As a special ANZAC Day salute, here’s a special review of the 1930 classic All Quiet on the Western Front. This is also the oldest movie in our collection, though I’m (Sally) working on filling in the pre-1970 void. Enjoy!
All Quiet on the Western Front is based on the novel of the same name, which happens to be one of my favorites. Over the years I’ve been revisiting some of the books I was assigned in high school, and this is one of the few that I enjoyed just as much as an adult as I did when I was 16.
What drew me to this book, and later the film, was the subject matter. It tells the story of a group of young German soldiers in World War I, who are transformed from jingoistic youths to cynical adults in the short span of a few years. I’ve always been fascinated by the First World War, mostly because it was a pointless conflict brought on by government entanglements. I’m drawn to the fact that there was nothing heroic about this war, there’s just something tragically romantic about it.
The movie captures the anti-war sentiment of the book perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that the film was banned in Nazi Germany in the lead up to World War II. It also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, depicting a level violence that was surprising to me the first time I watched the movie. Apparently the infamous Hollywood production codes were not fully enforced until 1934, so movies made before that time were more gruesome and nudity laden then one would expect. Still, to the contemporary viewer this film is tame compared to most PG-13 action films. However, the combat scenes are still impressive, and probably the most accurate and immersive until Saving Private Ryan was released nearly 70 years later.
I do wish a really good remake of All Quiet on the Western Front would be made, though. My main reasoning for this is that I think teens today (who will likely be shown the movie in class after finishing the book) probably couldn’t get past the old school speech and acting. It would also be nice to have the actors at least using German accents, if not speaking German for much of the film. But I would definitely retain the final haunting scenes of the original. The final moments perfectly capture the futility of war, and have earned their classification as an iconic moment of American cinema.
This is the oldest film I own and still manages to make the point that war is terrible. The novel that this film is based on was written by a German soldier during World War 1. It is likely that some of this movie has been exaggerated, but only the soldiers that were there know for sure. It is a powerful story about the hardship that soldiers went through, but also shows how difficult it was for those soldiers to enter back into society when the fighting was over.
The film follows a small group of young soldiers. They are inspired by a school teacher to join up with the German army and ‘fight for the Motherland’. When they arrive on the front line, the soldiers eventually realise that war is just a waiting exercise to see who can not die for the longest, while also waiting for their next meal to come, which was sometimes days.
I found the general public’s reaction to this film very interesting. Hitler banned this film during his reign due to its seemingly anti-German sentiment and it’s anti-war stance. If I was Hitler, I’d be more upset they cast a bunch of Yankees as Germans. It took me a while to even realise this was the German army because most of the actors have thick American accents.
Despite this, the movie is still able to deliver its message that war is bad effectively. Obviously, the effects and picture quality are not great, but the film is nearly 85 years old, so I’ll let that slide.