World wars and private wars, the chortling and weeping of the "glory racket," it all comes out of Raoul Walsh’s double-barreled shotgun. Roistering keeps you sane in a "civilization dedicated to destruction," Captain Flagg (Victor McLaglen) and Sergeant Quirt (Edmund Lowe) make it a career in and out of battlegrounds from China to France. The long line of soldiers from The Big Parade marches on, until one cross-eyed doughboy blows a noisy raspberry and the commander demonstrates the noble art of the slow burn. At the Gallic tavern, Flagg dons an apron and reveals a harem of belles tattooed on his bulging forearms: "Sorta international relations," he sheepishly explains to the innkeeper’s coquettish daughter (Dolores Del Rio), who is not placated ("Go jomp in ze canal!"). A steady stream of roughhouse pirouettes, yet once the characters hit the trenches Walsh composes as fiercely as Griffith with bayonet and barbed wire. (One panorama of relentless explosions tears into the barrelhouse atmosphere like flickers of Nash’s The Mule Track.) A zigzagging POV tracking shot for the sloshed grunt on his speedy motorcycle, rapid flipbook intertitles for the furious "frog with the squawk," the trajectory of a garter from under the heroine’s skirt to above the insignia on her lover’s sleeve. "This is the best war I have ever attended," exults the Captain, back from the saloon and before a mirror in the classic Napoleon pose; the young lieutenant (Leslie Fenton) meanwhile witnesses real madness and wails the titular lament amid clouds of poison gas. It builds to the cinderblock mugs of McLaglen and Lowe staring at each other from across a table, freshly carved archetypes of rascally rivalry: "Why don’t you be a good guy and blow your brains out?" Hawks is just around the corner with a polished analysis (A Girl in Every Port), Ford has the official remake in 1952, Altman the unofficial one in 1970. With William V. Mong, Phyllis Haver, Elena Jurado, Barry Norton, Sammy Cohen, and Ted McNamara. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce