While war movies are often viewed as the exclusive property of men (with the lover, driver, nurse or waiting wife sometimes thrown into the mix), there were quite a few silent era films that allowed women to get in on the action.
The prerequisite for inclusion? The female lead cannot be passive or in a support role, she must partake in combat. This month, we are going to be looking at women as assassins, generals, doughboys and snipers.
We are also going to be examining the reasons why the filmmakers chose to put women front and center in this genre. The answer is complicated and well worth discussing. As an added bonus, every single one of these films will be directed by a big name of the silent era.
Review #1: Assassin
Judith of Bethulia (1914) – Judith tries to save her village from the Assyrians. All she needs is a sexy dress and a very sharp sword. D.W. Griffith directs.
Review #2: General
Joan the Woman (1916) – The English are running roughshod over the French army. Someone needs to stop them. This looks like woman’s work! Cecil B. DeMille directs.
Review #3: Doughboy
She Goes to War (1929) – A society girl heads to France to support the troops during the First World War. She gets a lot closer to the action when she dons a uniform and goes into battle. Henry King directs.
Review #4: Sniper
The Forty-First (1927) – A Bolshevik sniper with forty kills misses the forty-first. Charged with delivering him to headquarters, things go wrong when they are shipwrecked together and a doomed romance starts. Yakov Protazanov directs.
That’s a pretty good idea. You don’t see a lot of war movies with strong female leads of any sort, let a lone female soldiers (even in films dealing with conflicts in which women were allowed to participate). I didn’t realize how many there were in the Silent Era. I do have one of my own that I’ve written (and there is a very, VERY faint chance that it might actually get made, hopefully) which actually has several strong female characters (more specifically, the main cast includes three female soldiers and a female army doctor).
It wasn’t super common but it happened much more than in the talkies. Some of the films have the “woman in war” thing as a gimmick and some have it as an integral part of the story. It’s not all feminist but it is very interesting.
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