sections of the book describe the narrator’s (really Wells’) abstract ideas. In this sense, the book is more of a political tract or work of philosophy. Arranged chronologically by Wells, the edited version of Raven’s manuscript begins with an account of early twentieth century—“The Age of Frustration.” The history book, which is written in a Utopian future in which there is a Socialistic global government referred to as the “Modern State,” describes this era as a time when most people experienced as their leaders as possessing extreme stupidity. The Great War is seen as an inevitable apotheosis of what will happen in a world filled with capitalistic nation-states. As Wells writes: “Finally comes the catastrophe of the World War of 1914, when the outward drive of the new economic methods the Atlantic civilizations had developed gave way under the internal stresses of European nationalism. That war, and its longdrawn sequelae [the Second World War], released the human mind to the potentialities and dangers of an imperfectly Europeanized world—a world which had unconsciously become one single interlocking system, while still obsessed by the Treaty of Westphalia and the idea of competing sovereign states.”16 He later writes: To most of the generation that suffered it, the Great War seemed to be purely catastrophe and loss; to us who see those hideous years in perspective and in proportion to the general dullness and baseness of apprehension out of which that conflict arose, the destruction of life and substance, unprecedented as they were, has none of that overwhelming quality. We see it as a clumsy, involuntary release from outward assumption by their reduction to tragic absurdity, and as a practically unavoidable step therefore in the dialectic of human destiny.17

In this passage and several others, Wells indicates that he sees the disillusionment and psychological trauma of the Great War as positive in the sense that it was a warning to the human race about how badly the current geopolitical system was working. Later in the book, he is more explicit: “In the crazy fantasy of our ancestors it [the Great War] was a noble and significant struggle. Happily we need not revive their craziness 16 H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come (Thirsk: House of Stratus, 2002), 28. 17 Ibid., 29.

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here.”18 Much of the book is in this tone. Ostensibly the work of an academic historian (or perhaps a committee of them), Wells’ book more often has the tone of outraged political observer. It is necessary to note that a cursory glance over Wells’ career and personal beliefs indicates that the book is not a work of satire, nor the book of future history intended to be taken as an unreliable narrator. Indeed, all indications are that the views represented in Raven’s transcriptions are the views of Wells himself. Upon reading The Shape of Things to Come, it becomes apparent very quickly that, unlike the brisk plots of some of Wells’ science fiction novels, there would be major problems in adapting the tome to the screen. The primary one is that, although the history forms a loose chronological narrative, there is no real plot, nor are there emotionally developed characters to speak. Historical figures, both historical and fictional, appear for a few pages that indicate their contribution and then disappear. There is no protagonist, and none of the characters, unless one counts humanity itself, grows and changes. Finally, Wells’ political views would almost certainly be considered too radical for a mainstream audience. Not only is Wells an ardent socialist, he disapproves of democracy, arguing that government should be left to an elite of people with the talents and skills necessary to run it. Although many movies of this era, such as All Quiet and Men Must Fight , argued against jingoistic patriotism, Wells takes this one step further, staying explicitly “The existence of independent sovereign states is war, white or red, and only an elaborate mis-education blinded the world to this elementary fact.”19 Given the numerous problems with adapting the book to the screen, one wonders why Alexander Korda, the Hungarian movie mogul who had founded London Films, was so clearly dedicated to filming it at enormous expense. Although no source lists the exact reason the book was chosen, Sir Christopher Frayling in his short history and analysis of the film indicates that Korda was most likely attracted to the writer himself. Frayling indicates that “Wells’ contract with Alexander Korda for writing the script of Wither Mankind? [the planned title of the adaptation] stipulated that not a single word could be altered without the author’s express permission, that the author would be guaranteed a say in all aspects of the property’s translation to the screen, that he would be credited on the

18 Ibid., 71. 19 Ibid., 120.

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title and paid a royalty for each showing of the film. He was also to be paid £10,000 for the film rights to his original book.”20 It was probably the single best deal any living writer had ever received for film rights to a work of literature. Years later, Korda’s biographer Paul Tabori bluntly states: “Korda always knew how to guide writers; but he was overawed by the eminence of Wells.”21 Korda may have realized that attaching Wells to the project so prominently meant that he could (and did) market the film as being “by” Wells. Many of the contemporary newspaper stories of the picture discuss the film as a work of art by Wells and not the Korda or the director, William Cameron Menzies.22 Menzies was an unusual choice. An American best known for designing sets, he had previously directed films, the best known of which was probably the adventure thriller Chandu the Magician (1932), starring Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi. Although he was known as a brilliant and innovative art director, he had never made a movie in Britain, nor had he ever lensed a project anywhere near as big budgeted as Korda’s epic. Korda may have been attracted to Menzies for his production design background. Fraying indicates that it could be of use in realizing the problematic visuals to the screen.23 More cynically, he may have also thought that Menzies, given his lack of prestige as a director, would be easier to control than a more celebrated film-maker, and could also be dominated by Korda, a director himself who had won acclaim for his The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Indeed, advertising material for the film lists Wells’ name above the title, with “An Alexander Korda Production” beneath. Menzies’ director credit is usually to close the very end, in smaller type than the cast. In any case, there is no evidence of particular animosity between Menzies and Korda, perhaps because it soon became clear they had a common enemy—Wells. As Frayling indicates, the problem with Wells’ influence on the production was not what one might expect from the political commentary of the novel. The writer was apparently quite willing to moderate some of

20 Christopher Frayling, Things to Come (London: BFI Publishing, 1995), 20. 21 Paul Tabori, Alexander Korda (New York: Living Books, 1966), 158. 22 Tinee, Mae, “Film of ‘Things to Come’ Sees Century Ahead,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr. 30, 1936. 23 Frayling, 29.

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his more radical beliefs for the more democratic medium of film. Religion, which is heavily critiqued in the book, is almost non-existent in the movie, aside from the singing of the Christmas carol “Noel” in the opening montage. The difficulty was more that Wells, despite his talent with words, did not really understand how the film medium worked aesthetically. Korda commissioned Lajos Biro to re-write the script to try to make the material more cinematic. As Wells had contractual final say over the shooting script, he must have approved of the changes24 ; even so, the movie has often been criticized for being overly talky and didactic.25 According to Frayling, he was often displeased with what was happening on the set, but could not find the terms to adequately describe his displeasure. He was clearly worried that what ideas remained in the script would not be properly put across to the audience, but could not explain to anyone in terms they could understand what his specific objections were. He would often describe his suggestions in vague terms that might work in literature but needed to be more specific in the film medium.26 The writer later admitted as such in a Film Weekly interview, quoted by Karol Kulik in his biography of Korda, when he stated: “It is only now that I realize how little I knew about the cinema when I wrote the scenario. Many of the sequences which slipped quite easily from my pen were extremely difficult to screen, and some were quite impossible.”27 Furthermore, his script, while more of a conventional narrative than his novel, had a numerous problems dramatically, the main one being that characters were symbolic types with nearly no psychological motivation for their actions. Characters in the script tend to speak at each other, directly stating their abstract ideas, with little of what might be considered naturalistic dialogue. Frayling argues that Korda chose his director “precisely because of Wells’ evident shortcoming as a visualizer,” but does not site sources as evidence as to how he definitely knows this.28 It does make sense, however, given what Korda must have soon realized would happen

24 Ibid., 27. 25 Ibid., 11. 26 Ibid., 44–48. 27 Kulik, Karol, Alexander Korda: The Man Who Could Work Miracles (New Rochelle,

NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1975), 147. 28 Frayling, 29.

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when the writer was let loose on the film set. Given the explicitness of the ideas found in the script, it is highly unlikely that Menzies did not understand Wells’ concepts, as much as he could not visualize them in the way that the writer wanted, or at least intended. Being present on the set of Things to Come must have been an unusual experience as Wells essentially had a role that was exceptionally powerful, yet ill-defined and one that would exist on few later films. Things to Come is in split into three major parts, all of which are set in the metaphorically named Everytown, which at least in the first act strongly resembles Central London. Although the third part of the film, which shows the construction of a Utopic future governed by scientists and engineers, is by far the most iconic and written about, I will mostly discuss the first, as it is the most relevant to the discussion of the Great War and contemporary audience reaction to it. As mentioned in my discussion of Men Must Fight , the Second World War was clearly on the minds of many, both in the media and general public. The early scenes, in which two families, the Cabals and the Passworthys celebrate Christmas under the threat of war have usually been mentioned in context of Wells prescient prediction—he was only one year off from the invasion of Poland in 1939. The film begins with a montage, as the populace of London (thinly disguised as Everytown) goes about preparing for a Christmas celebration seemingly (and perhaps wilfully) oblivious to the impending danger as reported by the media. As executed by Menzies and composer Arthur Bliss, this didactic montage carries a clear message—the general public is unaware of the danger they face. John Cabal (Raymond Massey), an aviator who fears that war will be the end of mankind is visited by his friend Passworthy (Edward Chapman) who believes that a new conflict will not occur, and if it does, it will not be as bad as Cabal believes. Cabal’s worst fears are realized as Everytown is attacked that evening by an unstated (and presumably to Wells, irrelevant) nation. In Things to Come, however, the danger of war does not come from a particular country, but from war itself, as evidenced by John Cabal’s statement to Harding (Maurice Braddell), medical researcher friend in the following scene: “These fools are capable of anything.” Harding responds: “In that case, what happens to medical research?” to which Cabal replies: “It has to stop.” Harding then says: “That’ll mess me up,” to which

