While working as a freelance newsreel cameraman and cinema projectionist, King Vidor made his directorial debut with a couple of short films in 1913. It wouldn’t be until 1918 that he received his big break by being hired to be the director and screenwriter of ten short films produced by child activist Judge Willis Brown. Brown had previously gained notoriety with his work in creating “Boys Cities” (progressive shelters for homeless children) in the Midwest and when he opened the Boy City Film Company in Culver City, California, he ensured it was part film studio, part homeless shelter. Brown hired Vidor to make films on a wide variety of issues, such as juvenile delinquency and racism. BUD’S RECRUIT was the first of these films, with the young cast hired from local newsboys, and tackles the topics of patriotism and pacifism in a humorous, if naïve manner.
Bud (Wallace Brennan) is an enthusiastic patriot in a family of pacifists. He partakes in “Meatless Mondays”, has numerous propaganda posters in his room, and even joins a local youth militia (who ruthlessly attack a scarecrow marked as “the Kizer” in practice for battles against the Germans). Bud is deeply bothered by his older brother Reggie (Robert Gordon), who refuses to sign up for the army and is part of the Peace Society run by their mother. When a draft notice comes for Reggie, Bud comes up with a creative solution to ensure that the family is represented in the fight. A light-hearted piece of war-time propaganda, BUD’S RECRUIT nevertheless strikes an odd tone when viewing it in a modern setting, as the tragic consequences of World War One leave their mark. It is interesting to note, Vidor’s cinematic opinion on the war was considerably changed by the time he made THE BIG PARADE in 1925 which set the standard for war films with a pacifist note.