Sunday, May 29, 2011

William Haines

TCM is continuing its Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports features during the Memorial Day weekend. The Import is a Polish movie about World War II, which I haven't seen before. As for the silent, it's obviously not about World War II, since they stopped making silents before that. It's mostly not about war; just a brief military adventure: Tell It to the Marines, airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM.

William Haines plays Skeet Burns, a man from the east who shows up in San Diego looking to get to Mexico, although he winds up in the Marines at Camp Pendleton. Skeet is a brash know-it-all type, which doesn't endear him to his commanding officer, Sgt. O'Hara (Lon Chaney). Making matters worse is the fact that Pvt. Burns falls in love with the unit's nurse, Norma (Eleanor Dale). In and of itself, that wouldn't be so bad, except that Norma is also being pursued by the good sergeant, who, having been there longer, has obviously been going after Norma for quite a bit longer. Eventually the Marines get sent off to China to look after the US diplomatic mission there, and wind up as part of a minor civil war, where Pvt. Burns gets a chance to make a hero out of himself....

Tell It to the Marines is a fairly nice silent comedy, with its one big flaw being that it's typical. William Haines was consistently playing the same type of character: somebody who thinks he's smarter than everybody else, who makes the lives of the people around him a mess because of it, but in the last reel gets the chance to save the day and become the hero. Indeed, Haines would go on to make two similar movies set in other branches of the military; West Point and Navy Blues. The details may change, but the formula stays the same. To be fair, that's in no small part because it was a winning formula. It's something that translates easily to the screen, and was as a result quite popular back in its day. It still translates fairly well 85 years later. William Haines may not be remembered the way that the more slapstick comedians of the silent era are, but he presented a pleasant, likeable acting that deserves to be seen even to this day. Lon Chaney, using his own face instead of being the "Man of 1,000 Faces", is also a treat to watch. Sadly, Tell It to the Marines doesn't seem to be on DVD.

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