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his friend exclaims: “Mess you up? Mess everything up. My God! If war gets loose again!” The problem, both in this film and Men Must Fight , is not a particular country or leader, but war itself, as an abstract concept. The two films disagree as to the cause of war—Men Must Fight argues it is masculinity whereas in Things to Come it is that the wrong kind of leaders—non-scientists and engineers—run the world. In either case however, there is the expressed belief that the world as currently run will lead to disaster. In the following scene, as the children open their presents, there is a discussion of the Great War. Passworthy argues “Oh well, after all, aren’t we exaggerating the horror of war? Don’t we rather overdo that song? After all, you know, the last war wasn’t as bad as some people make out. We didn’t worry. Something-something great seemed to have got hold of us.” Cabal responds: “Something greater still may get hold of us next time. If we don’t end war, war will end us.” This exchange, which represents the heart of the film’s ideas about war, is worth unpacking. The film obviously and didactically takes the side of Cabal. Menzies frequently photographs Massey in his dual roles as John and his grandson Oswald Cabal in visual dominance over other actors, and there is no question that the Cabals are the films heroes. It may be argued that the movie’s points are undercut by the straw-man nature of Passworthy. In the film’s final scene, Passworthy’s descendent (also played by Chapman) argues against progress itself, something few traditionalists or conservatives actually argue in the context that he means it. In the opening, Passworthy is short and bespeckled, indicating his blindness. The film, however, does not identify the character as being part of a particular political movement or cause. It does not even state what either Passworthy’s occupation is. It may be tempting to state that Passworthy represents Conservatives such as Churchill, but given the radical nature of Wells views, which rejected all three major political parties in Britain, this metaphor is unlikely. The meek-looking character is generally portrayed as being hopelessly ignorant. He seems absolutely shocked that Britain could be attacked without a formal declaration of war. Again, in accordance with Wells’ beliefs, Passworthy does not represent a particular political party or philosophical perspective as much as he represents the average man with typical ideas of the time. Wells, and by extension Menzies, critiques not only what is thought to be the inadequacy of contemporary leadership, but

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also the individuals who allow themselves to be led. For this reason, Things to Come is unique—a major, big-budget film aimed towards the masses that is highly critical of those masses. In fact, according to the movie, the average person is better off when led by an educated elite. As Raymond Massey notes in his autobiography, Wells’ solution to the world’s problems was a benevolent dictatorship led by elite scientists and engineers.29 The radical and seemingly apparent uncommercial nature of this message means that the fact that film was produced at all is reflective of the time in which it is made. Things to Come and Men Must Fight , each with radical messages, were produced in a time of widespread concern and dissatisfaction with the status quo. A general sense that things continuing as they are will lead to disaster is palpable, although both films are pessimistic about the chances of averting the second world conflict. After the war breaks out, Menzies and Wells present another montage of devastation, which is then followed by a short interlude in which another flier is shot down during a gas attack. Cabal lands next to him, but the other flier chooses to give his gas mask to an enemy child before committing suicide. This brief scene is notable as it is tonally and thematically reminiscent of the scene in All Quiet where Paul is trapped in the pit with the French soldier. Its main argument—that humanity is killing other humans, is particularly reminiscent of Milestone’s film. This is followed by another montage which leads into the second act of the film. Perhaps not surprisingly, it should be noted that the two montages of war feature many tropes associated with Great War cinema—aerial assaults on London, soldiers in flat, Keatonian porkpie hats, gas warfare, trenches, and a soldier hanging on barbed wire. The total devastation and slaughter of London civilians is new to this picture. The contrast is very palpable—in the Great War, the major landmarks of London-Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and so on, were able to survive the Zeppelin raids. As the second part of the film opens, what was once the majesty of Central London lies in almost Romanesque ruins, a none-to-subtle message of what Wells feels will be the results of the Second World War. The epic nature of the film meant that it would be given a major publicity campaign. In a first, Arthur Bliss’s music was released on record,

29 Raymond Massey, A Hundred Different Lives: An Autobiography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 194.

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the first time for music composed specifically for a film.30 A possible motivation for this was the idea of conveying to the audience that the film had actual “serious” music in it. As keeping with the intended public image of the movie as both a sceptical and a serious work of social commentary, international political figures were gathered at the Washington premiere (billed as an “international preview”),31 including the ambassadors from Italy, France, Spain, Turkey and Brazil, the Speaker of the House, several senators including Robert La Follette, and various foreign ministers and American government officials.32 Massey also attended33 and the occasion also featured an address from Wells via telephone from England.34 From the time of its release, the critical reputation of Things to Come’s artistic merits has not altered. The movie tends to be praised for its formal elements—Vincent Korda’s sets, Bliss’ music, and the editing of the montages, and heavily critiqued for the scripts’ unnaturalistic dialogue that many argue is overly didactic. Mae Tinee’s statement in her review is typical: “This is a talky picture [98 minutes long!]- reminiscent of a Bernard Shaw play in that respect. The dialogue is spotty. Good in places and terrible in others. But, on the whole, the film is a thoughtful, startling and well-acted one. There are some remarkable photographic effects and as you contemplate the sets you can believe that the negative cost was $1,000,000.”35 The Daily Telegraph argued “Wells and Korda have given us spectacle after thrilling spectacle that must be seen to be believed, but Wells’s moral lessons instead of being implicit, are a shade too thoroughly rubbed in, and this may affect the pictures changes at the box office.”36 The Times of London concurred: “The message of Wells’s film, emphatic as it is, may well pass unnoticed at times before so imposing, one might say so beautiful, a spectacle.”37 Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times 30 Kulik, 150. 31 Nelson B. Bell, “About the Showstops,” Washington Post, Apr. 7, 1936. 32 “Many to Attend Preview of Film at Hotel Here,” Washington Post, Apr. 6, 1936. 33 Nelson B. Bell, “About the Showstops,” Washington Post, Apr. 7, 1936. 34 “Screen Notes,” New York Times, Apr. 6, 1936. 35 Mae Tinee, “Film of ‘Things to Come’ Sees Century Ahead,” Chicago Daily Tribune,

Apr. 20, 1936. 36 “London Preview for Wells Film,” New York Times, Feb. 21, 1936. 37 Ibid.

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made essentially the same point: “If this discussion has neglected the individuals who play their parts in Mr. Wells’s outline of the coming history, it is because his ideology and the film’s imaginative texture tend to dwarf the players.”38 In what surely must have been a frustration to Wells, the majority of the reviews praised the movie as spectacle and tended not to discuss the philosophical ideas. A later article by Nugent found that those both on the far left and right disliked the film for various reasons: “The fascists, naturally, were not likely to applaud a picture which rebuked militarist dictators and accused them, in advance, of fomenting a thirty-year war (1940–1970) which reduced civilization to ashes.” What must have been far more bothersome to the Socialist Wells was the fact that The Daily Worker has berated “Mr. Wells for his failure to include the class struggle in his new outline of history and promises that when the revolution comes—on that, at least, they are agreed—it will be brought by the workers, not by the scientists and technicians.”39 Although both contemporary and modern commentators tend to agree on the film’s artistic strengths and flaws, a major change in reception has occurred over the years regarding the movie’s first act. After the Second World War, this section of the film tends to be praised for its prescience, but at the time, some critics felt that the first act was clichéd and unoriginal. Writing for The Washington Post, Nelson B. Bell argued: “The first half of the pictured narrative, although it establishes a sound and vivid basis for future contrast, strikes no note of originality or novelty in its depiction of the devastating effects of modern warfare. To drive home its lesson of the barbarity of human slaughter, this portion presents little more than a horrendous composite of all the hideous battlefield shambles that have passed across the screen in an almost continuous procession since the crimson days of 1914–1918.”40 Nugent, however, disagreed, finding “Certainly the film strikes perilously close to current truth in its phases dealing with the next great war….”41 Harold Hobson of The Christian Science Monitor found that the war scenes had “magnificent 38 Frank S. Nugent, “H.G. Wells Presents and Outline of Future History in ‘Things to Come’ at the Rivoli,” New York Times, Apr. 18, 1936. 39 Frank S. Nugent, “It’s a Buyer’s Market,” New York Times, Apr. 26, 1936. 40 Nelson B. Bell, “Fantastic Tale Is Revealed in Film at Palace,” Washington Post, Apr.

27, 1936. 41 Frank S. Nugent, “H.G. Wells Presents and Outline of Future History in ‘Things to Come’ at the Rivoli,” New York Times, Apr. 18, 1936.

