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.

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.