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To say that this movie is one of the greatest war films of all time
would be an understatement. Naturally, since the picture is based on Erich
Maria Remarque's marvelous novel, the screenwriter was given quite a
powerful story to begin with. The three main reasons why I consider this
movie so forceful are the acting, the cinematography, and simply the
Lew Ayres, the man who plays Paul Baumer, convincingly portrays the main character in many ways. First of all, the sheer innocence of his facial appearance adds a poignant touch to the film, because the overwhelming theme of the story is how the war effects all young people of each nation, whether that person dies in the trenches or survives only to lament his days in the war. Ironically, when the film was initially being put together, Remarque, the novelist who won critical acclaim for writing the book, was asked to play the role of Paul. Having seen time in the war the producers must have thought him aptly prepared to play the role. But he declined because he had other commitments and because he felt he was not such a great actor. Lucky for us, because Ayres gives a powerful performance. Other characters with relatively minor roles have major importance in the film because they portray touching, heart wrenching scene s of death. These peripheral characters all help add to the general tone of the film (and the book) because they show how dark and terrible the war can be; and they in turn show how propaganda can be so harmful, because most of the soldiers in Paul's regiment are volunteers who receive a very rude awakening when they discover what the war is really all about. The acting is simply superb, and perhaps this is due to the fact that the famous director George Cukor was an assistant who, although uncredited, came onto the set to help supervise the actors (possibly because director Lewis Milestone's English was not too good).
The cinematography of this film is absolutely magnificent. The film rarely has gory sequences because the director finds other ways to imply death and still have the same emotional effect. One way in which he does this is by showing single body parts (such as a hand or a leg) and allowing these appendages to show the death of the soldier as a whole. Also, the cameraman uses overhead angles at times with great skill and also focuses on the trenches at times as the soldiers fall back into them after being shot (which implies that the trenches are a symbol of hell, because soldiers fall into them to die). In short, the cinematographer Arthur Edeson allows the camera to do the talking and to drive the film, rather than the dialogue (speaking of which, there is relatively little; the actors' facial expressions do the bulk of the talking in the film).
When I say this film is sincere I really can't give you any tangible evidence to prove the point; all I can tell you is to see the film. The film at times overwhelmed me with emotion to the extent that I got goose bumps from watching some of the more agonizing scenes. In a way, this movie is much like a silent film. This stands to reason because it came at the very beginning of the 'talkie' age, only three years after The Jazz Singer (1927). Also, Milestone directed silent films before this one, and he seemed to know that less focus on dialogue and more focus on acting would bring about an overwhelmingly emotional and well, sincere, film. The film obviously had an effect on its star, Mr. Ayres, because once World War II began and he was drafted into the war, he conscientiously protested serving in the army because of his opinions towards war. I believe he admits that his opinions stem from his work in this movie. Certainly this is a powerful admission, because his protest caused him and his films to be blacklisted in Hollywood, and his career suffered greatly because of his ideals. So if you don't believe my words about the power of this film, believe his.
As I write, this is probably the oldest film I've currently seen (I
haven't seen too many flicks pre-1950s - shameful, I know), but one
that still holds astonishingly well to this day; a poignant and
hard-hitting anti-war drama that details life in the German side of the
trenches of WWI, it has lost none of its knuckle since it first veered
onto the screens nearly 75 years ago. It makes its point and pulls no
punches doing so, illustrating the impersonal coldness of war and the
desolation in rendering an 'enemy' of someone who you'd really have no
issues with on an individual basis. This message is particularly
well-captured in one especially harrowing scene - I won't divulge in
the details, for the sake of those still yet to witness this
masterpiece, but needless to say, it's a real tear-jerker. The war
depicted here is not one of glory and heroism, but one of hardship,
horror and desperation.
(Also, isn't it kinda eerie how those dramatic battle sequences, in which the opposing soldiers become little more than human targets, now, with retrospect, echo the vicious gameplay of a shoot-em-up video game?)
The only really noticeable problem with this film comes in the heavy use of US accents, which clash somewhat with the German setting and therefore sound just a little offbeat. Nonetheless, the well-assembled cast more than compensate with some truly impassioned performances, notably from Lew Ayres, who is simply brilliant as Paul, the young protagonist coming of age in this harsh environment. His friendship with long-time solider Katczinsky adds moments of warmth as well as sorrow, and the dialogue exchanged between the close-knit group of soldiers is both absorbing and believable, drawing you closer into their world and experiencing their own frustration and disillusionment along with them. Right from the start, we know what's inevitable for the optimistic young soldiers as they head out to the trenches, but at the same time we value their hope and innocence and yearn that they might be able to retain it all the same, making it all the more tragic as the events of the battlefield lay waste to their youthful spirits.
