Starring: Lon Chaney, William Haines, Eleanor Boardman
Plot: U.S. Marine Sergeant O’Hara has his hands full training raw recruits, one of whom, ‘Skeets’ Burns, is a particular thorn in his side. If Burns’s lackadaisical approach to the military were not bad enough, he also makes advances on nurse Nora Dale, whom Sergeant O’Hara secretly loves.
Tell It To The Marines stars the brilliant Lon Chaney wearing his actual own face. Indeed, it is a choppy fetching face, distinctively colorful eyes, awry underlying teeth; greatly sensible and overly compelling. Throwing away the highly-wrought character make-ups which brought him so much acclaim and portrays to a small degree the aligned character of a Sereant of Marines. As a matter of fact this is one of his best character roles (if not his best), and he brilliantly “makes himself O’Hara and not Lon Chaney.”
William Haines (one of MGM’s most important male stars) plays a young man who hitches a free ride on a train of recruits heading for boot camp, with no intention of entering training, just to get closer to the racetrack. O’Hara puts him through the ringer in basic training, determined to make a man of him. A reluctant recruit, who seems to get into an inordinate amount of trouble, battles stubbornly with the by the book O’Hara throughout his initial enlistment period. Then, both become engaged in a war conflict, battling side by side, such that each earns the other’s respect. This one utilizes a love triangle to spice up their conflict through the years, with Norma Dale (Eleanor Boardman), a Navy nurse at the base. The picture is full of action, laughs and holds a lot of love interest. In addition, the photography is great.
The adviser for the film was the San Diego base commander, General Smedley Butler. A legendary tough as nails Marine; he and Chaney became friends. Butler never fought in a major war, but won two Medals of Honor fighting in skirmishes around the globe. General Douglas MacArthur described Butler as “one of the really great generals in American history.” This film is unequivocal in its approval for the Marines (and vice versa). Chaney was even made an honorary Marine. Though the film took 57 days to shoot and a production cost of nearly $500,000, it was a great success for both the three stars of the film and MGM, earning the largest profit of all Chaney’s MGM films. Next to Flesh and the Devil, it was MGM’s second most profitable film of the year and the high profits, combined with massive critical acclaim, which would lead to Chaney being casted in several more aligned rolls.
Chaney’s real appearance was seen so rarely, it is in some way, the quality of a disguise. Silent film acting is dependent on a actor’s articulation in screen-filling close-up’s. As a child of deaf-mute parents, Chaney “had a deaf face” meaning he could communicate eloquently through his facial expression. The story is little more than a lighthearted p.r. job for the USMC, but Chaney himself absolutely dominates the picture, and for that very reason, in Tell It To The Marines, Chaney conceives a deeply compassionate man, set apart from 80 years of “tough guy with a heart of gold” clichÃ©s. It certainly is one of the gems of Chaney’s career. This is, nevertheless, a superb example of the brilliant accomplishments of the late silent era. Just look deeply into the brilliant Lon Chaney’s eyes.