(1928)2.5Bruce EderThere are very few silent movies -- especially among action/adventure films -- that can awe twenty-first century viewers with their scope and the humanity of their performances. Howard Higgin's The Leatherneck is one of those few -- indeed, it's comparable to George Stevens' Gunga Din in its moving account of male friendships and the military, and ties that end up thicker and stronger than blood. William Boyd gives a wonderfully understated yet touching performance as a career Marine non-com, who finds himself and his two best buddies, Fuzzy (Alan Hale) and William Calhoun (Robert Armstrong), up to their necks in danger of a particularly personal kind while stationed in Manchuria. But the warm and touching humanity of their performances is matched by the sweep of that narrative, as we get carried effortless from a tragedy on the desert to an account of the lot and lives of these men, from World War I, when Boyd's Joseph Hanlon (nicknamed "Tex") befriended Hale's wretchedly unhappy Otto Schmidt (aka Fuzzy), who was a German prisoner, and met Calhoun in a brawl over Fuzzy's being a German -- and from there, after the war and Fuzzy become an American and enlisting in the Marines, it's on to Vladivostok and then to Manchuria, tied up with ruthless Russian opportunists and impoverished White Russians, and a woman that Tex loves enough to marry. You get a real sense of what soldiering was like in the years before World War II, and a vivid picture of the emotional lives of these men. This reviewer found himself crying at times the first time he saw the movie, over the finely nuanced performances and the exquisitely delineated plot, which never seems utterly fantastic despite the vast distances covered by the various threads that lead to the crisis that opens the movie. And, yet, for all of that seeming seriousness, the movie never loses sight of some measure of humor to lighten the mood -- there are lots of comic antics involving the three comrades, even when they're not brawling, and the dialogue on the title cards isn't stilted at all; when their CO is pondering where they disappeared to, he remarks to the sergeant who wants them charged with desertion, "There's nothing those three birds wouldn't do, EXCEPT desert the outfit." The mood changes between moments such as that, and their life on the post, and scenes of the Russian Revolution and mass executions, are beautifully handled, and the overall effect of this 76 minute movie is to present a kind of vest-pocket epic film, with the best of a serious drama as well. It's one of the very few movies of its type and era in which this reviewer found himself thinking, this should have been longer.