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vigour; the devastation and destruction are on a titanic scale, and the spectator who is susceptible to that sort of thing is certainly overwhelmed with terror, though water, in Aristotelian phrase, his soul is purged thereby is another matter.”42 Although Hobson seemed to disagree with Bell’s as to the scenes effectiveness, he also questioned whether they would have the intended effect on audiences. Korda’s biographer Karol Kulik reports that the film was ultimately financially unsuccessful,43 although given the large amounts of publicity and wide release of the film, this more likely due to the immense budget as opposed to unpopularity. A Los Angeles Times story reported that the movie was “drawing all London at the moment”44 and a later one stated that the cities own “Four Star Theater is breaking its previous box-office records…” with the film.45 Things to Come and Men Must Fight are two films that reflect social anxiety about the future of the world, one that with the rise of Fascism seemed once again to be headed in a negative direction. Both films argue that a Second World War would be catastrophic and that there would be no logical reason to start one. Both films also take it for granted that the war would be personally devastating to the soldiers who would fight it, building on the groundwork laid by the previous films in this book, but also argue that the result would be apocalyptic. The personal war trauma that had been discussed in previous films may now be extended to the entire world, with the destruction of great cities and indeed entire civilizations as a possible result. As the globe moved even closer to a Second World War, portrayals of the First tended to focus more on the “brotherhood of man” concept, without the explicit portrayals of trauma seen in the early 30s, as will be discussed in the next chapter.

42 Harold Hobson, “Wells on the Screen,” The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), Mar. 24, 1936. 43 Kulik, 152. 44 “‘Things to Come,’ Wells Cinema, Sets London Agog,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 18,

1936. 45 “Fantasy Breaks Theater Records,” Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1936.

CHAPTER 7

The Universal Fraternity

If the underlying theme of the “Universal Fraternity” movies I discuss in this chapter could be redacted down to a sentence, it would echo the words of Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?” The Great War films during this period, made as the world seemed to move towards a conflict the vast majority of the populations of the UK and US dreaded, tended to emphasize the oneness of humanity—a brotherhood (and sisterhood) beyond nation or culture. Of course, this did not mean that all nations were equal—the German government could not be trusted and the Allied soldiers were still noble in their bravery. However, according to these films, the “good” people of Germany could not really be blamed for fighting, after all, who fights against their own country? These apolitical Germans were just used as pawns and manipulated by their government, in the same way, if to a greater extent, that almost everyone else had. If another war was to happen, it would be because of crazed political fanatics in some country, somewhere. Regular people were not to blame. This concept of the essential fraternity of the human race necessitated a kind of resignation and acceptance as to the nature of the world in the outlook of these films. Since the grand narratives of political and military pursuits do not lead to happiness, individuals must look to interpersonal relationships to create meaning. This implicit belief in the inability of governments and societies to solve problems at the end of a decade of economic privation and the spectre of war is not particularly surprising, © The Author(s) 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8_7

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yet contrasted with the clear moral lines etched in black and white a few years later, the shades of grey of the Universal Brotherhood would appear inconceivable. These were films that could only be made in 1937 and 1938, after the nationalism of the Big Parade crisis of the 20s had past, and before the start of the Second World War made any film questioning the UK and later US government’s war efforts near treasonable. Instead of the warning of the movies mentioned in previous chapter, these films are about the emotional impact of a future war they correctly predicted.

Dark Journey Directed by Victor Saville, Dark Victory was a moderate critical success on both sides of the Atlantic for Alexander Korda’s London Films in 1937. An original screenplay by Lajos Biro and Wimperis (both Korda collaborators, the movie has a complicated spy plot that many critics at the time found hard to follow. Featuring Conrad Veidt, who had left Germany to escape the Nazis and Korda’s up and coming discovery, Vivian Leigh, the movie portrayed a dashing and romantic German. These were not traits associated with German spies in many previous Great War films from Allied countries. Leigh plays Madeleine Goddard, a British spy posing as a tailor while living in neutral Sweden. Goddard frequently makes trips back forth between Stockholm and Paris, ostensibly to buy and sell merchandise and study the latest fashions, but the sojourns are actually to report to and take orders from her superiors. At the same time, Baron Karl Von Marwitz, a Germany spy, is also stationed in Stockholm, pretending to be a lazy deserter from his native land. As per movie convention, Goddard and Von Marwitz fall in love, and are faced with the problem of personal romance vs duty to country during wartime, ultimately resulting in Von Marwitz being captured by a respectful British officer and Goddard promising to resume their relationship after the war. Dark Journey is first and foremost a romantic thriller. It is not expressly interested in making deep socio-political statements as much as it is in creating a rousing experience for its audience. However, the fact that it allows its English protagonist to fall in love with a high ranking member of the German war effort, one who is portrayed as ethical, moral, and handsome, is remarkably different from previous films. There is no

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question that Dark Journey is a pro-Allied film, made for British (and British Empire) and American audiences formost. This position is taken for granted in the film. But also implicit is that Von Marwitz, and the German aristocracy he is a member of, are not evil, and is perhaps like Goddard merely performing an unpleasant duty for his country in circumstances he may not have chosen for himself. In a sense, the nobleness of his character—and part of what attracts Goddard to him—is his sense of duty and nobility, something that might be shattered were he to betray his country. Unlike many of the Second World War films that would be made in the next few years, Dark Journey does not argue for noble personal sacrifice for the greater good of a victory in war. Rather, it argues that war is a regrettable interruption to the greatest thing that one can experience—personal fulfilment through romantic love.

The Road Back The film rights to Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back had been purchased in 1929, before the novel was even completed.1 Universal had just as strong a financial incentive in making a sequel to their critical and commercial triumph as Remarque had in writing a sequel to his source novel. Both film and book would pose numerous artistic and aesthetic challenges. Carl Laemmle Jr had enough faith in Remarque that the studio bought the rights at the same time as the deal for All Quiet. According to James Whale’s biographer James Curtis, “The terms for The Road Back were considerably stiffer than for All Quiet, and Remarque’s agents refused to sell the rights in perpetuity. Instead, the agreement called for an initial payment of $50,000, in exchange for which Universal would have the right to make the picture for a period of five years. If and when the picture was made, a bonus payment would be due when the gross receipts surpassed a specified amount.”2 The clearest example of a problem with any sequel would be the obvious fact that almost all the main characters in both versions of All Quiet had died in their respective texts, and given the gravity of the

1 James Curtis, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 168–169. 2 Ibid., 169.

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material, any kind of literary or filmic device revealing that they were “not really dead” would detract from ultimate themes of the works. A less apparent issue with a sequel would be that in many ways the themes of the story had been fully developed in the first book and film—the transition from naïve innocence to Black Void had been completed. There were no significant unresolved narrative elements to pick up and continue as both novel and film were essentially a long series of connected vignettes instead of a tightly constructed plot. A great deal of the novel The Road Back is concerned with the interior thoughts of Ernst, the protagonist. Much of the interplay between the characters would be difficult to film because the connection of the former veterans is based on a shared set of experiences that they do not have to speak about—they often instinctually know what the others are thinking or feeling, an idea that would be lost if it were to be reliant upon dialogue. The narrative does not really have an ending, with the closest thing to a resolution being Ernst’s interior realization about himself, his future and his place in the world—that he is a pawn in the hands of politicians who do not care about him and as a resident of an indifferent universe. Only the love of his friends and girlfriend matter in short time on earth. Finally, The Road Back is far more reliant on German society and politics than All Quiet , something that would be difficult to translate to non-German audiences. Only one English translation of The Road Back had been made, again by A.W. Wheen, who also translated the original. As I do not speak or read German, I am forced to use Wheen’s English translation and I will be referring to it when discussing the novel in the following pages.3 In writing his sequel, Remarque decided to shift the focus from the war itself to the aftermath of the survivors—something he himself would also know about from personal experience. Although the fate of the one relatively minor character, Tjaden, had not been revealed in All Quiet , Remarque chose not to build a narrative around him. Rather, the sequel would use Tjaden as a supporting character and make Ernst, similar to but not quite the same as Paul Baumer, as the protagonist. Like All Quiet, The Road Back is more of a series of interconnected episodes as opposed to a single, 3 In preparing this chapter, I showed excerpts of Remarque’s original and Wheen’s translation to a native German speaker, who indicated that the meaning of the text had been altered substantially. Wheen’s translation may therefore be thought of as the source text.

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tightly constructed plotline. One of the major differences between original and sequel is that The Road Back is told entirely in chronological sequence. Picking up on the morning of November 11th, 1918 (a few weeks after Baumer’s death) the narrative finds the survivors somewhat stunned when it finally ends. The men, who are not emotionally ready for peace, are forced to return home suddenly. Ernst lives with his parents as he plans his next move. As the weeks pass, he maintains contact with many of his friends from the war, all of whom are coping in very different ways. Essentially introverted, Ernst observes the changes in himself, his war friends and German society with a kind of dispassion, often separating from his emotions, which verge on misery, despite a new romantic relationship. He and almost all of his veteran friends share contempt for German society, for reasons they see as obvious and are sometimes amazed that others, even those close to them, do not share. Unable to re-integrate, they become bored at day-to-day life. Their war experiences have given them a perspective on death that few others could have. A passage in which Ernst’s father discusses his son quitting a teaching job is emblematic of the themes of the work as a whole: I listen to him sympathetically but am bored. How strange that this man on the sofa here should be the father who formally regulated my life! Yet, he was not able to look after me in the years out there; he could not even have helped me in the barracks – any N.C.O.there carried more weight than he. – I had to get through as best as I could by myself and it was a matter of entire indifferences whether he existed or not. When he has finished I pour him a glass of cognac. “Now listen, Father,” I say and sit down over against him; “you may be right in what you say. But you see, I have learned how to live in a hole in the ground on a crust of bread and a little drop of thin soup. And so long as there was no shelling I was quite content. An old hut seemed to me to be positive luxury and a straw mattress in the rest area was paradise. So you see, the mere fact that I am still alive and there is no shelling, that is enough for me at the moment. What little I need to eat and drink I can rake together all right; for the rest there is my whole life before me.”4

4 Erich Maria Remarque, The Road Back, trans A.W. Wheen (New York, NY: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1931), 260.

