All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is one of the first Best Picture winners and is still revered today as one of the best war movies that's been made. It might seem outdated to look at a film like this after viewing Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; but "All Quiet on the Western Front" holds some surprisingly powerful action scenes.
Based on the book of the same name by German author Erich Maria Remarque, the film takes some of its cues from a previous Best Picture winner—"Wings".
As per expected, the film is more heavy handed than the book, and even more cheerful.
Both works concern a young group of German boys who, upon encouragement, decided to join the military and fight for their country.
The movie has a teacher essentially guilting all the boys into fighting. The teachers tells his students that fighting for your country is one of the best things you can do in your life. We get the feeling that the man is resentful for never having the opportunity to fight.
Keep in mind that the war the film is concerned with is WWI.
Our main character is the boyish and happy Paul (Lew Ayres) who eventually gives into peer pressure and joins the forces.
Comparing the novel to the movie, one finds a shocking amount of similarities...but where the two differ is important to note.
Paul and his friends and heckled by a cruel corporal named Himmelstoss (John Wray). To get back at him, the boys plays pranks on the man. In the book, it was matter-of-fact—an eye for an eye. But in the movie these scenes are hyped up with slapstick overacting and much fake laughing. It's the keen difference between solemn and trying too hard.
The movie more so than the book, "All Quiet on the Western Front" delves into the dehumanization of war. Men turn into machines as they kill and get killed. Ethics and morals get thrown out of the window as the war rages on.
The book is much more subtle with this—it implies animalistic tendencies and violent images are paired with cheerful thoughts or vice versa.
The movie is filmed in low-quality black and white with low-quality sound (look at the year, what else would you be expecting?). Film restoration has treated the movie well...when you look at other films like "Cavalcade" it's odd to see which ones are remembered and which are lost from common thought.
To be fair, it's naive to expect anything but the typical—the overacting, the fake tears, the distracting score. It's just how movies were made back then...this isn't to say that all movies aren't stereotypical, but come on...
After the cheerful bantering with Himmelstoss, Paul gets to see what the front lines are like. This is where the film excels. The war scenes are really good and so influential. Almost every war film that came after this one owes something to "All Quiet on the Western Front". Kubrick used similar scenes in "Paths of Glory" and Spielberg quotes the film in both "Saving Private Ryan" and "War Horse". There are very few war films that are devoid of the thought behind "All Quiet on the Western Front"; because very few war films are "pro-war"...they are rarely celebratory.
Kubrick hated war as exemplified in "Full Metal Jacket" and Oliver Stone did too—you can see that in "Platoon"...Malick proposed that war was the rape of nature in "The Thin Red Line" and the list goes on.
When you think about it, what films don't blast (pun intended) the act of war? "The Hurt Locker" doesn't and I would argue that "Saving Private Ryan" doesn't either. Still, it's harder to argue that films are "pro-war" than "anti-war".
I'm rambling...
The point being that most contemporary war films owe their underlying thought to "All Quiet on the Western Front".
If nothing else for its influence, the film is amazing.
If you're looking for entertaining, engaging, and riveting....well, maybe you should look elsewhere.
It's been improved upon; but "All Quiet on the Western Front" is still a solid movie.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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