All Quiet on the Western Front-1930
Starring-Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim
Scott’s Review #820
Reviewed October 12, 2018
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the oldest films that I have ever seen, and a masterpiece that resonates in present times just as much as the film did nearly one hundred years ago. The work of art presents an astounding anti-war message that is a timeless lesson in humanity, idealism, and ultimately, despair. Based on the banned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, much of the action takes place on the front lines during World War I.
The cameras follow an anxious group of spirited young men as they sit in a classroom and listen to a passionate speech given by their professor. He is quite “pro war”, filling the boys with patriotism and the importance of serving the Army and their country. At his urging the group, led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) join the Second Company. Once enlisted, the youths are enlightened to the fact that war is not fun, and their romantic delusions are smashed to pieces.
Paul is clearly the hero of the film and events are told through his eyes, offering his perspective. Beginning as a young recruit, he ages quickly and sees friends and allies slaughtered senselessly. One recruit, frightened to death, is blinded by shrapnel and hysterically runs into machine-gun fire resulting in his death. Other scenes involving the soldiers forced to go without food only to finally be offered second helpings simply because there are so many dead, is heart-wrenching.
Paul is portrayed as a good man- conflicted by how he is “supposed” to feel towards the enemy and how he sees people as human beings. At the young age of nineteen he possesses an innocence towards the world. When he returns home on leave the townspeople have no inclination of the ravages of war. When Paul recounts the brutal situations on the front line, he is derided as a “coward”.
In an excruciating scene Paul is trapped overnight in a fox hole with a dying French soldier, whom Paul has stabbed in a cemetery. He desperately tries to save the man’s life, but to no avail. In this important scene Paul sees the enemy soldier as a human being rather than as someone to hate. He crumbles into tears for the dead soldier, begging him to speak. The scene is incredibly poignant and meaningful.
The final scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is lovely and memorable too. In fact, the scene is the most remembered from the film and firmly ensconced in cinematic history. As a wounded Paul lies in hiding from German soldiers, he spots a beautiful butterfly peacefully circling around. Paul smiles, enamored with the pretty creature amid all the ugliness. He desperately tries to reach for the gorgeous insect. What happens next is heartbreaking and fraught with the unfair ruining of life- the scene is of utmost importance.
The film is both sad and poignant as we are well into the twenty-first century while wars continue to wage on in present day. Have we learned nothing? Director, Lewis Milestone brazenly, and tragically, paints a portrait of the foolishness of war and the senseless loss of life that war results in. It is tough to think of an equivalent film that depicts this message in a clearer way.
Many European leaders and countries, Germany’s Adolf Hitler included, banned All Quiet on the Western Front throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. The film has remained controversial in its blatant depiction of war since it was made.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is a groundbreaking film and ought to be viewed by everyone as a reminder of how precious life really is. The novel and film were both made as a result of World War I- how profound to think since this film was made wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, have occurred. Is war ever really the answer? Anyone who watches this terrific film will find the answer.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Writing, Best Cinematography