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Later, after the elder man complains that the teaching job had a pension, offering financial security in old age, Ernst retorts: “…where’s the soldier will live to see sixty? There are things in our bones that will only show themselves later..—We’ll all have packed up before then, don’t you worry.”5 This excerpt demonstrates the general fatalism the men experience—given no psychological help or therapy, they return as changed men to a home to a community that may be well intentioned, but unable to understand the problems that the veterans are going through. Towards the end of the novel, Albert, another veteran, murders a man who had an affair with his girlfriend. Ernst and his friend attend the trial, which concludes in a near riot as it is argued that society was really at fault for teaching Albert to kill and then expecting him to stop. Albert himself comments that this murder is different than those committed in war in that his victim had actually done something to hurt him. Despite the efforts of the soldiers, Albert is convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. The novel ends as Ernst comes to a realization about himself: “Perhaps I shall never really be happy again; perhaps the war has destroyed that, and no doubt I shall always be a little inattentive and nowhere quite at home- but I shall probably never be wholly unhappy either- for something will always be there to sustain me, be it merely my own hands, or a tree, or the breathing earth.”6 The overall tone of the book is one of depressed resignation: Ernst exists in a kind of low-level misery, rarely motivated to do what the nonveterans want him to and not particularly interested in making a new life. A consistent theme of the novel is that the veterans are surrounded by people-well meaning family members, society elders, political radicals— who do not really understand their war experiences and yet have extremely strong opinions about what should happen and what they should do, which the men treat with a kind of bemused indifference and contempt. Although copyrighted in Germany in 1930, the same year the film of All Quiet was released; it would take seven years for the sequel to reach the screen. By contrast, in 1933, RKO managed to rush the special effects-heavy The Son of Kong into release the same year as its original film. According to a January 14th Los Angeles Times article, the movie

5 Ibid., 261. 6 Ibid., 343.

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was scheduled to go into production in the spring.7 The reason why Lewis Milestone, who had received an Academy Award for directing the original, was turned down for the sequel was simple—he wanted too much money.8 After the Milestone impasse, James Whale was clearly a strong candidate, both as a prestige artist, director of financially successful product for Universal, and war veteran himself. Happy to return to war material, Whale encouraged Universal to bankroll R.C. Sherriff, known from Journey’s End as a war veteran who could write about the conflict from personal experience, to compose the script.9 It was estimated that filming the screenplay would cost half a million dollars.10 With such a strong pedigree, the movie seemed like a clear choice for profitable prestige film for the studio. However, Curtis reports that Universal shelved the project due to the fact that it would cost half a million dollars in a year that the studios was severely in the red.11 This turn of events demonstrats either just how dire Universal’s financial situations were at the time, or indicates a softness in confidence about the project, which is possible as Mark Gatiss indicates that Laemmle Jr. disliked the script.12 In his history Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930–1939, Tino Balio depicts an American film industry severely hit by the Great Depression. He reports that 1931 tickets sales dropped to 70 million to per week, a number that was reduced to 55 million per week the following year.13 Balio reports that Universal had to sell almost all of their theatres.14 There is no doubt that the studio had begun a financial slide that would ultimately result in its sale in 1936. But was it really strong financial sense to shelve the sequel to its single biggest prestige success? To modern studios, there are few bigger financial guarantees than sequels to already successful properties. However, for

7 Schallert, Edwin, “Film Planned of ‘Road Back,’” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 14, 1932. 8 Curtis, 169. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid., 189. 11 Ibid. 12 Gatiss, Mark. James Whale: A Biograph, or The Would-Be Gentleman (London: Cassell, 1995), 129. 13 Balio, Tino, Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930–1939 (Berkeley, CA and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 13–14. 14 Ibid., 17.

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much of Hollywood’s history, this was not the case. A common rule of thumb is that sequels, though often profitable, would be less financially successfully than the original. Although the aforementioned The Son of Kong was indeed rushed into production to capitalize on the success of the original, the budget was halved.15 It is also indicative that Universal did not sequelize its twin horror success of 1931, Whale’s Frankenstein and Tod Browning’s Dracula, until 1935 and 1936, respectively. The novel The Road Back, while successful, lacked the cultural impact of the original. Lew Ayres was now a star but his character had died, meaning that he would not be in the sequel. It is worth nothing that a bizarre announcement in the Los Angeles Times indicated that the studio was “…seriously thinking of securing as many members of the original cast as possible for the new picture” including Ayres, Russell Gleason and William Bakewell. As the same article indicated that the Sherriff script was being used, it is probable that this was just hyperbole on the part of an unknowing Universal press agent.16 However, the large number of popular war-related films, discussed in the last chapter, provided proof that audiences would at least be interested in the material. A clear reason for the project’s initial cancellation was provided in a letter by Harry Zehner in 1936, quoted by Curtis: “When this story came in four years ago, we were loathe to produce [the] same then, solely due to the jeopardy in which the production would have placed our German business at the time.”17 As Ruth Vasey states in her book The World According to Hollywood, “Between the world wars, the principal film companies derived an average of 35 per cent of their gross revenue from the foreign field, a larger proportion of revenues than most other American export industries earned abroad.”18 It is probable that German response to All Quiet in the short term helped the movie at the UK box office, providing it with controversy that would also double as publicity. But by 1936, the film’s foremost critics, the National Socialists, had come to power. Remarque, 15 Ray Morton, King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2005). 95. 16 Schallert, Edwin. “All Quiet Stars Considered for Sequel at Universal,” Sept. 30, 1936. 17 Curtis, 292. 18 Ruth Vasey, The World According to Hollywood 1918–1939 (Madison, WI: The

University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 7.

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adamantly anti-Fascist, had moved to the United States. Curtis reports that the writer, his artistic output and most especially, his perspective on the war was so antithetical to the Nazi government that not only was Universal in danger of having a specific Road Back film banned in Germany, they were in danger of having the movie forbidden in other nations friendly to it.19 Despite the fact that an American audience may have been receptive to a general anti-elite message in the early 30s, the complete opposition of the German government to the picture indicated that it probably was not worth the financial loss. Since the Laemmles had made the calculation that a film of The Road Back would be a dangerous financial proposition in 1932, even before the Nazis had come to power, it may on first glance seem curious that the studio, under new management after their departure, believed that the movie would be a good investment in 1936, with German fascism ascendant. However, as H. Mark Glancy, reports, by this time many Hollywood studios assumed that the German market was too problematic for American films to even attempt to release their films there, with a quota and special tax on imported films.20 Curtis claims that the studio, which had mostly produced B films and Deanna Durbin musicals under the new management, was in need of a prestige picture.21 Even factoring this in, the choice of The Road Back still seems economically problematic. There were many bestselling novels on the market the studio could have purchased many without the political baggage of the war book. The most likely explanation is probably Whale himself. Whale was still thought of as Universal’s star director and was by a very wide margin the most prestigious filmmaker attached to the studio, perhaps the only one thought of as an artist. Mark Gatiss reports that Whale himself was the impetus behind the project.22 Even factoring in Whale’s reputation, its re-emergence is a bit surprising, considering the fact that Curtis documents that Whale did not share anything approaching good relations with the new studio management and the clear political problems the picture would find itself in.

19 Ibid., 299. 20 H. Mark Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood ‘British’ Film 1939–

1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 7. 21 Ibid., 293. 22 Gatiss, 129.

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Representatives of the German government had pressured the movie not to be made at all and then at least for the film to have somewhat greater pro-German content.23 The studio was unexpectedly resilient to the pressure for much of the way, only to cave at the final moment, discussed below, which ultimately did little to please either German sympathizers or anti-Nazi opponents. The Road Back finally entered production in early 1937, with Sherriff’s script retouched by Charles Kenyon.24 The director had pushed for an-all unknown cast, similar to the original, and selected John King as Ernst. The only carryover from Milestone’s film was Slim Summerville, reprising his role as Tjaden, offering mostly comic relief.25 It would be a tumultuous shoot, the most difficult of Whale’s career. The production began with the trench scenes, shot at night during an unusually cold winter and rain, meaning that the film began behind schedule. The situation became worse when Whale became sick with a short illness and was unable to work. Following this, a technician was killed and actor Andy Devine injured in a special effects explosion. Cinematographer John J. Mescall would often show up drunk and was ultimately fired, replaced by Universal veteran George Robinson. Making matters worse, Whale was not at all pleased with John King’s lead performance, and relations between actor and director were tense. The studio complained that Whale was filming too slowly and spending too much money.26 In addition to all this, Universal was facing increasing pressure from the German Embassy. Prior to this point, most of the pressure was applied to the studio, but several actors from the film and the director received threatening letters. The letters seemed to have the opposite effect, with many of those receiving them becoming angry.27 The studio’s weekly status reports, compiled by an unknown employee, help to demonstrate the difficulty of the shoot from a financial perspective as well as the deteriorating relationship with Whale. The first report is missing, but the second, dated February 8th, states “At the present 23 Curits, 292–293, 296, 298. 24 Curtis, 293. 25 Curtis, 293–294. 26 Ibid., 294–296, 300. 27 Ibid., 298–299.

