4 November 2000 | Ron Oliver
Lon Chaney - Semper Fidelis
A tough-as-shoe-leather sergeant patiently molds a rambunctious, rowdy youth into a sturdy Marine.
Available again after decades of obscurity, TELL IT TO THE MARINES is a wonderful, rousing paean to America's famous fighting force. Produced with the full cooperation of the Corps, it surges with heartfelt emotion & genuine excitement. It is the kind of film which should be shown to skeptics who doubt the power of silent cinema to satisfy a modern audience.
Lon Chaney is beyond praise as the hard-boiled Sergeant O'Hara, who loves the Corps and all that is stands for, but still has a tender heart and a good soul hidden beneath his rough exterior. This was Chaney's favorite role and he plays it without any of the extravagant make-up for which he was so famous. A superb character actor, Chaney became the parts he played. Completely believable, he fascinates the viewer into forgetting that this is an actor they are watching. His early death robbed him from rightfully enjoying the accolades & acclaim which other actors, like Chaplin, reaped in old age.
TELL IT TO THE MARINES provided the celebrity-making role for young William Haines and in it he practically revels in the silly billy antics that would dominate the rest of his movie career. In 1930, only 4 years after the release of this film, Chaney would be dead at the age of 47 and Haines would be the industry's top box office male. Things move fast in Hollywood.
Eleanor Boardman is perfect as the crisp Navy nurse who harbors tender feelings for both men. Carmel Myers is the exotic, albeit flea ridden, native girl who tempts Haines. Warner Oland has a small, flashy role as a despicable Chinese bandit. Movie mavens will recognize Willie Fung unbilled as a servant translating for Oland.
And what was the Marines' reaction to this film? They loved it, and especially Chaney's performance in it and he became the first actor to be awarded an honorary membership in the Corps.
The film's shipboard sequences were filmed on the mighty USS California, later to be sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Where was Lon Chaney when they needed him?
TELL IT TO THE MARINES has been restored to pristine condition & given a rousing new score by Robert Israel.