TELL IT TO THE MARINES debuted in New York City on December 23, 1926 and was the second highest grossing film of 26/27, also star Lon Chaney’s biggest film of his career. MGM brought in a Marine general, Smedley D, Butler for technical asistance. Three films were shot concurrently, Pathe’s THE FIGHTING MARINE(with Gene TUNNEY) and Fox’s WHAT PRICE GLORY, leading to disagreements over who could claim the rights to the name of The U. S. Marines.
Lon Chaney, sans makeup, played drill Sgt. O’Hara and William Haines is “Skeet” Burns, a recruit he’s trying to train. Burns slips away early and heads to Tia Juana for horse races, but returns to sign up. An early card describes Skeet in this manner. “The biggest improvement to Kansas City was when Skeet left to join the Marines.”
We have a love triangle develop when Skeet spots a Navy nurse, Norma Dale)Eleanor Boardman), and tries an assortment of tricks to impress her. She rebuffs him at every turn. O’Hara is interested as well. She seems to succumb when she prevails on O’Hara to take Skeet along on a training cruise. O’Hara is reluctant because of Skeet’s attitude and things don’t go well when he picks a fight with a sailor, who just happens to be the ship’s boxing champ.
We next find the pair part of a mission to Tondo Island, “six miles this side of Hell,” where a native girl is attracted to Skeet. He changes his mind, precipitating a brawl with the natives and rescue by O’Hara. Norma gets wind of it and a breaks up with Skeet by letter. He blames O’Hara, wrongly, for telling to improve his chances with the nurse.
All three end up further into the Pacific, all the way to Shanghai where Norma and her fellow nurses are dealing with an epidemic. A bandit army threatens the city and fighting breaks out. where Skeet distinguishes himself after O’Hara is wounded and he refuses to leave his boss until they are rescued.
All’s well in the end.
George W. Hill directs this film which some say isn’t much more than a Marine recruitment film. I enjoyed it. Lon Chaney without makeup is one thing that made it most interesting.
For more overlooked movies, drop in on Todd Mason, Tuesdays, over at SWEET FREEDOM.