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writing this production is running 3 days behind schedule and this we can truthfully says [sic] is altogether due to illness of Mr. Whale.” After stating that the movie, originally budgeted at $750,000 should with “reasonable luck” end up at $800,000, the employee reassures his audience: “Whale has always proven himself to be a most conscientious worker and I feel sure that he will do everything within his power to make up any of the days we lose on account of his illness.”28 Almost every subsequent report indicates that the film is becoming further and further behind and over budget. The March 1st report states that the production was now 14 days behind schedule and the movie would now probably come in at around $850,000. The writer says that the best way to avoid the high figure is to “speed up Whale” and that “Whale is the type of director who always wants to put on screen every bit of his printed script, including punctuation marks.”29 A report near the end of the production stated just how troubled the movie actually was: “Including the three days we were unable to work on account illness [sic] of Mr. Whale, this production was 73 days shooting. Our original schedule and the belief of Mr. Whale was the picture could be shot in 9 weeks [54 days].” The writer states that with no additional shooting, the movie would come in at $915,000.30 A May 1937 Photoplay story on the films’ production is of questionable value in terms of its accuracy but is helpful in terms of describing what must have been welcome publicity for the movie. Emphasizing realism, the story describes the shooting of the opening war scenes. The writer describes: “Young Larry Blake, coming off the battlefield, with a mudclotted face, voices a unanimous sentiment: ‘If that’s war, I’m not even enlisting in the clerical corps for the next one, I’m staying right at home and just waving a flag.’ We ask Director Whale if the scene calls for a retake. ‘Yes’, he says. ‘That wasn’t good enough, realistic enough.’31 Another story from The Atlanta Constitution from a few months earlier quotes Whale as stating ‘“The Road Back” has made all of these youngsters pacifists,’ continues Whale. ‘They’ve tasted the hardships of war-lying

28 “Whale #865 ‘The Road Back,’” Feb. 8, 1937. 29 “Whale #865 ‘The Road Back,’” Mar. 1, 1937. 30 “Whale #865 ‘The Road Back,’” Apr. 26, 1937. 31 James Reid, “We Cover the Studios,” Photoplay, May. 1937, 95.

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in mud, carrying heavy packs on their backs-and they don’t like it.’”32 These statements, which tend to emphasize the few battle scenes in a film that almost entirely set after the war, promoted the spectacle and grandeur of the war not to mention to reinforce the familiar advertising trope that the film was a realistic portrayal of the conflict. The post-production of the film did not go much smoother. Despite the fact that the movie had gone 17 days over schedule, after initial editing, Whale re-conceived the opening and asked for and received an additional three days of shooting.33 In need of cash, the studio decided to loan Whale as director-for-hire to Warner Bros., meaning that he would be unable to supervise some of the cutting to the extent that he wanted. The studio ordered Whale’s long-time editorial collaborator, Ted Kent, to edit the film without Whale’s input. The director was presumably angry at this, but ended up agreeing with the majority of Kent’s choices. Finally, Whale was displeased with elements of Dmitri Tiomkin’s score. Finding enough of what was left in the budget for another recording session, the music was then finished. Despite the political infighting, his loan out to Warner Brothers and the threats from the German Embassy the film was generally finished to Whale’s wishes.34 However, his slow pace, some of which was due to bad luck and some of which was probably due to the director’s perfectionism, had done irreparable damage to his relationship with Universal, for most of his career his cinematic patron. This original version of the film is now no longer available. In a last-second turn of events, the studio finally capitulated to the German pressure and ordered additional cuts, and a new, less political and happier ending, directed by Edward Sloman. The changes were ill-timed and pleased no one.35 Given, as Mark Glancy indicates, that the studio was unlikely to make much on a German release anyway,36 this last-minute capitulation seems very ill-conceived. Altering a film currently in release is rare, and one is tempted to look for alternative motivations, but the evidence does point to an attempt to dilute the anti-German content. Given the speed and last second nature of the decision, it is possible that it 32 “Hollywood Today,” Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 23, 1937. 33 Curtis, 301. 34 Ibid., 301–304. 35 Curtis, 306. 36 Glancy, 15.

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was a strongly held whim of a studio executive or shareholder as opposed to a reasoned, well thought out decision. Whale was almost certainly incensed and probably hurt that the project he had fought so hard over had been altered and understandably refused to watch the widely distributed version.37 The last-minute changes made little difference- the movie was still banned in Germany and several other countries. Word about the chaotic release didn’t help the film’s reputation and Curtis reports the final released product was neither a critical or commercial success.38 The movie finally opened in New York on June 17th, over a month after its initial date for the premiere. Initial reviews were mixed, with a few raves and many mixed notices. Although almost no reviewers panned the picture, it certainly was greeted with a much different reception than its predecessor had seven years earlier. Despite this, I have found evidence that the film was at least commercially successful in New York City, with one publication stating that it “produced long lines on Broadway.”39 Phillip K. Scheuer reported that the movie was “doing sock business in major cities-either in spite of, or because of, the fact that it is only a milk-and-water version of the powerful original.”40 The Christian Science Monitor stated that “So anxious was the studio to offended nobody, that being the sure way to please nobody completely.” The unnamed critic did indicate that the picture did successful demonstrate the social difficulties faced by returning veterans.41 On the other hand, Edwin Schallert found that “A powerful delineation of the experiences of the returned soldiers of a nation defeated is flashed on the screen in ‘The Road Back’…It is a strong, vital sort of picture, which chooses to bring the audience impressions rather than plot, and which is very real in its atmosphere and

37 Curtis, 308. 38 Ibid., 308. 39 “Remarque’s ‘The Road Back’,” The Age (Melbourne, Australia), Sept. 11, 1937. 40 Phillip K. Scheuer, ‘John Beal Awarded Leading Role in “Romance to the Rescue’,”

Los Angeles Times, Aug. 19, 1937. 41 “Monitor Movie Guide,” Christian Science Monitor, Jul. 10, 1937.

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the poignancy of its incidents.”42 Writing about the critical response to the film, Norbert Lusk commented that the Los Angeles premiere “was followed by reviews that left nothing to the imagination of the reader and made it difficult for Universal to discover quotes in sufficient number and enthusiasm to use in ads.” He went on to state that the main objection was the comedy scenes, but that they also found sections of the film, particularly the opening, to be “magnificent,” and praised Whale and Sherriff.43 The English premiere took place at the New Galley Cinema in London on October 4th and, like most of the major films in this book, was attended by several major figures, including relatives of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, three Countesses, two MPs, as well as R.C. Sherriff and the writer and war veteran W. Somerset Maugham.44 Despite the elite gathering at the premiere, the Times allotted space for only a minor review, praising Summerville’s performance and stated “Ernst himself is presented by Mr. John King as though he were perpetually at a revival meeting, and only occasionally, as with the prosecuting counsel whose name the cast omits, do we see an attempt to base the division between soldiers and civilians upon a real and tragic misunderstanding.” Aside from stating that “…in this film the emotion of the original has somehow turned into a flaccid and embarrassing sentimentality,” the review was tellingly brief and short.45 The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette ran a longer notice, complaining that the novel had been Americanized and diluted (no mention was made that Whale was English). The writer described that “Hollywood has magnified the comedy angles, melodramatised the drama. Yet ‘The Road Back’ has moral enough for any war story.”46 Many of the notices, such as the one in the North Devon Journal, were similar to the Times notice in that they praised the film but were short in length and somewhat perfunctory.47 Another example of the film’s lack of cultural

42 Edwin Schallert, “Road Back Stirring Tale of War Aftermath,” Los Angeles Times, Jul. 21, 1937. 43 Norbert, Lusk, “Slapstick Mars War Picture,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 27, 1937. 44 “Film Premiere,” Times (London), Oct. 5, 1937. 45 “New Films in London,” Times (London), Oct. 4, 1937. 46 “’The Road Back’ is at the Palladium, Exeter,” The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette,

Oct. 29, 1937. 47 “The Road Back,” North Devon Journal, Dec. 9, 1937.

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impact, a notice of upcoming films in the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser listed the film below Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937), a B mystery film.48 Despite the fact that few of the reviews were overtly negative, it is clear that the response to The Road Back differed from that All Quiet and Whale’s Journey’s End in one key respect: the movie was not a major event in popular culture and did not significantly expand the contemporary discourse about The Great War. Unlike so many of the films I have discussed, I was not able to find a single example of a veteran stating that the movie realistically portrayed his experience. It is possible that the German setting had something to do with this, but it is equally likely that the movie simply did not move many audiences in the way that previous war films had. In what to the director must have seemed like a cruel irony, the movie was re-released two years later with more new footage—now additions were made to add more anti-German content, this time directed by Frank Tuttle. By this point, anti-German material was considered to be an advantage and not a liability. According to Curtis, the first version of the films is not available and possibly lost.49 The analysis provided below is from the 1939 version, which is occasionally shown on television and was purchased by this author on DVD from a grey market website. Because of the alteration from Whale’s intentions and speed at which the changes were made and ordered, the final film is a chimera of various viewpoints and sources. The changes do not so much alter the original theme so much as obscure it and water it down. In fact, given the relative fidelity of the picture to Remarque’s novel, and portrayal of authority figures via Whale’s casting and aesthetic choices, there was not much the studio could do to minimize the clear anti-war and anti-militaristic message. Perhaps the most obviously jarring aspect of the film is the comic relief via Slim Summerdale and Andy Devine. That a picture with such a serious and morose subject veers tonally into broad comedy and then suddenly back into seriousness, is emblematic of the editorial problems ordered by the cuts and re-shoots. It is likely that in Whale and Kent’s original cut the comedy was better integrated into the whole of the picture, as a smooth stylistic transition in tone from pathos to comedy

48 “Gaumont Attractions,” Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, Dec. 11, 1937. 49 Curtis, 309.

