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Film / Tell It to the Marines

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Tell It to the Marines is a 1926 silent film directed by George W. Hill, starring Lon Chaney, William Haines, and Eleanor Boardman.

Skeet Burns (Haines) is a young rapscallion who signs up with the U.S. Marine Corps solely for the free train ticket to San Diego; he's planning to go from there to Tijuana to play the horses. Lacking anything better to do, however, he eventually does report to boot camp. There he comes under the hard hand of Sergeant O'Hara (Chaney). O'Hara, a grizzled veteran drill instructor, is determined to whip the callow, lazy Burns into shape and make him a real Marine.

Further complicating the interaction between O'Hara and Burns is the presence of Norma Dale (Boardman), a beautiful Navy nurse. O'Hara is in love with Norma but she is either unaware of or uninterested in his attentions. The brash, overconfident Burns comes on way too strong and ruins a date with Norma, but she falls for him anyway.


One of the very few films of Lon Chaney's career in which he wasn't wearing makeup and didn't play a monster, lunatic, or criminal. Made with the full cooperation of the Marine Corps and shot on location at the real San Diego Marine base as well as at sea during a real naval exercise.


  • The Cavalry: The Marines arrive in time to rescue the civilians and Navy nurses besieged in Hangchow by bandits.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sergeant O'Hara, who barks at his recruits in order to whip them into shape. He's really got a Hidden Heart of Gold, though, and helps get Norma and Skeet together at the end.
  • Faux-To Guide: A quick throw-away gag has Skeet's tent mate reading a guide on how to go from a corporal to a general. It seems that if you serve a mere, uh, 58 years in the Marines, you'll make it.
  • Just Friends: Poor O'Hara has no shot with Norma, who has placed him squarely in the Friend Zone. It seems a particularly cruel twist of the knife when Norma, complaining to O'Hara of Skeet's shortcomings, wishes that Skeet was "more like you." The expression on O'Hara's face is priceless.
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  • Meet Cute: Norma is the amused nurse who receives a goldbricking Skeet, who's claiming fallen arches to get out of drill.
  • Oh, Crap!: Skeet gets this pretty good when he picks a fight with a sailor, only to be rushed into an impromptu boxing match with said sailor...and then discovering that the sailor he punched is the heavyweight boxing champion of the Navy.
  • Punny Name: The inn where Skeet takes Norma for a disastrous date is called the Come On Inn.
  • Semper Fi: Lon Chaney got made an honorary Marine for this movie. Four years later, when he died of cancer, the Marines sent an honor guard to his funeral.
  • Sergeant Rock: O'Hara is a tough-as-nails drill instructor who will brook no nonsense from his men. He's also a fearless leader in combat.
  • Time Skip: A scene has Skeet and his fellow recruits going out to dig ditches. It cuts to them in Marine dress uniform, indicating that we've skipped forward to the end of boot camp.
  • Title Drop: When the Navy gets a telegram of trouble in Hangchow, a naval officer says "Trouble! Tell it to the Marines!"
  • Traumatic Haircut: Played for Laughs. Skeet climbs into the boot camp barber chair and gives instructions for his hair to be ornately styled, only to be horrified when he gets a Marine buzzcut.
  • Verbal Irony: Skeet confides his plan to skip out on the Marines to an old man on the train. The old man says "My boy, they'd have as much chance to make a Marine of me as they would of you." The old man, unbeknownst to Skeet, is a Marine Corps general. He alerts O'Hara to Skeet's presence on the train.
  • Yellowface
    • Everybody on Tondo Island looks Polynesian...except for the hot native girl who comes on to Skeet, who is obviously white, and sticks out like a sore thumb in the crowd scene.
    • And then there's Warner Oland as the Chinese bandit. Oland was from Sweden but was just starting out on a long career of stealing roles from Chinese actors, most famously in the Charlie Chan series.

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