Published on September 21st, 2007 | by Chris0
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
If there's one thing I've learned from watching movies for this site, it's the respect and admiration a lot of critics have for director Lewis Milestone. In 1930's All Quiet on the Western Front, he explores the experience of a young German who eagerly signs up for duty in the army during the first World War, and is quickly shown exactly what it means to be a solider. It's based on the novel by the same name (which I have yet to read) by Erich Maria Remarque.
I've basically outlined the story for you already. A German schoolboy named Kat (Louis Wolheim) joins up for the army after a rather overplayed exposition by his teacher. Really this opening sequence almost put me off the movie entirely. The overzealous preaching of the teacher, coupled with the giddy "oooo sign me up!" actions of the kids, topped off by the trashing of the classroom in excitement and patriotic fury... it's a bit much. But I suspect that's on purpose, just to show how over the top a lot of propaganda and flag waving can get.
But he signs up, and is shipped off from his peaceful little German burb, to a nearly decimated city someplace else near the front, and is quickly initiated into soldierhood. The shells start falling nearly as soon as they're off the train, and some of his squad mates meet their doom early on.
From there he waits, quivering in a bunker with the rest of his mates as the shells fall around them. Trying their wits and nerves, and even the grisled veterans are visibly nervous and scared.
Then it begins, they're called to action in the trenches, and Milestone makes his statement about the pointlessness of it all. The encroaching Allied forces getting cut down by machine guns, overrunning the trenches and the messy close-quarters combat that ensues. Then they're pushed back, only to have the tables turned as the Germans make an advance on their lines, to suffer nearly the exact same fate.
I'm going somewhat out of order here, so bear with me.... There's a section where Kat returns home, lauded as a hero, but he wants none of it. Called back to that same classroom to tell his glorious tales of battle, he winds up telling quite the opposite tale, of being scared out of his mind, and of the horrors he's seen, much to the dismay of his patriotic teacher.
In another segment, he's pinned down in a hole with the body of a French soldier whom he had to kill, and we're treated to some more of that Milestone pontification that seems to permeate his films to the core.
And there is a lot of that. Although its fit in much better here than in other Milestone pictures such as the dull "A Walk in the Sun", and even the more mainstream "The Halls of Montezuma." The squad talks about the usual Milestone topics: Why are we here, fighting? What does it mean? Does anybody really care?.... You get the point.
How does it end? Well, on that note I was a bit disappointed, but I suppose it fits with the entire theme of the picture. Be it a little too "art school" for my tastes.
Even for the early days of "talking" cinema, this film can get a bit intense. And given the era, I can't really fault the performance of anyone, I mean in 1930 "movie acting" was still a new art, and the cast really isn't full of your typical "stars" to speak of.
Sure All Quiet on the Western Front is more "anti" war at its core than a lot of pictures (aren't most of them anyway?) and it's told from the "enemy" point of view.... But this isn't a picture about us vs. them, or historical events, or any of that. It's a thoughtful look into the events and experiences that (as they say) turn boys into men, and men into crying little boys again, and that scar their souls for the rest of their lives.
And in that respect it truly is a classic war movie.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal Cinema Classics)
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If a classic movie can be measured by the number of indelible images it burns into the collective imagination, then All Quiet on the Western Front's status is undisputed. Since its release in 1930 (and Oscar win for best picture), this film's saga of German boys avidly signing up for World War I battle--and then learning the truth of war--has been acclaimed for its intensity, artistry, and grown-up approach...
DVD InformationBinding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Manufacturer: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Original Release Date:
- Lew Ayres
- Louis Wolheim
- John Wray
- Arnold Lucy
- Ben Alexander
- Factory sealed DVD
Summary: this isn't a picture about us vs. them, or historical events, or any of that. It's a thoughtful look into the events and experiences that (as they say) turn boys into men, and men into crying little boys again, and that scar their souls for the rest of their lives.