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is a hallmark of many of Whale’s films, such as The Invisible Man (1933). Setting the comedy aside and even factoring Whale’s original intentions, The Road Back is still a film of paradox. The first and most glaring is the portrayal of German-ness. Any film set in a country that speaks a different language than is spoken by actors on screen poses a problem in accent and language. Both Milestone and Whale cast mostly American actors to play German characters. A dominant theme of All Quiet was the brotherhood and equality of the human race, so German characters speaking with American accents seemed to combine with theme of the movie and make the characters seem somewhat independent of country or culture. The brotherhood theme is implicitly carried over into The Road Back, however, it is also specifically concerned with German society in the 1920s. The discussion of political unrest is unique—we are told that that country is suffering—(a widespread thought at the time was that Germany received poor terms in the Versailles treaty) but the reluctance to attribute blame to a particular group renders much what was in the book a didactic political message merely confusing in the film. Furthermore, King’s performance is problematic. Whale may have cast the actor in an attempt to portray a Spencer Tracy-like Everyman, but Sherriff’s and Kenyon’s screenplay chooses to portray Ernst’s thoughts reflected verbally to other characters instead of as interior monologue. Given King’s weaknesses as an actor, the only time that we understand what the character feeling is when it is explicitly verbalized. An example of this is a scene in which King shares his war experiences with his girlfriend. Instead of an interior monologue as featured in the book, Ernst tells another person about the experience, who embraces him sympathetically. Whether or not a performance is effective or not is subjective, but King seems to have trouble with the emotional depth of the material. It is also unclear what the girlfriend is feeling—is she empathetic, understanding the nature of the trauma, or she sympathetic, trying to help Ernst while not being able to perceive his experience? The intent of the scene seems difficult to discern, apparently not due to intentional ambiguity but to ineffective acting. Describing the ideas found in the final cut of The Road Back is also difficult, as it an intentionally didactic film whose ideas where moderated awkwardly at the last moment. The dominant theme in the 1939 version is that the war was terrible and traumatic experience, but much of the explanation of why or who is responsible is muted, though it

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leaves the general sense that someone, somewhere in authority is to blame. However, even factoring in Whale’s original ending, in which Ernst encountered a diminutive soldier drilling the youth of Germany,50 making fairly clear the director’s thoughts on German militarism, it is likely that the movie still would not have not met with the hoped for commercial success. The ultimate response of the movie was surprisingly muted. What was intended as a prestige film received no Academy Award nominations and was mostly forgotten. Even in its impure form, the picture is an example of what I referred to in the introduction to this chapter as a member of “Universal Brotherhood”—cinema found during this period. Although Whale’s cinematic style is quite different from Milestone’s, The Road Back can be considered a true successor to All Quiet in the sense that it expands on the themes of the universal value of humanity that was so integral to the original. Whale clearly portrays Ernst and his friends as likeable and sympathetic. Although his intent was to attack German militarism, the picture portrays the group as being innocents who were caught up in events beyond their control and not morally culpable, or responsible, for its effects. Although the emotional centre of most Hollywood films is a romantic relationship, clearly Whale intended the camaraderie between the returning veterans to be the emotional core, something that the tacked on ending undermines. Despite all of the veterans being of the same ethnicity, they are of different ages and personality types, but all share a common bond and trauma— in an emotional sense, they are brothers. The audience is intended to identify with the German characters as not being radically different from themselves, despite the intended commentary against the German government. This is an interesting statement from an English director at a time of increasing political and military tensions in Europe.

Three Comrades The following year, another Remarque novel with similar themes was also adapted into the screen, this time at MGM. Three Comrades (1936) is sometimes thought of as the third book in a trilogy with All Quiet and The Road Back, although there are, to the awareness of this reader, no

50 Curtis, 305.

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repeated characters from either of the first two novels appear in the third. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to see how the novels may be perceived a unit, as they form a rough chronological narrative of the experience of the war (All Quiet ), followed by the immediate return to society (The Road Back), followed by the more general adjustment to life in the long term with the war experiences in the background (Three Comrades ). The protagonist of each of three novels is similar—an introverted but sensitive Everyman with a large degree of bitterness caused by his war experiences. Three Comrades (again under a translation by A.W. Wheen), follows the experience of Robert Lohkamp, a disillusioned First World War veteran who co-owns, with his friends Gottfried Lenz and Otto Koster, an auto repair shop in an unnamed large German city. Lohkamp has a negative outlook on life. He lives a moderately hedonistic lifestyle, drinking too much and living mostly for the car assembly and races that the three friends engage in. His perspective begins to change when he meets the half-English Patricia Hollman, who is periodically ill with an unnamed disease that is probably tuberculosis. Due to Pat, Lohkamp finds that he is a lot more to live for than he initially thought and realizes that the relationship is, to his astonishment, making him happy. The novel takes place among the backdrop of the economic chaos of Germany in the 20s with Lohkamp often referring to prostitutes and riotous mobs. Lenz is eventually killed by a political radical, implied to be a Nazi (party names are not referred to explicitly in the book). Koster promises revenge and hunts down the assassin and kills him. Around the same time, Pat takes a turn for the worse and becomes terminal. The novel’s final moments recount the end of her life, with the irony that both have found love and sense of peace just before it is shattered by another pointless death. Despite the title, the relationship between the trio of Lohkamp, Lenz and Koster mostly takes a back seat to the romance between Lohkamp and Hollmann. Outside of the narrator, the characters are not particularly developed and Lenz and Koster are somewhat interchangeable. Like the previously discussed works by Remarque, the novel has only a basic plot line, with the general narrative revolving around Lohkamp’s gradual emotional thawing. Hollmann is also in many ways underdeveloped, falling into the stereotyped role of an empathetic woman who serves to melt a man’s cold heart. Although sections of the novel are devoted to the descriptions of poverty and the economic chaos, the four main characters are mostly apolitical. They share with other Remarque characters the general belief that society is corrupt and government is a

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merely reflection of that. Although the section involving the murder of Lenz by a presumed Nazi is more strongly worded than much of the rest of the book, it may be argued that Remarque views the National Socialists as the worst of a series of bad options. Like The Road Back, a reading of the novel indicates that it does not naturally lend itself to a cinematic translation. The story of an idealized woman rehabilitating a cynical man through romantic love had long been a Hollywood standby, but not much else of the novel is particularly cinematic. The book consists of many scenes of characters socializing through dialogue while not doing much that would be of visual interest, again with unspoken, shared thoughts that are not explicitly stated. Though Remarque’s political and social commentary occurs in the background, translating this to a probably ignorant American audience and probably hostile British one (due to the growing anti-German sentiment) would be particularly difficult. Yet a big-budget, prestige film version of the novel appeared only a year after its publication, with four star actors and a major director, two name screenwriters and overseen by renowned producer. The main motivation for the adaptation is not surprising—Remarque was a popular writer, meaning that it was a known property to audiences and, as there were no war scenes, would presumably cost far less than The Road Back. Herve Dumont reports that the film rights to the book were bought before it was published.51 Out of all the name directors of Classical Hollywood Era, Frank Borzage is possibly the most obscure to modern audiences. Despite this, his films share a clear visual style and he was interested in the same thematic issues in movie after movie, the clear signs of an auteur. Borzage films are typically romances, in which a man and a woman fall in love. Their love is threatened often by events in society, such as war or economic upheaval that are beyond their control. Against all odds, their love prevails in the end, even though one of the characters often dies, implying a more cosmic bond that lasts beyond death. A key element of Borzage’s cinema is the event that threatens the lovers is external. His characters are often in some way isolated or rejected from society and at the very least have little control or say in their own destinies outside of the romance. It is for this reason that a discussion of Borzage’s war films (if they can be called that) is far more problematic 51 Herve Dumont, Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2006), 258.

