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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

One Hell Of A Great War 1932 Revisited

Wilmington, Delaware's V.F.W. Supplies Uniform and Drum Corps For Downtown Bally Parade

The Big Drive (1932) Is Precode's Censor-Proof Bloodbath

Hell broke loose in December 1932 when indie shockumentary The Big Drive went Over The Top to show a public what ferocity we and allies dealt during the Great War over a decade past. If this wasn't precode in a rawest way, I don't know what was, but like Bring 'Em Back Alive and others of jungle derivation, little is mentioned of these buried offshoots. Compiler of The Big Drive was A.L. Rule, a WWI vet who was said to have scoured worldwide vaults to gather "withheld till now" proof of man's inhumanity to man. The menu was blissfully simple to sell: Glory and Hell ... Blood and Mud ... Clubbing ... Stabbing. Who wouldn't want bountiful meal of that? In fact, enough did to immediately call forth imitators. Within weeks of The Big Drive came Forgotten Men, while ahead of it was Four Aces, which didn't catch gore wave mostly for a title indistinct as to content. The Film Daily (1/23/33) noted The Big Drive's "surprise business,"  showmen in the know saw unbound violence as the catnip, and where you couldn't get away with such let-loose savagery in features, there was no stopping fact-based recount of horrors in battle ... how else to warn society against future conflagration? ("Strong propaganda against war" said The Film Daily's approving review)

NYC's Mayfair Theatre Barb-Wires Marquee To Slam Over Blood-Guts Content 
Drunk on profits Albert Rule announced his sequel, The Death Parade, which was even more to the point, but could he move fast enough to preserve the fad and outrun copycats? Major pitch of The Big Drive was trench cameramen having lost lives by score to capture carnage for later and stunned amusement. Ninety-six died, said The New York Sun, to which Big Drive distributor First Division offered corrective: it was "only forty-five." Why niggle over detail so long as we got men bayoneting one another in full view? ("Seen are the flashing bayonets as they stab into the gullets of enemy soldiers," said The Motion Picture Herald's breathless review) Wouldn't one or other of combatants turn a weapon on those photographing them at lethal work? But no, this stuff was the McCoy, said Rule, coming as it did from sealed storage of both US and allied gvts. If The Big Drive was good enough for members of Congress to screen (The Hollywood Reporter, 2/28/33), who was anyone to question veracity? Local censors did an expected handspring, wanted gorier footage excised, but how to answer American Legion posts stood firm behind the pic, each arguing that we must see war as it so horribly is. Distributor First Division offered Big Drive bally ideas far afield of good taste: " ... have a shell-shocked veteran simulate a seizure." Whatever their social responsibility, showmen left press watchdogs to sort it all out. Uppermost was ticket-selling --- "Got them in and they liked it. What More?" asked Walt Bradley of the Moon Theatre in Neligh, Nebraska. Indeed, what more?


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Do these features still exist?

6:52 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

What gets me is that the theater booked a Clark & McCullough with it! Of all things! Well, they got the senselessness of war and the senselessness of Bobby and Paul, anyway.

I thought it was interesting that there is no producer or studio credit in the newspaper ad, which usually means an indie, and I appreciate your mention of First Division. This was the United Artists of the minors, taking on promising features and shorts, and sparing the producers from scaring up states-rights bookings themselves. First Division's major claim to film history is the establishment of the very successful "March of Time" magazine shorts. The series moved to RKO and then Fox, but its original distributor was First Division.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I can't imagine anything more obscene than watching actual footage of men in combat "bayoneting each other in the gullet" presented for amusement.

I have an extremely high tolerance but that is out.

It makes a mockery of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of those killed filming such scenes.

Thanks for reporting on this, however.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

I know nothing of the history of such films, but could this and the copycats you noted have been a precursor to the gory "traffic safety" films of a couple decades later?

2:19 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Never heard of this compilation film. Unlike many, I admit that I would have attended -- It may be of questionable taste, but I do find a fascination in the otherwise unseen.

3:03 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A few times I've seen genuine footage creepily interpolated into a fictional film; that feels worse than a shocker that at least does lip service to the reality. Real aerial and navel combat footage turns up in war movies; that it highlights hardware and not the human airmen and sailors mitigates it so long as one doesn't think too hard.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Hire a vet fake a seizure... I gotta give these guys credit for marketing ideas. Good for the VFW for wanting the movie to run uncensored -- give people the truth about war.

5:31 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer explores WWI documentary footage:

A. L. Rule may have said that the footage in “The Big Drive” was “the McCoy,” but I suspect that that was part of the ballyhoo, like getting a “shell-shocked war veteran” to have a seizure in front of the theater.

Rule passed himself off as a “colonel,” though he was never more than a private in the American Expeditionary Force. Given that such a title was usually appropriated by those in show business or politics, it could hardly be said to be an honorary one.

In truth, the remarkable thing about most World War I combat footage is how devoid of it is of what would pass for dramatic thrills in the usual melodrama. There are torn-up battlefields, distant explosions, big guns being fired, troops sheltering in trenches, and dead bodies. With machine guns deadly at half a mile and shrapnel cutting down everything within a three hundred-yard radius, it was difficult to get close-up, blood-and guts-footage with the equipment of the time. Most compilations mix in the real stuff with shots from training or maneuvers.

There are also re-creations. For example, in 1919 a film came out entitled, “The Lost Battalion,” about members of the of New York 77th Division who had been cut off and surrounded in the Argonne Forest by the Germans. It was supervised by Major General Robert Alexander, commander of the 77th division, and features many of the soldiers who survived the famous action. Even the carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, that got a message out from the beleaguered battalion, despite the loss of an eye and a leg, was used in the film.

In his book, “The War, the West, and the Wilderness,” Kevin Brownlow says that, for all of its flaws, dramatic and otherwise, “The Lost Battalion” was an honest attempt to recreate history and deserves more than the obscurity it has enjoyed. He also notes the following:

“The atmosphere might have been stronger with an entirely nonprofessional cast. Few of the details seem wrong, although the Germans wear helmets of a most peculiar shape, and the battle scenes are thin in the surviving print (at the Library of Congress) because the close-combat footage was cut out and used as newsreel in a 1933 compilation, “The Big Drive.”

So much, then, for “The first actual hand-to-hand trench fighting ever shown!” Even so, you’ve provided a fascinating glimpse of American showmanship at its most ferocious.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I ask these features still exist?

6:13 AM  

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