With its gripping direction and powerful imagery, it's a film that manages to leave a considerable imprint on the viewer, and I speak from experience on that one - upon reaching the end, both myself and the entire party I viewed it with were left speechless, and it took a good couple of minutes before any of us could pluck up the courage to break that uneasy silence. I don't know for sure when I'll be up for watching it a second time, but that final feeling certainly won't be going away from me any time soon, and I can almost guarantee this the kind of film you'll be glad for watching at least once. 'All Quiet on the Western Front' remains one of the must-see movies of its decade, and it's easy to see why, after all this time, it still has such a firm hold on that classic status - it may have arrived on the scene as far back as 1930, but its emotive edge is timeless.
"All Quiet on the Western Front" is important filmmaking that still rings true today. The film deals with World War I combat through the eyes of the enemy (the Germans). For the first time ever it was realized how heartbreaking war really is, for all involved. One key message within the film is that innocence cannot survive on the battlefield. War is an awful thing that has no true winners, just losers. Brilliant performances from all involved make the film believable and accurate for the most part. A very young Lew Ayres is the best as his story creates tension for the entire film. This is perhaps the first film that proved that the cinema could be a truly imperative medium. The film was scorned by many in the U.S. as some thought that showing the Germans as sympathetic characters was in poor taste. Germans hated the film because of its anti-war message. Hitler was about to become a world power and he wanted all Germans to be excited and enthusiastic about combat. This film goes against those ideals. The Academy was brave enough and smart enough to award the film with the Best Picture Oscar in 1930 and Lewis Milestone became the first multiple Oscar winner in the directing category. "All Quiet on the Western Front" has the storyline of Malick's "The Thin Red Line" and the action and drama of Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan". An overwhelming film experience. 5 stars out of 5.
Erich Maria Remarque's novel and the film made from it may possibly be
the greatest anti-war statement ever created. All Quiet on the Western
Front won a deserved Best Picture Academy Award in the year it came out
and brought great prestige to Universal Pictures as the first Oscar in
that category won by that studio.
Lew Ayres is the student leader of a bunch of German school boys in 1914 who listen to the voice of their school master and enlist in the war that's just been declared. The whole class enlists and that's not hyperbole because in Germany at the time it was the boys who got the education and the girls if they got it, got it separately from the boys.
I'm sure that viewers of All Quiet on the Western Front today probably are asking why that school master and so many of his generation were urging their youth on to such folly. Very simply that their generation had a quick victory in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War. Every generation since wars were recorded figures their war experience will be the same for their children.
Only it wasn't. On the western front the Allied and Central Powers armies were locked in a bitter stalemate that ran diagonally across France and Belgium from the English Channel to the Swiss border. This went on for a little over four years. In fact had it not been for the fact that America joined the Allied side and the French and British held out until they did, I'm sure an honest armistice would have been declared long before November 11, 1918.
You lived, fought and died in those trenches. Either you were defending or you were attacking the other guy's trenches against murderous automatic weapon fire and long distance artillery batteries. All Quiet on the Western Front was the first great war film of the American sound era and graphically shows that.
And it shows that from the enemy perspective. That's something today's audience can't appreciate, the fact that the film was from the Wilhelmine German perspective. Remember these were the enemy a dozen years before. But the experience in the trenches was universal.
Lew Ayres became a star with this film and it effected him so deeply that he became a committed pacifist which caused later problems in his career. He's the voice of reason and civilization and the voice of a lost generation of Germans who would never have listened to the demagogic appeals of the Nazis.
Louis Wolheim plays the veteran soldier who befriends Ayres and his school boy chums and teaches them how to survive in the trenches. It turned out to be his greatest role. He was a brutish looking man and played mostly those types in silent films. All Quiet on the Western Front would have been the start of a whole new career opening. But Wolheim died the following year just as he was to start filming The Front Page. Adolphe Menjou took the part of Walter Burns in that film which Wolheim was to have.
The third really stand out performance is that of John Wray who some might remember as the brutal prison guard in Each Dawn I Die. Wray plays an officious mail man who is in the German Army Reserve. He gets called up and this little nobody gets rather impressed with himself and his new found authority as a training sergeant to Ayres and his friends. Later on at the front, he gets a view of combat he wasn't quite ready for.
All Quiet on the Western Front with its eternal message of peace and life will be one eternal film, it will be shown and appreciated for many generations to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1930, three great pacifist films were released, in the United
States, Lewis Milestone's "All Quiet on the Western Front;" in Germany,
G.W. Pabst's "Westfront 1918;" and the English film by Anthony Asquith,
"Tell England." Of the three, Milestone's film was the one that has
received most acclaim...
Based on the novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque, "All Quiet on the Western Front" tells the story of a teenager brought up to believe in the values of patriotism, militarism and the glorious death... The teenager returns on leave to his school where the schoolmaster who has taught him the values that he now despises greets him with ecstasy...
As a fighter he is treated with great respect, and the eager young children wait to be aroused by thrilling tales... He has none. There is no heroism. There is no glory. 'We live in the trenches and we fight. We try not to be killed - that's all!'