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to the research than that of Whale’s. Borzage directed more Great Warrelated films than any other director in this book: Seventh Heaven (1927), Lucky Star (1929), A Farewell to Arms (1932), No Greater Glory (1934), and Three Comrades. However, in the five Great War films listed above, Borzage is almost totally uninterested in politics or the causes of the war. As writer Kent Jones states in a Film Comment assessment: “…the world around Borzage’s lovers and believers is a procession of interchangeable amorphous abstractions.” Jones later states that “Seventh Heaven and A Farewell to Arms have got to be the craziest portrays of WWI ever put on the screen, logistically complex undertakings that are so folded up and telescoped that they could just as well be bicycle-powered operatic backdrops…”52 Jones’s statement is strongly stated, but the analysis of the director’s work is accurate- Borzage and his main characters are only concerned with the larger world around them to the effect it has on their love. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he would direct one of the few explicitly anti-Nazi released by Hollywood before Pearl Harbour, The Mortal Storm (1940). A cursory glance of his filmography indicates perhaps why Remarque’s novel would have appealed to him—it is in many ways very similar to another war-related novel he had already adapted—Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929). A key characteristic of both novels are cynical (and in the case of Hemingway, nihilistic) protagonists who fall in love, finding the experience transcendent in their lives. In Remarque, Lohkamp’s love for Pat gives his life meaning beyond drink and cars, in Hemingway, Fredrick Henry’s love for Catherine motivates both to desert and run away together. In what may not be a coincidence, both novels have the same ending—the male character helplessly watches the woman die, and is left empty after yet another encounter with death. Borzage’s film adaptation of Hemingway’s novel followed the plot relatively closely but made a major thematic change to end of the book. Just before the death scene, Hemingway provides a metaphor when Fredrick remembers camping and watching ants crawling on a log of wood, walking to their deaths. Even though Fredrick and his friends could have easily put out the fire, they just watch and allow the insects to die. The narrator realizes that “That was what you did. You died. You did not

52 Kent Jones, “Frank Borzage,” Film Comment, Sept/Oct. 1997, http://www.filmco mment.com/article/the-sanctum-santorum-of-love-frank-borzage.

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know what it was about,”53 and it is implied that meaning, even love, is transient and will not last. In the movie, Catherine (Helen Hayes) still dies, but Borzage bestows the scene with religious imagery, indicating that their separation is only temporary. It would an overstatement to argue that Three Comrades is an out and out re-write of A Farewell to Arms , but the central theme and narrative trajectory of the protagonist of both novels are essentially the same. Both even contain a line in which the protagonist realizes that the woman’s body is empty. It should be stated that the ending of Remarque’s novel is at least more ambiguous than Hemingway’s, as we do not know what the future mental state of Lohkamp will be, whereas we can assume that it will be one of existential misery for Fredrick. The ending of the film is indicative of Borzage’s artistic intents with the material. He is more concerned with the love of between Lohkamp and Patricia than the socio-political commentary of Weimar Germany. As many of Borzage’s films concern a kind of spiritual love, it is not remarkable that he focuses on an implied afterlife for both Lenz and Pat. This idea, that beyond the mortal coil fallen comrades may be reunited with each other, provides a positive frame around an otherwise downbeat narrative. It is also worth noting that three films in this book—Four Horseman, All Quiet , and Three Comrades end in graveyards with spiritual or quasi-spiritual imagery. Though organized religion plays almost no role in Borzage’s film, the movie’s spiritual undercurrent, not found in the novel, is important element of the text. The final shot, in which the two surviving comrades are shown walking with the ghosts of the third and Patricia at their sides, is especially relevant to the concept of the Universal Brotherhood. The implication is that although life may provide illness, war and political turmoil that is beyond our control, a spiritual afterlife will unite all humans in a peaceful fraternity. The world itself may be too corrupt for the innocent, but in the end, love and compassion will win out—a positive message, though probably not one intended by Remarque. As the four characters, living and dead, walk together, they also walk out of a political future that will be thankfully transcended by an apolitical afterlife. Like The Road Back, Three Comrades would be a prestige film, this time for MGM (a studio known for prestige movies). Also like Universal’s Remarque adaptation, American actors using American accents 53 Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (New York, NY: Scribner Paperback Fiction, Simon and Schuster, 1929), 327–328.

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would play most of the German characters. To modern audiences, Three Comrades may seem bereft of iconic stars who might have been associated with MGM at the time, such as Clark Gable or Greta Garbo; but the cast, especially the two leads, would have been well known and popular with contemporary filmgoers. Robert Taylor, a handsome and very popular leading man was cast as Lohkamp, with Franchot Tone and Robert Young as Koster and Lenz, respectfully. According to his biographer Charles Tranberg, Taylor did not want to make the film because he “…didn’t want to play a German, especially a sympathetic one.”54 Margret Sullavan was cast in the key role as Patricia, and was widely singled out for praise, receiving the film’s only Academy Award nomination. She was also not initially associated with the project at its conception, the part was initially announced for Joan Crawford and then Luise Rainer.55 In contrast, most of the supporting role were taken up by character actors who could be seen at least vaguely Teutonic, such as Lionel Atwill and Henry Hull. Producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s first choice to write the script was R.C. Sherriff, but the producer was dissatisfied with his work and Sherriff apparently completed only one draft.56 On paper, it would be difficult to argue with the choice of replacement—F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is now almost universally considered one of the finest American writers of the twentieth century. At the time, however, he was seen as a talented has-been, with his best work behind him. The writer had suffered a very difficult period in Hollywood, having trouble working in a factorylike environment. Although Fitzgerald worked on many movies, Three Comrades would be the only one that he would receive screen credit for. However, his script was rejected, with Sullavan complaining that she could not enact on the writer’s words.57 The general thought was that Fitzgerald’s screenplay may have been effective as a work of literature, but not necessarily as cinema. It ended up being re-written under heavy protest by Edward Paramore and then by Mankiewicz, with other contributions from Waldo Salt, Lawrence Hazard, and David Hertz.58 Along

54 Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor: A Biography (Albany: GA, BearManor Media, 2011), Kindle Edition, loc 1600. 55 Ibid., 1598. 56 Dumont, 259. 57 Tranberg, 1557. 58 Dumont, 259.

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with the changes to the dialogue, Fitzgerald’s social commentary against anti-Semitism was minimized.59 Like The Road Back, Three Comrades was targeted by the German government through its consul, George Gyssling. According to Borzage’s biographer Herve Dumont, Gyssling had influenced Joseph Breen, the administrator of the Production Code to minimize certain anti-Nazi elements, such as book burning and to explicitly set the film in the period from 1918–1920, much earlier than the book. However, Mankiewicz threatened to walk off the film when it was suggested to change the political rally and assassination from Nazi’s to Communists.60 In the finished film, Nazis are implied. Despite the presence of Fitzgerald as writer and Mankiewicz as producer, Three Comrades is really a director’s picture. One of the differences between the typical dynamic found in Borzage films is Taylor’s Lohkamp. Male Borzage protagonists are often somewhat rugged but emotionally available, Taylor’s character is clearly an educated urbanite who at times rather stoic. It is unclear whether this is an artistic choice on the part of the director or the actor’s interpretation of the role. None of the documents I was able to find indicated that the director was displeased with Taylor’s performance, but an MGM player like Spencer Tracy, who Borzage had directed in his previous film, Mannequin (1937) may have provided an interpretation of the role more in line with his intentions. Borzage’s clear interest in the romance meant that political aspects of the screenplay were minimized (probably to the pleasure of the studio, who presumably like Universal did not want to incur the ire of the Germans). That the movie is about three male friends who fall in love with the same woman is present but mostly disappears after the first act. Likewise, the now familiar portrayal of the cynical and hedonistic war veteran was included, but minimized as well. Given the toughness and despair found in their work, it is not surprising that both Fitzgerald and Remarque would be disappointed in the film. The former “broke down” and presumably wept when he saw the changes that had made to his script tin the finished film, and the later wrote an angry letter to Mankiewicz, complaining that too much of his

59 Tranberg, 1567. 60 Dumont, 260.

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book had been altered.61 Remarque’s reacted intensely even though the movie is relatively close, at least in plot, to his book, and probably the best he could have hoped for given the time and country in which it was made. Three Comrades was a successful film. Herve Dumont reports that it “did more than respectably at the box office, considering the moroseness of the subject.”62 Reviews tended to be positive, yet short of enthusiastic. Writing for The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent called it “…a beautiful memorable film. Faithful to the spirit and, largely, to the letter of the novel, it has been magnificently directed, eloquently written and admirably played.” The only bit of criticism Nugent had was for Taylor’s performance, which he found “good occasionally but more often merely acceptable.”63 Edwin Schallert predicted “‘Three Comrades’ will miss decisively of pleasing certain audiences. And even those who fall under its spell will find the initial stages rather tedious, and the climax an apparently needless sacrifice, despite its drama.” Schallert gave high praise to Sullavan, calling her death scenes “poignant and moving in the extreme.”64 The Christian Science Monitor did give the film a rave, calling it “…an intense and powerful film.”65 However, there was something remarkable in its absence in most of the reviews of the film—they barely mentioned the sociological significance of a film set in Germany about the German experience during the Great War on the eve of the Second. Like Borzage, most critics seemed to want to focus on the love story. Although the movie was more favourably reviewed than Whale’s film the previous year, neither seemed to be thought of as a major political or social statement, but both were made with explicit intent avoiding German controversy. Although neither book nor film is a direct sequel to The Road Back, Borzage’s picture may be considered to be a companion piece to Whale’s films as it continues the portrayal of decent, likeable characters caught in events beyond their control. Three Comrades is more apparently German than Whale’s films,

61 Dumont, 268. 62 Ibid., 268. 63 Frank S. Nugent, “The Screen in Review,” New York Times, Jun. 3, 1938. 64 Edwin Schallert, “Emotional Story Told in ‘Three Comrades’,” Jun. 2, 1938. 65 J.D.B. “‘Three Comrades’ Vital Film,” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA, Jun. 11, 1938).

