Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): Dir. Lewis Milestone. Written by: Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, and Del Andrews. Based upon the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. Starring: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, and Ben Alexander. Unrated. Running time: 145 minutes.
More so than the first Best Picture winner Wings, All Quiet on the Western Front has achieved a claim to film history as a pioneering war (or anti-war) film. Adapted from the Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, it chronicles the wartime adventures and disillusionment of young German soliders in WWII–in particular a young soldier named Paul. I know what you’re thinking—German soldiers portrayed with humanity in an American film?
It’s easy to see how the film has influenced countless talented directors from Kubrick to Spielberg, specifically in the film’s impeccably choreographed and photographed trench warfare scenes. There is no romance or glory here (as promised by the boys’ schoolmaster in the beginning of the film), and the brutality remains potent and disturbing. In one scene, a French soldier is blown to bits, leaving only his two dismembered hands clutching a strand of barbed wire.
I do wish the film had let its imagery speak for itself, rather than resort to clumsy and unnecessary exposition as a kind of post-mortem. The “gee-whiz” quality of the writing doesn’t quite help matters, and the acting often comes off hokey. In these ways All Quiet hasn’t aged quite as well.
As a portrait of how war can change entire lives, however, I still recommend it. It’s saying something when a film that came out 82 years ago pulls no punches on wartime realities, and still resonates with an iconic final scene.
Next film: Cimarron, 1931