15 WWI Movies You Should Watch

It’s an interesting thing that while there is a huge amount of American movies on WWII, the really outstanding WWI movies mostly come from other countries. It’s no coincidence but I’m not going to elaborate on the reasons, it may suffice to say, that the leading film making countries for WWI are Australia, France and the UK. There are many movies but those below are the ones I consider to be must-sees if you want to delve into the topic. I have reviewed all of the below mentioned movies with one exception. You can find the links at the end of each entry.

While I usually arrange these lists chronologically I did split them into countries of origin in this case.

Australia

Gallipoli (1981). One of the classic WWI movies. A Peter Weir film starring the young Mel Gibbson. The focus is on two friends who enlist more in a spirit of adventure than patriotism. They will take part in one of WWI’s most futile battles, at Gallipoli, in Turkey. The end of the movie is harrowing and gives a good impression of the absurdity of the war.

The Lighthorsemen (1987) This is one of the very rare cavalry combat movies. It has a nice “band of brothers” feel. Highly watchable. The Lighthorsemen were fighting in Africa and their achievement is legendary. Something the Australians are still proud of. Review

Beneath Hill 60 (2010).  Another movie which shows an outstanding and truly amazing Australian victory. The movie is set in the trenches and beneath them and shows how much the miners contributed to the war. Review

France

La Grande Illusion – Grand Illusion (1937) This is a classic. One of Jean Renoir’s great movies starring the unforgettable Jean Gabin. It has a very surreal touch which should emphasize the absurdity of war. It’s a prisoner of war movie. Review

La vie et rien d’autre – Life and Nothing But (1989). Beautiful movie focussing on the time after the war. So many men were lost on the battle fields, so many dead soldiers not identified. One woman is looking for her husband in this bleak but beautiful Tavernier movie. Review

La Chambre des officiers – The Officer’s Ward (2001). WWI is notorious for the facial wounds. No other war has scarred men like this one (due to the specific explosives). This is a movie which focuses on these wounds. Of all the war movies I have seen (many), this was one of the best but also one of the hardest to watch. I had nightmares. Review

UK

The Blue Max (1966). An air combat movie with a German POV. Themes are class and the arrogance and sporting mind of the combat pilots. Most pilots in WWI were aristocrats, not so Lt Stachel. Review

Aces High (1976). An air combat movie, not one of the best but not bad either. Less character driven than the last one. Review

Regeneration – Behind the Lines (1997). Based on Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy it looks into shell shock, the war experience of some famous poets and the birth of a medical discipline, namely psychiatry. Review

All the King’s Men (1999). The movie tells the story of a company who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. As if they had been swallowed. It illustrates how badly prepared some of the troops were, especially at the beginning of the war. The English had a hard time in some terrain, notably Africa. The story begins like a ghost story but you will find out what happened to the company. It’s all too real. Review

My Boy Jack (2007). The movie tells the true story of Rudyard Kipling’s son Jack. The story is exemplary. Misguided patriotism makes Kipling push his only son who is very illfitted and as visually impiared as a mole to join. At first I had a problem with Daniel Radcliffe as Jack but other than that this is an excellent and very emotional movie. And so heartbreaking. Tissues might be needed. Review

US

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

Paths of Glory (1957). Kubricks’ classic look at the short comings of French high command and the horror of trench warfare. Review

Germany/France/UK

Joyeux Noël – Merry Christmas (2005). This is one of my personal favourites for more than one reason. It shows an incredible true story, the story of the little peace during the great war. During the first Christmas the troops stopped fighting and got together to play football in no mans’ land. The actors are all great and chosen from their respective countries. Review

The Red Baron (2008). This is one of those guilty pleasure movies. It was criticized in Germany because it didn’t emphasize the “hunting and sport” spirit that drove the aristocratic pilots like von Richthofen, called the Red Baron, to join up. He is shown like a hero. The negative side is not touched. Funny enough this is only true for the German version, the English got it better. Review

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All Quiet on the Western Front 1979 TV Version