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but like many of Borzage’s pictures, the European setting is essentially window-dressing for what is intended to be universal human drama (the same might be said of the French setting of Seventh Heaven or the Italian locations of A Farewell to Arms ). Even though the movie contains some muted anti-Nazi commentary, the main focus is on the romance between Lohkamp and Hollman. The fact that Hollman is half-English does not prevent the men from loving her. Even the vengeance upon the murderer of Koster is treated less a political assassination as opposed to a personal vendetta. Three Comrades was the last major film concerning the Great War to be released before the German invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, which started the Second World War in Europe. During the 20s, most big-budget Great War films were critically lauded and popular hits, usually praised by cultural elites as an opportunity for non-veterans to understand the war experiences of veterans, and pay tribute to them. The Road Back and Three Comrades two films that can be at best described as moderately successful commercially, were forgotten fairly quickly, and the absence of major cultural commentary on them is telling in of itself. It is possible that as a Second World War turned from a distant prospect to a real possibility to probability, the desire of both audiences and artists to engage with the political causes declined. Both Whale’s and Borzage’s films clearly depict the Great War as being a traumatic and negative experience, but avoid (against Whale’s wishes) blaming any political group or entity for them. The focus of these films is on the individual Germans, who are seen as just like anyone else, but powerless. In these films, the Great War has no understandable cause, but is simply a source of suffering and misery upon innocents. Three Comrades is also an indication of progression of portrayals of the war- by this time, the idea that The Great War was a traumatic experience was taken for granted. The portrayal of the Germans (or at least, Germans outside of political leadership) had also gone from the militants in Four Horseman to a more sympathetic portrayal in All Quiet . It is significant that The Road Back and Three Comrades, neither set in the 1930s, avoid (one through studio interference) overt criticism of the German government or German culture. As the war drums beat in the background at the close of 1938, war—a seemingly unstoppable event akin to an earthquake or hurricane—emerges. Both films place blame vaguely on people in power, without describing who those people are, or why they made the choices they did. Neither Borzage nor the mutilated Road Back give clear warnings against Nazism or fascism, and tellingly

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neither film makes the argument that though war is hell, it is sometimes necessary. The idea of peace beyond the realm of politics or culture, found at the end of Three Comrades may have been especially appealing to a generation who had lived through and fought the most destructive war in the history of mankind, and was only a short time away from the experience of its sequel.

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Index

A Academy Award, 85, 132, 133, 159, 169, 174 Across the Atlantic, 85 Adorée, Renée, 40, 44, 47 A Farewell to Arms (book), 172 A Farewell to Arms (film), 172, 173, 177 All Quiet on the Western Front (book), 116, 117, 156, 169 All Quiet on the Western Front (film), 103, 107, 109, 125, 137, 138, 158, 167, 168, 173, 177 Anderson, Maxwell, 34, 35, 56, 57, 122 Ayres, Lew, 122, 160

B Big Parade, ix, x, 25, 31, 35–37, 39–53, 55–57, 59–61, 69, 74, 75, 77, 78, 86, 99, 105, 120, 131, 136, 154

“The Big Parade” (short story), 35 Biro, Lajos, 145, 154 Black Void, 115, 125, 126, 156 Blasco Ibanez, Vicente, 12–16, 18, 19, 24, 28 Borzage, Frank, 85, 171–173, 175–177 Bow, Clara, 73, 74, 77, 78, 80, 84, 121 Brendel, El, 74 Brenon, Herbert, 121 The Bride of Frankenstein, 87 Browning, Tod, 160

C Cavalcade, 132, 135, 136 Chandu the Magician, 144 Chaney, Lon, 57, 59 The Circus , 85 Clarke, May, 109, 112 Clive, Colin, 90, 103 The Coconuts , 103

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 R. Copping, The Great War in American and British Cinema, 1918–1938, Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60671-8

193

194

INDEX

Cooper, Gary, 76, 85 The Crowd, 41 D Dark Victory, 154 The Dawn Patrol , 98, 126 Del Rio, Dolores, 56 Devine, Andy, 162, 167 Douglass, Kent (Douglass Montgomery), 109 E Edeson, Arthur, 109, 123, 124 F Fighting the Flying the Circus , 68 Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 174, 175 Florey, Robert, 103 Ford, John, 120 The Fountainhead, 41 The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, 12, 13, 15–19, 21–30, 35, 42, 46, 55, 60, 126, 127, 129, 173, 177 Four Sons , 120 Frankenstein, 87, 114, 160 Freund, Karl, 124 G Garrett, George, 31 Gilbert, John, 40, 43–45, 57 The Girl Who Stayed at Home, 4 Grand Illusion, 89 Griffith, D.W., 3, 4, 10 Gundrey, V. Gareth, 102, 103 H Hall, Mordaunt, 48, 60, 79, 100, 111, 112, 127

Harlow, Jean, 96–98, 100–102 Hayes, Helen, 133, 173 The Heart of Humanity, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 69, 84 Hearts of the World, 10 Hell’s Angels , 88, 94, 97, 98, 100–103, 110, 123 Holubar, Allen, 4, 5, 7, 8, 69 Hughes, Howard, 33, 94–97, 99, 101, 102, 121

I Ingram, Rex, ix, 12, 15–20, 22–26, 28, 30 Inside the Lines , 1 The Invisible Man, 87, 141, 168

J Jordan, Charlotte Brewster, 13, 15 Journey’s End, x, 86, 88–93, 102–110, 113, 125, 126, 128, 132, 154, 159, 167 Journey’s End (play), 88, 89, 91

K Keith-Johnson, Colin, 104 King, John, 162, 166, 168 King of Jazz, 120 King, Rodney, 153 The Kiss , 122 Korda, Alexander, 143–145, 149, 151, 154

L Laemmle, Carl, 116, 120, 124 Laemmle, Carl Jr., 116, 121, 122, 155, 159 Lasky, Jessie, 70 Lee, Arthur Gould, 66, 76

INDEX

The Legion of the Condemned, 85 Leigh, Vivian, 154 Lloyd, Frank, 132 London Films, 143, 154 Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis , 13 Lowe, Edmund, 55, 144 Lucky Star, 172

M The Magician, 17 Mankiewicz, Joseph L., 174, 175 Mannequin, 175 March, Joseph Moncure, 96, 103 Massey, Raymond, 146, 148 Mathis, June, 12, 15–17, 22 Maugham, W. Somerset, 166 McLaglen, Victor, 56 Men Must Fight , 131–133, 135–138, 140, 143, 146–148, 151 Men Must Fight , x Menzies, William Cameron, 144 Milestone, Lewis, 85, 121, 159 The Mortal Storm, 172

N No Greater Glory, 172

O The Old Dark House, 87, 88

P Perry, Harry, 73 Peter Pan, 121 Phillips, Dorothy, 4 Plumes , 31, 32, 34, 35, 37, 39, 40, 54, 58, 116 Putnam, George Palmer, 70

195

R Rasputin and the Mad Monk, 132 Remarque, Erich Maria, x, 15, 33, 86, 116–121, 125, 128, 129, 155–157, 160, 164, 167, 169–173, 175 Rickenbacker, Eddie, 64–68, 71, 76 The Road Back, 88, 114, 123, 155–157, 160–163, 165–169, 173, 175–177 The Road Back (book), 160, 171 S Saunders, John Monk, 70, 71 Saville, Victor, 154 Schallert, Edwin, 42, 48, 83, 100, 127, 133, 165, 176 Schulberg, Bud, 72 Selwyn, Edgar, 133, 134, 138–140 The Service Star, 69 Seventh Heaven, 85, 172, 177 Sherriff, R.C., 86, 88–92, 102, 105–107, 117, 118, 121, 122, 159, 160, 162, 166, 168, 174 Sherwood, Robert E., 80, 107, 108, 110, 111 Show Boat , 88 Sloman, Edward, 164 The Son of Kong , 158, 160 Stallings, Laurence, 31, 32, 36, 49, 50, 57, 70, 116, 122 Stone, Lewis, 133, 135 Sullavan, Margaret, 174, 176 Summerville, Slim, 123, 162 Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans , 85 T Taylor, Robert, 174 Thalberg, Irving, 35–37, 43 Things to Come, x, 132, 141–144, 146, 148–151

196

INDEX

Three Comrades (book), 169 Tone, Franchot, 174 Tuttle, Frank, 167 Two Arabian Knights , 121 U Universal Fraternity, 153 V Valentino, Rudolph, 17, 28, 30 Veidt, Conrad, 154 Vidor, King, ix, 36–53, 56, 57, 75, 76, 131 W Walsh, Raoul, 36, 55–60, 62, 131 Waterloo Bridge, 88, 107–114 Waterloo Bridge (play), 107 Wellman, William A., 70–78, 80, 82, 84–86

Wellman, William Jr., 70–75 Whale, James, ix–xi, 87–89, 91–94, 96, 97, 99, 102–105, 108–114, 125, 129, 141, 155, 159–169, 172, 176, 177 What Price Glory (film), 34–36, 44, 45, 55–57, 59–61, 69, 74, 86, 120, 131 What Price Glory (play), 122 Wheen, A.W., 118, 156, 157, 169 When Husbands Flirt , 72 Williams, Michael, 77 Wimperis, Arthur, 154 Wings , 69, 70, 72–86, 94, 95, 98, 99, 101, 105, 120, 127 Wynyard, Diana, 132, 133, 135–137, 140

Y Young, Robert, 133, 174