The film is totally committed to its proposition war is evil; not only the First World War which is portrayed in the film, but all war.
The motion picture, considered among the screen's most powerful indictments of the futility of war, contains many excellent sequences and set-pieces which still keep their power: the pair of boots being continually taken over as successive owners are killed; Lew Ayres talking impotently on about the brotherhood of man and the futility of killing as he watches his French enemy die beside him in a shell crater; Ayres carrying the wounded Wolheim on his back and talking cheerfully to him, ignoring he has been killed by a shell splinter; and of course, the closing scene of the hand reaching out from the trenches to seize a butterfly only to fall back slowly as an enemy's bullet falls home...
Despite dated moments, this highly emotive war film retains its overall power and remains a great pacifist work... The film won won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and was nominated for Best Cinematography & Best Writing...
Before watching this epic masterpiece, I never quite understood what it
is that makes people want to fight a war that was started by some
politician, and after watching this film; I'm even more baffled. With
it's ambiguous portrait of war, All Quiet on the Western Front never
actually condemns (nor condones) the act of war, but through it's
portrait; the anti-war message more than shine through. Multiple scenes
show the hideousness of war, and through watching this film it becomes
apparent that war is futile and a disgraceful waste of human life. We
follow the (mis)fortune of a group of young adults who, due to the
patriotic words of their teacher, decide to join the war effort. The
rest of the film pans out as a sort of coming of age story in the
middle of a great feud. We watch the protagonists as they stare death
in the face and learn what is and isn't important when you risk your
life at every passing moment.
This was one of the first films to announce America as a major film-making nation as with it's epic battle sequences and first class acting, All Quiet on the Western Front impresses on a technical level, as well as impressing with it's detailed and thought-provoking account of war. The film features numerous excellent scenarios, all of which are thought provoking in the context of the film, but also in life on the whole. Consider the part where one young man is told that maths problems are a waste of time as he could stop a bullet at any time, or the sequence that sees a soldier try to save the life of his fellow man that he has stabbed in the stomach (a French soldier, but still a fellow man). Not to mention the classy finish. Whichever way you look at it; this film is a masterpiece. It succeeds on a technical level and also does what films were created to do; entertain and inspire thought from their audiences. There are some films that every film buff must see regardless of their genre preferences. This is one of them.
Still one of the most worthwhile films about the hard realities of war, "All
Quiet On The Western Front" has numerous memorable images and thoughtful
moments. Too many war dramas, regardless of their perspective, resort to
distortions of history and overblown characters that make them convincing
only to those who watch uncritically. This one works nicely by keeping the
characters low-key and by, for the most part, allowing the events and
situations to speak for themselves. It's not perfect in this respect, and
it is perhaps a movie more to be respected than enjoyed, but it has many
The characters, most of them young soldiers, are played very simply, even plainly, but this is by no means a weakness - rather, it allows the movie to show what war is like for real soldiers rather than for idealized or stereotyped characters. The two most important characters are developed more fully, and are played well. Louis Wolheim's resourceful 'Kat' is the liveliest of the soldiers, and as Paul, Lew Ayres is quite understated but very believable. His character is well-chosen as the focal point of most of the movie.
The close-fighting nature of World War I particularly lends itself to this kind of movie, and the atmosphere is convincing and detailed. The contrast with the civilian scenes is also set up well, although the civilian scenes sometimes seem slightly less convincing. The overall effect is a movie that, while you probably wouldn't call it exciting or fun, is one you won't forget.
From the fact it was made in 1930, you could class 'All Quiet on the Western
Front' as a war movie museum piece, but Lewis Milestone's film is a seminal
piece of anti-war propaganda, focusing on the Great War from the perspective
of a group of German soldiers, in particular Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres). Ayres
gives a sensitive and powerful performance: by the 2nd World War the actor
chose to serve as a medic, where he gained distinction.
Remembered for the sequence with the butterfly at the end in particular, this early talkie manages to set its scene and transmit a powerful message. An involving and clever film which on its recent restoration and cinema re-release has taken on new significance in the 21st century.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are few moments in film history as moving as the last shot of
this film, when a soldier fighting in the trenches of World War I is
able to shut out the carnage around him to focus on the unlikely beauty
of a butterfly that has landed only inches in front of him. The power
of this image is an example of what set this film apart from all of the
movies that had preceded it and ushered in a new era of sophistication
in the art form.
"All Quiet on the Western Front" is one of the first movies to feel like a movie. The camera takes part in the action: it moves in and out, frames people in close up. Some of the most memorable images come when the camera tracks along with the soldiers as they charge the enemy trenches. And though sound in cinema was in its infancy, this movie makes terrific use of it.
Compare this movie's version of combat to the films that would come out ten years later with the outbreak of WWII, and it almost takes your breath away with how ahead of its time it seems. Easily one of the best war movies ever made, and one of the best movies ever made, period.
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
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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