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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on the excellent anti-war novel written by Erich Maria Remarque,
Delbert Mann's "All Quiet on the Western Front" is the rare TV movie with
feature film quality.
Richard Thomas stars as young German Paul Baumer who, with his graduating classmates, is considered "Germany's Iron Youth", the young men who will take Paris, ultimately winning World War I. This eager graduating high school class, believing the propaganda, enlists in the Kaiser's Imperial German Army and is sent to basic and infantry training. Baumer, although swept along with this youthful fervor to crush the French, subtly maintains his doubts about war. As his high school teacher, after catching Baumer sketching a Lark perched on the classroom window sill, observes, "You are a dreamer, Baumer."
In training they are subjected to power happy Corporal Himmelstoss (Ian Holm) who is their military instructor. "I am a good teacher", Himmelstoss tells his charges on the first day of training, "Because what I will teach you, you will never forget. Never." The problem is, Himmelstoss has no frontline experience and even worse, he allows personal bias to govern his training pattern when he takes a dislike to Baumer and intentionally subjects him to unnecessary activities.
The class graduates and is sent to the Western Front. Upon arrival, they are met by Pvt. Stanislaus Katczinsky (Ernest Borgnine), former cobbler by trade and now "old hand" as he puts it, assigned to orientate the new troops to life at the front. "In training camp they filled your head with alot of fancy knowledge", Kat says, "we are going to work hard...to forget all that." He continues sadly, "I will teach you practical things, like how to put your diapers on in the trenches and how to kill Frenchies." Baumer and his class are now at war.
Director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paul Monash brilliantly captured the horror of World War I and war in general. All the elements of life in the trenches is here: huge rats crawling over and eating the unburied dead, the knee deep mud, cracking up under the three day long shellings which proceed a major attack, the terror of poison gas attacks, machine-guns mowing down troops in droves, grenades blowing limbs off, the loss of friends, amputations, death and destruction. This is a dirty film. Baumer, Kat and the others almost always have mud and dirt caked on their hands and uniforms.
But "All Quiet on the Western Front" goes further than demonstrating physical hardship and destruction. It is mainly the story psychological destruction. After over a year at or near the front, Baumer is sent home on leave. While attempting to become reaquainted with his family and friends, he begins to realize he doesn't seem to fit in at home anymore. Even his own bedroom seems alien to him. And to make matters worse, while visiting with his father and his father's friend, the conversation turns to the war. Baumer drops out of the conversation and is subjected to listening to the older men talk about strategy and the ways of battle when they themselves have never had the experience.
"All Quiet on the Western Front" is also as historically accurate as they come. The equipment, weapons, uniforms, trucks, civilian clothes, even the German style military marching (this is prior to the well known Nazi "goose-step") is right from the 1914-1918 time period. Cheers to Delbert Mann for his eye for detail. And the battle sequences are as real and grisly as "Saving Private Ryan".
This film, released theatrically overseas back in 1979, should have also been released to the theaters in the U.S. rather than TV. Perhaps the producers felt a story this sad would not do well in the box office. This is a shame. The entire cast gave a fantastic performance and I would have been surprised if Richard Thomas or Ernest Borgnine hadn't been nominated for an Academy Award. Ditto for Delbert Mann as Best Director and Paul Monash for Best Adapted Screenplay. Thankfully, the version on video is the theatrically released film with more graphic scenes and no commercial breaks.
In the haunting words of Erich Maria Remarque which open the film, "This story is neither an accusation nor a confession and least of all, an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. Rather, it is to tell the story of a generation of men who, although they may have escaped it's shells, were destroyed by the War." "All Quiet on the Western Front" contains no poetry-it is simply war.
