My Classic Movie Pick: Tell it to the Marines, For The Chaney Blogathon

My movie pick this week is an oldie, a silent film, but definitely a goodie.  1926’s Tell it to the Marines, stars Lon Chaney, in a role where he looks like himself, not playing a role with transforming make-up to hide his real face.    This post is for The Chaney Blogathon, hosted by Movies, Silently, and The Last Drive-In.    Be sure to visit these two blogs  to read other  great posts about actor Lon Chaney and his son, Lon Chaney Jr.  The Chaney Blogathon When our oldest enlisted with the USMC in 2010, I found myself  reading  all about the Marine Corps, any materials  that I could get my hands on.  I even bought a cd of Marine Corps music when I was at the Marine Corps Recruit  Depot in San Diego, when my son graduated from his boot camp.  I also began watching classic movies that featured Marines in the plot.  According to Thomas Rick’s excellent book, Making the Corps, the United States Marine Corps  had an uncanny ability to promote themselves with  the cooperation of Hollywood.  I believe that there are more movies about Marines and the USMC then the other military branches. After devouring Rick’s book, and another great one by Frank Schaeffer, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story about Love and the United States  Marine Corps, I found that Turner Classic Movies would be airing their silent film, Tell it to the Marines, late on a Sunday night.  I tivoed it, watched it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.    Tell it to the Marines Poster 1

William Haines  plays Skeet Burns, a young man who decides to join the Marines to get a free train trip to San Diego, CA.  When the train arrives in San Diego, Skeet hops off of it and gets on a train bound for Tijuana, Mexico to go and see the horse races.  Sergeant O’Hara(Lon Chaney) arrives at the train station to collect the new recruits and he is irritated that one Skeet Burns isn’t present, as his name is on the list.  Days go by and Skeet arrives back in San Diego, hungry and out of money, so he reluctantly goes to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and is placed in Sergeant O’Hara’s capable hands for boot camp.

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

As Skeet learns the ropes of boot camp, we see him flirting with a Navy nurse(Eleanor Boardman) much to the dismay of Sergeant O’Hara.  We learn that he has feelings for Nurse Dale but because he has kept quiet as to how he feels about her, he might lose her to Skeet, an upstart who is full of himself.   Here’s a clip illustrating Skeet visiting Nurse Dale’s examination room claiming that he is sick, his attempts to flirt with her, and the Sergeant coming in to get him out of there.

Sgt. O'Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Sgt. O’Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

As weeks go on, Skeet becomes a passable Marine, and Nurse Dale is smitten with him.  She asks Sergeant O’Hara if Skeet can be included in a Naval Training  exercise and reluctantly O’Hara allows Skeet to be a part of it.  Skeet, goofing off on the ship, angers a sailor and agrees to box with him not knowing that the sailor is the  Navy Heavyweight Champion!

Sgt. O'Hara scolding Skeet

Sgt. O’Hara scolding Skeet

About to say, "Drop and give me 20!"

About to say, “Drop and give me 20!”

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet in the ring

Skeet in the ring

Next up, the Marines are sent to the island of Tondo and a naval installation that is there.   The days are boring but there are island girls, especially one gal called Zaya(Carmel Myers) and she catches Skeet’s eye.  Before he  gets too serious with Zaya, Skeet breaks it off with her, which angers her and causes a fight between the islanders and the military men.   O’Hara has to rescue Skeet.  Rumors about Skeet and  Zaya get back to Nurse Dale and she breaks up with Skeet.

The Asiatic Squadron soon asks for our intrepid Marines, and coincidentally Nurse Dale is there, in China, working with a group of Navy nurses.  Will this being in close proximity of one another cause Skeet and Nurse Dale to patch things up?  Will Sergeant O’Hara make his feelings known to Nurse Dale?  An evil band of thugs is on the prowl and also have their eyes on the American nurses and their outpost.  Will the Marines rescue the nurses and their patients in time?  Will Skeet learn to follow orders and show respect to Sergeant O’Hara?  Will Sergeant O’Hara recognize the strong Marine that Skeet has developed into?

The answers to those questions can only be answered by watching this gem of a silent movie.  The movie has been put on dvd and it is available to purchase through and at  TCM.   The cast does a good job in their specific parts, but Chaney owns this film.  He does a great job portraying a stern, tough as nails, Marine sergeant, who has a secret, soft heart.  There is a touching scene where Sgt. O’Hara is all alone in his tent, looking over memorabilia he has collected through the years of his duty, and we can tell he is torn between telling Nurse Dale how much he loves her, but that would also  mean giving up the main life he knows, that of being a Unites States Marine.  With his well-worn face and expressive eyes, he conveys his emotions perfectly in every scene he is in.

Part of this film was filmed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the shots of the place reminded me of my brief time there.  I don’t think the Depot has changed in its appearance that much from 1926!  The USMC were so pleased with Chaney’s performance of a Marine Sergeant that he was made an honorary Marine after the film was released.  It did great at the box office and I am sure that the Marine Corps hoped it would boost their  enlistment numbers.  I’ll close out my post with a few more shots from Tell it to the Marines.

Sgt. O'Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Sgt. O’Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

TITTM poster 2TITTM poster 3TITTM poster 4


12 responses to this post.

  1. I know this sounds like a strange thing to say, but I never thought a marine movie would be made during the silent era. I thought they were only talkies!

    This sounds like an interesting film and the stills you’ve included look more current than a silent film – if that makes any sense?

    Thanks for reviewing this film. I’d never heard of it otherwise.


  2. Lon Chaney is my favorite silent actor, but this is a hard to find film of his! Thanks for the review and for telling how you got interested in the topic because of your son. And yes, now I see that the Marines were always present in Hollywood!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂


  3. great post. It’s this role, with his “real” face, that I find his most touching and personal. The first of its kind and his portrayal set the standard for the tough movie Sergeant character.


  4. Thank you for writing about a wonderful movie and sharing your family connection. And this is great timing, coming shortly after the Marine Corps’ birthday.


  5. […] Portraits by Jenni – Review of Tell it to the Marines […]


  6. Thanks for bringing a personal angle to your review! Greatly enjoyed it.


  7. […] Portraits by Jenni – Review of Tell it to the Marines […]


  8. Wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing this with us-Cheers Joey


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