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Joseph H. Lewis
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An important historical document, but there simply are better films of its type worth seeing.
This film shows men from several different nations all pulled together in war and discovering the humanity in the enemy. The film is made almost completely without dialog.
From a purely historical perspective, this is a very important film in that it shows a film created by the anti-war crowd that was very important and vocal in Germany before the Nazis obtained control in 1933. Today you might not know that such a movement was strong--as the memory of the awful Nazi years and the Nazi government's efforts to eradicate this movement were mostly successful. Copies of Erich Maria Remarque's book "All Quiet on the Western Front" and films like "Westfront 1918" were systematically destroyed by the new fascist government--and it's a miracle that "Hell on Earth" survived. Apparently the opening titles were obliterated but restored well after the war.
However, from an entertainment point of view, the film has A LOT to be desired. It apparently was produced for an international audience and as such, dialog (and unfortunately the story as well) are severely simple--too simple. As a result, the many scenes of war and its awfulness experienced by these multinational soldiers in the film come off more as film snippets than a real honest to goodness narrative. It's a noble experiment...but also a very boring one.
So am I recommending you don't watch this film? Not exactly. I recommend instead you see the better examples of the 1930s anti-war films first...then, if you must, see "Hell on Earth". My advice is for the best German-made film of the type, see "Westfront 1918" (mentioned above). Then, watch the 1930 American film "All Quiet on the Western Front". It is THE best film of the era and is very sympathetic to the Germans AND unrelenting in its awfulness in the depiction of war. Then, you might try seeing the 1930s remake of "J'Accuse" or the German movie (not really a war film--but still having the same message) "Kameradschaft" or the American films "The Eagle and the Hawk" and "Ace of Aces". Then, STILL look for other films of the same bent...then, after seeing all of them, you might finally try "Hell on Earth".
All in all, a film that is simply poor viewing and dull--and there are so many better films that manage to make exactly the same statement...only better.
By the way, you might wonder why the black man dances so fast in the film. This dancing scene was obviously shot as a silent piece using an old-style camera that would normally play the film at between 16-22 frames per second. However, when you play this film in a normal sound projector (which always goes at 24 frames per second) it appears way too fast--particularly if the cameraman originally filmed it at about 16. So, unless you deliberately record the event too slow in the first place, you can't just stick silent clips into a sound film and have it look normal. So that's why he appeared to have ADHD!!
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