Grapevine Video is a rather splendid organisation, based somewhere in Arizona, which publishes DVDs of (mostly) silent movies. They have a talent for finding movies that are otherwise unobtainable, and their back-catalogue includes that remarkable film The Heart of Humanity, in which vile Hun Erich von Stroheim hurls a baby out of the window. This month’s selection of new discs includes a real oddity, She Goes to War of 1929, directed by Henry King and starring Eleanor Boardman.
It’s a film from the least satisfactory period of film history, the hiatus between sound and silent. This one gives the impression of having been made as a silent film, and then re-processed, with music, sound effects and a very few words of dialogue, to fit in with the new fashion for sound films. But with the dialogue so sparse, no inter-titles, and signs of heavy editing. The motivations of the characters are sometimes incomprehensible.
We start off behind the lines, with womenfolk mourning their men. Then one of the women, for reasons not quite clear, but I suppose it’s because of love, dons a uniform, pretends to be a man, and heads off to the front with her boyfriend. When there, she’s a bit of a liability, screaming and running away when the bombardment starts. In a while, she’s picked up by a tank, and there’s a terrific sequence when the tank is caught in a fire, and the people inside are roasting.
As I’ve said, this seems to be a heavily edited, and maybe drastically cut version, concentrating on the action sequences rather than the characterisation, which is rather left to fend for itself. The film has a definite style, though. Lots of high-impact close-ups, swirling darkness and raging fires, and the kind of fluid camera movement which you got in late silents, but which went out with the talkies.
It’s worth seeing, if only as an oddity, but if you’re only buying one WW1 feature from Grapevine, make it The Heart of Humanity. Another film in their catalogue well worth seeing is A Girl in Every Port a very early work by Howard Hawks (director of His Girl Friday, Rio Bravo, and quite a few more of the very best Hollywood films) It stars Louise Brooks.