Saturday, 23 April 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

Year: 1930
Director: Lewis Milestone
Screenplay: George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, Del Andrews and C. Gardner Sullivan, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Starring: Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander
Running Time: 138 minutes
Genre: War, drama

Summary: Germany, 1914: World War One has just begun and people are swept up with patriotic fervour, believing that the war will be over within a few months. Among those caught up in the excitement are a class in a boy's High School who, egged on by their teacher (Lucy), decide to enlist in the Army en masse. After surviving basic training under the sadistic Sergeant Himmelstross (Wray), the boys are sent to the front line in France. Once there, their patriotic fervour and enthusiasm for warfare is quickly crushed by the brutal realities of trench warfare.

Opinions: This film is a powerful anti-war statement and has influenced war films ever since from Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) to Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997) and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998).
The film is a real epic following a large number of characters over a long period of time. At a time when sound cinema was in it's infancy, many early "talkies" were noted for being very static, due to the problems of recording sound, but this film uses a highly mobile camera. The battle scenes which proved to be hugely influential are still powerful, intense and genuinely shocking, even if some of the techniques used in them, such as speeded up film don't really work.
The film also depicts the hardships, drudgery and sheer boredom and stress of the soldier's lives in between the battles. Enlivened only by grim humour and the occasional periods of rest and recreation, they live in miserable, rat filled conditions usually with nothing to eat.
The acting is good from all involved, even if it is jarring at times to hear the German characters speaking with American accents. Milestone direction is impressive, with the battle scenes in particular handiled with great skill and sensitivity, however he was also as sure with the quieter scenes
The movie was hugely acclaimed on its inital release and was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two (Outstanding Production and Best Director). On it's release in Germany the film was heavily criticised by the Nazi Party who disrupted screenings by releasing rats and throwing stink bombs into cinemas. When they came to power they banned the film outright and it wasn't released in Germany again until 1956.
This remains one of the great anti-war films and a classic of the genre and it has lost none of it's power to move and shock.

Lew Ayres and Raymond Griffith in All Quiet on the Western Front

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