I am not immediately against a movie just because it is a remake. I think that in some cases, even when it isn’t necessarily better or as good as the original, it can add something. It is interesting to see how someone else interprets scenes, how they are altered or accentuated. All this is just to tell you that I wasn’t biased when I watch the TV version of All Quiet on the Western Front. After having watched it, I am not even disappointed as I didn’t expect anything. No, I’m not disappointed, I’m horrified. This is a shockingly bad movie that manages to take the depth out of all the profound scenes that you can see in the original. The filming is oddly tacky and the acting is so bad that I was wondering if the actual aim wasn’t a parody. I have hardly ever seen so many people die in such a melodramatic way outside of an opera stage. I was surprised the actors weren’t holding banners stating “I’m dead”  at the end of each scene. How ostentatious should you be? Unless you want to make your public feel like total idiots subtlety would be what you should strive for. This message seems to have been lost on the director. What I can really not forgive is how a scene like that fabulous “boots scene” was altered to total insignificance.

I must at least say one good thing, Ernest Borgnine as Kat and Ian Holm as  Himmelstoss were convincing. And all the others? It was quite daring to cast Richard Thomas as Paul Bäumer but to have him do so many voice overs reminiscent of his time as John-Boy…Bah.

If 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 to wait for the next remake which is due in 2012 starring Daniel Radcliffe (no, it isn’t a convincing choice). Hopefully it will be much better than what I had to endure last night.

For those of you who still want to know what it is all about here’s a very brief summary:

Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s outstanding eponymous novel, All Quiet on the Western Front shows how an enthusiastic young German school boy volunteers to participate in WWI. Once he ‘s in the trenches and experiences the horror of trench warfare and sees his friends die all around him, he soon faces utter disillusionment.

Rating? Do I have to? 2/5 But only because I am kind.

Here are my thoughts on To Remake or not to Remake

Here is a short scene. It is rather one of the better ones.

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 Highest Ranking War Movies on all Lists of Overlapping Genres

The filmsite has undertaken to analyze as many lists as possible and came up with a total of  6 war movies that had equally high ranks on all the lists, including other genres than war movies.

Since we all love lists, here goes:

Battleship Potemkin (1925) (see my enthusiastic post)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) (see my posts on Remakes and Daniel Radcliffe)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Schindler’s List (1993)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

While I do agree with some choices I really disagree with others. I suffered through Battleship Potemkin which doesn’t mean it is bad but I don’t think Apocalypse Now and Schindler’s List deserve to be among the 6 most appreciated war movies. What’s funny though is the fact that these two movies are such opposites in the way they treat their subject. While one is easily understood and a very simple, true story – one man’s fight for justice and humanity , so to speak – the other one is a conflicting, ambiguous movie. There are a few war movies that are multilayered, Apocalypse Now is certainly one of them. Not easily accessible for everyone like Schindler’s List. Yeah, well, people are fickle, why shouldn’t this be reflected in lists?

To Remake or Not to Remake: e.g. All Quiet on the Western Front, Psycho, Dangerous Liaisons

We have been flooded by a recent wave of remakes (Fame, Predators, …) some of which seem redundant to say the least. I do not think it does make any sense to remake a movie that is fairly recent and to re-do it just the way it was, only exchanging the actors to attract a younger crowd of spectators.

However, some movies  like theater plays (e.g. Hamlet, hence the title of this post) make interesting material for reinterpretation.

I remember that when I heard Hitchcock´s Psycho had been remade by Gus Van Sant I thought it was pointless but when I saw it  I found that it had its charm. Adding color and playing with this gave it a totally new feel. If you want to get a bit of an impression watch this YouTube movie someone did to compare both versions.

All Quiet on the Western Front is one of those movies that can do with a remake. I know it is a classic and one of the most important war movies of all times and many a reader will think it hateful to encourage such a thing. Still I believe it would benefit from it. (I know that it has already been done for TV).  All Quiet on the Western Front is really old. We are talking 1930. The acting has still the feel of  the silent movie era that only just ended in 1927. The acting is over dramatic. A lot of  the facial expressions are exaggerated (not as bad as in the real silent movies more like on the stage).  The whole pictorial language of the acting, so to speak, is hard for us to understand. To enjoy a movie like this nowadays you have to know a lot about film history and be interested in it.