This is a very good anti-war movie. It shows how the young and naive
are being brain-washed to think that somehow it is their duty to kill
and die. Big words like Fatherland, Kaiser, God, Patriotism. But it is
always the young generation that does the dying, whilst the old men
discuss strategy over a beer. War has lost whatever legitimacy it ever
may have had when the leaders left the front line to lead from the
back, safe in their headquarters miles away from the killing. Sending
young boys to their death whilst claiming it is eventually for the Good
is the ultimate cowardice. Some get their come-uppance, such as Cpl
Himmelstoss, but most live their lives in the comfortable cocoon of
their self-righteousness the school teacher, the father, the Kaiser
But sometimes a young soldier sees through the scam, as when Paul kills a Frenchman by sheer instinct, only too late realising what he has been forced to do to someone who might have been his brother. But even then the cultural impregnation is too strong for him to follow his true human feelings and draw the only logical conclusion. And of course in the end he pays the price himself. Destroyed - for what?
That is the lesson that we all should take to heart, to this very day.
A very good film based on an exceptional book.
Considering this was made in 1979, this is quiet an astonishing film, that is incredibly realistic in its portrayal of the futility of combat in world war one. I first saw this film on TV in the early 80's , and i've seen it again a few times on video since then. The story is compelling, powerful and incredibly moving. The most powerful message of the movie, in my opinion, is that there are no "good" or "bad" guys in war - there's just you and someone else who is out to kill you. The suffering that the real soldiers went through in WW1 is powerfully conveyed in this film. One of my all time favourites - considering that it was just a TV film makes its even more astonishing. If you want a film to move you and make you think about life, look out for this one in your video store. This is another classic "sleeper" - along with the likes of Glory, Shawshank Redemption, Cross of Iron and others that haven't hit the Hollywood bigtime, but have made a lot of people feel moved....
Many people make the mistake of thinking of this movie as a remake of the 1930 film classic. In reality, both movies are a visual telling of the 1929 novel by the same name; at different points in time. This 1979 film is just a retelling of that story, and it's obvious from its differences from the 1930 film. Personally I like this version better...it's not overacted, it was filmed on location, it has a musical score, and it has a feeling of reality to it that the 1930 film just doesn't seem to have. No matter how many times I've watched it, the end always leaves me feeling as if I had been a part of the story and its effects linger with my being. Thanks Richard Thomas and crew
The made for TV and 'remake' labels have tended to devalue All Quiet on
the Western Front. With successors like Das Boot and Saving Private
Ryan, it also seems less visionary now. However, All Quiet on the
Western Front is a superb adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic
novel. The novel, published in 1929 by the 31 yr old Remarque was an
instant classic. I remember reading it nearly two decades ago and its
still one of the best books I've ever read. The Hollywood adaptation
starring Lew Ayres - director Lewis Milestones greatest achievement -
was very good as testified by its IMDb status. The remake is better!
The remake is more intelligent, the cast is great and the period detail
is extraordinary. The director - Delbert Mann - is an experienced
veteran with classics like Marty to his credit. All Quiet is his magnum
opus, released on TV because theatre owners didn't see it making any
money. Naturally very few people watch message movies. Fewer still
would make the effort to rent a "made for TV" film. Hardly anyone would
watch this when they can see the original instead - a film with a more
This adaptation is very faithful to the novel. Even with minor changes in the ending, the basic spirit of the book is retained. The cast is uniformly excellent with Richard Thomas playing the central role of Paul. Donald Pleasance, Ian Holm and Ernest Borgnine all give uniformly good performances in character driven and memorable roles. It could be said that Ernest Borgnine is too old and too fat to be a corporal. True, but on an emotional level be fits brilliantly into the role and his physicality really lends an element of humanity to him. The war scenes would rank very high in anyones list but for Saving Private Ryan's gritty realism. I loved the old German town from where Paul and his friends come. It looks straight out of the 1910's. All the period details are top notch. I strongly recommend watching this unheralded classic.
I remembered watching this film in college and got it for my daughter when she was studying WWI. This movie really took advantage of a great opportunity: Teaming Richard Thomas and Ernst Borgnine while they were both still young enough for the parts! Thomas is wonderful, as he always is; but it's Borgnine you remember most as the old soldier, Kat. It is a great story and very well-acted. Just an interesting aside is the appearance of Patricia Neal as the young soldier, Paul's, mother. Patricia Neal portrayed Olivia Walton in the pilot episode of THE WALTONS (THE HOMECOMING); so it was interesting to see she and Thomas as mother and son again. Definitely recommended.
