“Burns, are you an American citizen?”
“Sure! Do I look like a Persian?”
“Ever been married?”
“Not me! I'm America's sweetheart!”
“Ever been in jail?”
“Well, Maje old kid... now I'm a Marine.”
“You're damned right you are! Stand up!”
I find silent films about war to be very interesting. Several silent films about World War I have actual footage of the front lines and soldiers. I think I find war in silent films interesting because we see so many films set in the 1940s about World War II and so many newer films about it as well that it is rare to find people who have watched silent films about the First World War. To me films about WWI have more of a tragic impact because something like that had never happened. Never before have so many young men lost their lives or came back changed or a whole generation of men and women changed. You can see that change in several war/military themed films in the later 1920s. Tell It to the Marines came out in 1926, seven years after peace time.
Skeet Burns (William Haines) is on a train headed to San Francisco to a marine training camp. According to the title card Skeet’s leaving is the biggest improvement to the city of Kansas. On the train he meets Colonel Wilcox. Skeet does not know who the man is and is a little fresh to him. Skeet drops his marine card. He tells the colonel that he is going for the free ride so he can go to Tia Juana to the races.
When the train stops in San Francisco, Sgt O’Hara (Lon Chaney) is there waiting. Col. Wilcox tells O’Hara about Skeet. O’Hara runs after Skeet but he makes it onto the train before the sergeant can catch him. O’Hara tells a cop that he is not worried Skeet will be back. Skeet runs out of money and goes to the base.
O’Hara gives Skeet a hard time. During group training he asks who wants to clean the General’s car. Skeet is the only cocky one to raise his hand. The “car” is actually a carrier full of rocks. The next day Skeet pretends to be sick so he can get out of training. He is taken to the sick the bay where he is looked over by the pretty nurse named Norma Dale (Eleanor Boardman). Right away he manages to make her upset over something. O’Hara comes in to check on Skeet. Norma tells O’Hara Skeet will be alright and he puts the faker back to work. O’Hara likes Norma. He tries everything he can to make him like her. He is nice and sweet when none of the other men are looking.
Skeet asks Norma to go out to town with him. O’Hara sees him ask and he thinks Skeet is bothering Norma. O’Hara makes Skeet the chauffer into town. O’Hara cuts Skeet loose once Norma walks away. Skeet takes Norma out but she does not like him she keeps asking him to take her back to the base. O’Hara told Skeet to be back by 10:30 pm. Skeet crashes the when he tries to kiss Norma. They take a train car back and poor Norma winds up paying for them since Skeet does not have change in his pocket. When they get back to the base Norma is so upset she tells O’Hara about what Skeet did. Since O’Hara likes Norma he throws Skeet in the brig for what he did to her.
Norma goes to O’Hara the next day. She tells him she did not mean to squeal on Skeet. She wants O’Hara want to give Skeet a chance she does not want to be the one who hinders him from advancing. O’Hara tells her the base is not a kindergarten there needs to be discipline. A soldier comes to tell O’Hara that Skeet is ready to head to sea. Norma apologizes to Skeet. He really likes her he promises to “make good” while he is away. She has O’Hara promise to help Skeet stay out of trouble.
Skeet gets into more trouble than when he was at home. He gets into a fight with a champion boxer on the ship. He wants to jump ship because he can no longer stand O’Hara. He gets into a fight with a local man on the island they are stationed at over a woman when he was told by O’Hara to stay away from the locals. The troops head to China. Norma is there as well. She is upset with Skeet for what he did on the island. Skeet is upset with O’Hara for telling her what happened.
Skeet and the regiment are forced into battle with the Chinese in a small town. Skeet becomes a hero.
As you can tell Norma and O’Hara have a whole new respect for Skeet when they arrive back home. And Norma and Skeet wind up together.
I could not get over how awesome Lon Chaney was. He was perfect as the rough Sgt. O’Hara. He had the look and the attitude of what we would think a sergeant in the Marines would look like. This is the first time I have ever seen William Haines or Eleanor Boardman in a film. William Haines was adorable, he did not make a believable marine but he was fantastic. I cannot wait to watch more of his films. Eleanor Boardman I have heard of and seen before in fashion photographs. She was good I would not mind seeing her in other films.
Tell It to the Marines is a very good silent film. It was a perfect mix of comedy and lightness and drama. The plot of the bad boy trying to be good for the girl can be cheesy and annoying but here it is perfect. I now count Tell It to the Marines as one of my favorite silent films I enjoyed it very much.