This is an English language film (made in America) adapted from a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War 1 by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals. As the boys witness death and mutilation all around them, any preconceptions about "the enemy" and the "rights and wrongs" of the conflict disappear, leaving them angry and bewildered. This is highlighted in the scene where Paul mortally wounds a French soldier and then weeps bitterly as he fights to save his life while trapped in a shell crater with the body. The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality. Written by
Michele Wilkinson, University of Cambridge Language Centre, <email@example.com>
In 1981, we had a screening at the L.A. County Museum of Art of the newly discovered restored version. I took my girlfriend, who was not as savvy on film history as I was, and warned her not to expect much: that the movie was dated, the acting often awkward and broad, and some of the sound effects just plain weird, and so on. When the screening finished, she leaned over to me and said, "This movie hasn't dated at all." I could only agree, because the effect on both of us--and everyone in that theatre--was overpowering.
It's curious to compare it with the very fine tv version with Richard Thomas. The latter version has more scenes from the book and better acting, yet it's still inferior. It suffers from the lack of detail that so many tv productions had then along with comparatively flat lighting. The first version, on the other hand, has a look that resembles a documentary on World War I. They filmed it only eleven years after the war ended, and it contains a power only possible by those who've lived through an era being dramatized. Also, like CITIZEN KANE and DODSWORTH, it baffles one as to how Hollywood of this time produced such a non-escapist piece of entertainment.
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