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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
At the end of the world war, several German soldiers return home to their city to find the social fabric and civil order disintegrating as communist gangs roam the streets and food and jobs become scarce. Riots and massacres lead the erstwhile average men to become cynical and desperate.Written by
Fearful that this film would not do well overseas, the new regime at Universal Pictures severely edited the film before release, removing much of the strongly anti-Nazi slant that author Erich Maria Remarque included in the original novel, and which director James Whale intended to retain in the film version. See more »
In the years following WWI, slowly the former Allied Powers came to realize that this war was a pointless waste of lives. As a result, there were many war films of the 1930s that humanized the German enemy and discussed this new view of this awful war. The problem is, although films like "J'Accuse" and "All Quiet on the Western Front" were right...the timing was poor, as it encouraged these countries to disarm and see the Germans very favorably....just as Hitler was coming into power! Of these anti-war/pro-German films, "The Road Back" is probably the most unfortunately timed, as only a very short time later, the world's love of Germany began to diminish quickly--with Nazis taking over Austria and Czechoslovakia and Kristalnacht, in which Jews were slaughtered. Not surprisingly, the American audiences were no longer eager to see the Germans as victims...and "The Road Back".
The irony to all this is that the original book (by Erich Maria Remarque--the same man who wrote "All Quiet on the Western Front") DID have a strong anti-Nazi message and COULD have been a very effective film in preparing the world for the Nazi menace. Unfortunately, the studio removed this from the film in an attempt to make the movie acceptable abroad...especially in places that were pro-German! In the end, however, no one wanted the picture--the Germans STILL didn't think it was pro-German enough and folks who were scared of the mounting German aggression were not in the mood for such a film! Ultimately, it ended up being shown very few places.
The story begins in the final days of WWI. A group of German soldiers who have managed to remain alive and remain friends are trying to make it out of the war alive. Most do...only to find life back home is not at all easy nor pleasant. Communists at home are calling for revolution and officers returning from the front are attacked. Additionally, food shortages, no jobs and a broken economy spell disaster for the men and their families. In other words...life really sucked. And, it gets even worse when one of them kills a man. Why? Watch the film to find out for yourself.
While the film does not come out with an overtly pro-Nazi message because the Nazis are never mentioned, the film's covert message seems to be "Germany was a mess...until the Nazis came and brought peace and prosperity". Despite this and its strong anti-Communist message*, the German government banned the film anyway. I guess Hitler and his comrades just weren't taking any chances with this movie...though it sure seems like it would have been effective pro-German propaganda if used by them--especially if you chopped off the confusing and unnecessary minute of the picture. As for the quality of the film, it is exceptionally well made and if it weren't for its pro-Nazi bent, it would be a very good film.
* By the way, both the Communists AND Nazis were tearing the nation apart during this post-war period. Both promised prosperity...provided you gave them a free hand to deal with problems their way! Often, this resulted in gun fights in the streets between the two factions....though the film never mentions the Nazi part in all this violence.
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