It is difficult to go wrong with such a magnificent story, one of the most affecting literary anatomisations of the tragedy of young men destroyed by war. And yet, this 1979 television remake of the Lewis Milestone original adds many elements to cherish of its own. Most notably, the casting of Richard Thomas, best known for being John-Boy Walton, in the role of Richard Baume. His characterisation is wonderfully profound, and poignant, and the scene in the trench with the French soldier is a virtual masterclass of compassionate acting. Thomas has never become a superstar; and for this reason he is one of an evergrowing army of neglected romantic leading men. The battle scenes are breathlessly exciting; and yet they do not dwell on carnage, and it is to their credit...and yet still they elicit pity and horror from the viewer. The music is magnificent, the structure craftmanlike, the acting (by Thomas, Borgnine, Holm) superlative, and the work itself suffused through with compassion.......
This 1979 remake of Lewis Milestones 1930 classic anti war film tells the
story of German youths who enlist in the Kaisers army to fight for the
Fatherland in the great war. Based on the masterful novel by Erich Maria
Remarque the youths who join at the encouragement of their schoolteacher
with dreams of glory quickly learn the horror of war. Some parts of this
version are better than the original and in others the 1930 version still
Ian Holm's portrayal of Himmelstoss the sadistic drill instructor comes off somewhat better than in the original. In this version he is not the boys hometown postman so the viewer only sees him as the stern and cruel D.I.. His cowardice scene is also handled better. Veteran actor Ernest Borgnine as Kat the group leader is only a tad off as being as good as Louis Wolheims. Richard Thomas as Paul Baumer the central figure is about neck and neck with Lew Ayres original. Donald Pleasance is convincing as Kantorek the boys schoolteacher who tells them their plans for the future must be put on hold in favor of serving the Fatherland. Both this and the 1930 recently restored version should be watched back to back if possible.
Many films that are remade often times do not stand up to their original counterparts but this 1979 film does. Considering it was a made for TV film makes that quite an accomplishment. If you enjoyed Saving Private Ryan you'll enjoy this one as well.
This version may not be as good as its great predecessor, but it's definitely a fine show on its own. Richard Thomas is very good, if about ten years too old, as the central character, Paul Baumer, who grows from glory seeking school boy to crusty veteran to, finally disillusioned, weary, almost hopeless pawn. Ernest Borgnine is terrific as Kat, the cagey survivor, who takes the youngsters under his wing, teaching them ways to make trench warfare almost tolerable. Ian Holm has a nice turn as Paul's town's postman turned training NCO, who later is transferred to the trenches. The great actress, Patricia Neal, shines in a cameo as Paul's mother. Donald Pleasance is excellent as Paul's patriotic teacher who exhorts Paul and his classmates to enlist. Gradually the grinding attrition of war eliminates Paul's classmates and the old sweats, until the famous final scene, when so little happened that day that the war entry was "All quiet on the Western Front." Most of the scenes in the original are presented here, a few additions and a couple deletions. The color cinematography is nicely done. Well worth a look as either a comparison or companion to the 1930 original.
I know that many people over here think this movie isn't as good as the
original one from 1930. I believe you, but I can't help asking myself
how many of you really have seen the original version? Or is it because
you know this is 'just' a remake?
I only know the version from 1979, but I'm really impressed with it. I already saw it several times, but I never got bored with it once. I keep enjoying it time after time. It gives you a view on how it was at the time. The inspiring, but childish patriotism at the beginning of the war, the hard training, the awful conditions at the front and the loss of innocence and the disillusions at home... It shows it all.
This movie gives you an accurate view on what being an ordinary soldier during World War One was like and is therefor alone already worth a 9/10. But the acting, the good script, the feeling which it leaves you behind with... make that I give it an even higher score. 10/10 is the only correct score according to me. I believe this is one of the best (anti-)war movies ever.
This movie is one of the things which sparked my interest in everything that has something to do with the First World War. All over the world there are only a handful of veterans of this war left. Soon, accurate movies like this one, history books, cemeteries and museums will the only things left about it. That's also why this movie is so important to me.
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