All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) A Timeless Anti-War Movie Classic

All Quiet on the Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, is THE classic war movie. One of the best, first and certainly one of the most influential there is.

However we need to bear in mind how old this movie is and that it was one of the first talkies. It was actually even filmed in two versions. The silent-movie feel can’t be denied.

It is very much a movie in scenes. The story as such is easily told. Paul Bäumer, a young student, volunteers, together with his friends, as soon as WWI breaks out. They believe it is noble, honorable and courageous to do so. The teachers and politicians all paint a picture of glory and urge them to enlist and fight for their country. As soon a they arrive in the trenches it becomes obvious that there is nothing glorious in being shelled, ripped to shreds and end as pieces dangling from barbed wire. The older soldiers seem hardened but when the younger ones start to be killed, his first friends die, Paul forms a bond with the old-timer Kat (a great character and superb contrast to the naive Paul), whom he didn’t like at first.

As stated before the movie is told in very distinct scenes that can all be seen like mini-movies themselves.

The one that impressed me most would have to be called “The story of the boots”. One of Paul’s friends is dying and another one would very much like his brand-new, expensive boots. When the friend has died the other one gets the boots. What follows is cinematographic genius. We see the boots, only the boots, from one little scene to the next and how they keep on changing their possessor.

Another memorable scene is the one showing Paul on leave. He lies to his mother and sister about the atrocities of war. This makes his stay very difficult and he is happy to go back as he doesn’t fit in anymore. He can’t stand being with people who don’t know shit about what is going on out there.

A funny scene is when the young soldiers meet a bunch of French girls and spend the night with them. It shows quite well that they were all just humans. The same can be said of the most famous scene. Paul is in a trench with a French soldier and kills him. He spends the night with the dead man. When he finds the pictures of the Frenchman’s wife and kid, he is devastated.

All Quiet on the Western Front is on almost every war movie list. Occasionally in the Top 5, often in the Top 10, always in the Top 100. I guess I will include it in my Top 20. 5/5

It is hard to compare this movie with the outstanding novel. It is probably also one of those movies that has been remade the most. There will soon be another remake starring Daniel Radcliffe (2012). I still haven’t seen the TV production that is said to be quite alright.

What I would really wish for is a German production.

See my post on Remakes and on Daniel Radcliffe.


6 thoughts on “All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) A Timeless Anti-War Movie Classic

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Absolutely the most influential war movie of all time. Very faithful to the book. However, I tried showing it to my Military History class and they were unimpressed. They much prefer the Richard Thomas remake. I know it is sacreligious, but I prefer the remake, too. It is surprisingly good considering it was made for TV. I am not looking forward to the new version because of the lead. But then again, who would have thought Richard Thomas would do a good job?

    • I will watch the remake but I am already sure that the first All Quiet… was influential for its cinematography too. Can’t imagine hands hanging from barbed wire in the remake. In color? maybe it is easier to follow. Can imagine your class doesn’t enjoy the old one.

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    I agree the cinematography and battle scenes are superior in the original, but as you point out, the original has a silent movie feel. This means the acting is often unrealistic. Just compare Lew Ayres in the shell-hole with the dying Frenchman to Thomas doing the same scene. The story is very much a character study with a few battle scenes which means the acting is important and I feel modern audiences are not in tune to the old-school histrionics of films made before the 40’s.

  3. […] you care to see a movie of All Quiet on the Western Front stick with Lewis Milestone’s 1930 original. It truly is a masterpiece. If you are not into silent movie feel or very old movies you will have […]

  4. […] All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). One of the first war movies ever. Quite ground breaking. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s eponymous novel. It has one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a war movie. Review […]

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