What works very well in the original All Quiet on the Western Front is the depiction of the atrocities of war. Whenever the focus is not on the actors it is fabulous. Hands that are gripping barbed wire but are no longer attached to a body… Those very nuanced shots in black and white accentuate the horror and give a more realistic impression. Black blood looks somehow more like the real blood than overly red blood does.

All this will be a challenge for the film director of the upcoming 2012 version.

Furthermore let´s not forget that the movie is also already a reinterpretation since it is based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque.  And like with plays where no one takes offense when another director takes it up again, one could claim that this is not really a remake of the movie but a reinterpretation of the book. (I can think of another literary phenomenon that has been turned into a movie at least three times and all of the versions I have seen are extremely interesting and well done. I´m thinking of Les liaisons dangereuses aka Dangerous liaisons the novel by Choderlos de Laclos. First there was the French movie by Vadim (1959), then the Stephen Frear´s remake (1988) with Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close and John Malkovich and last but not least Cruel Intentions (1999) with Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar.)

I have uttered my reservations as to the cast of the new All Quiet on the Western Front (see my post on My Boy Jack and Daniel Radcliffe) but apart from that I´m curious to see if they will do the book (and not so much the film) justice.

Remarques´s book is one of the best anti-war books of all times. It is so good that when I had finished  it and read that it had been translated into 50 languages and sold over 20 million times I could not believe that anyone anywhere in this world could have ever wanted to start a war again.

Unfortunately literature is not as powerful as that.

My Boy Jack (2007) or Why Daniel Radcliffe should not be starring in the Remake of All Quiet on the Western Front

This post is about two very different things. A good movie and a bad choice for a cast.

Based on the play with the same name written by the very same actor who is playing Kipling, David Haig, the movie tells us the tragic story of Kipling´s only son who went missing during WWI on the Western front in the Battle of Loos.

For reasons I will elaborate here My Boy Jack was an interesting, touching if a somewhat disappointing movie. Interesting since it showed the famous author Rudyard Kipling in another light and because it depicted the very onset of WWI and Britain’s reluctance to participate in this war at first. The tragedy of the war in the trenches with its enormous loss of lives in a very brief moment (we hear that the first day of the armed conflict cost almost 12000 British lives) is illustrated eloquently.
Kipling is shown as a dominant figure for whom the love of his country comes long before anything else. His values of manly courage and seeking of glory are really off-putting. The whole character is obnoxious. From the moment he knows the war will finally start his sole aim is to have his only 17-year-old son participate.
Unfortunately Jack is extremely short-sighted and without his glasses he is almost blind. The doctors performing the medical examinations do not want him to join the navy nor the army since it would be much too dangerous should he lose his spectacles during battle. His father being the influential and stubborn  man he is pulls every string to have  his son accepted against all better judgement.
Knowing the tragic story we sadly watch the inevitable unfold.
After his initial training and having been appointed lieutenant Jack is sent to France. He gets to know constant rain and shelling, the bleakness of the trenches and the muddy no-man’s-land around them.
After days of waiting his company is finally told they will have to attack.
The fear and anguish of the men who know  by now that most of them will face a certain death is quite touching.
It will be Jacks first and last battle. A few weeks after his departure to France his family gets notified that he’ s been reported missing in action.
What  follows is quite dramatic and good acting. Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City–yes, indeed) playing the mother is very convincing, so are the sister (Carey Mulligan) and David Haig as the father. The family wants to know what happened. Is Jack wounded but alive? Is he dead? Did he suffer? Of course Kipling constantly asks himself if he is guilty. The depiction of their grief and the father’s despair is very heartfelt. It moves you to tears. It is difficult to imagine what it was like to wait more than a year  until they finally had some hints about what had happened. So why was I disappointed? Because I found Daniel Radcliffe absolutely not good.
(To know that he will have the leading role in  the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front is hard to stomach).
He is really not a very good actor. Or maybe not yet. He should have some more qualifications for a role than his age. But actually it is not so much his acting that I criticize than the way he  looks. For me he has absolutely no charisma.
Since the movie in itself is good and knowing that many people are very fond of him as an actor and also consider him great in My Boy Jack, I still suggest you watch this movie. Even more so should you be interested in Rudyard Kipling.

For the interested reader I posted Kipling’s poem about the loss of his only son.  And who likes can also watch the video below and see David Haig render it in the movie.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!