All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Days to Go: 351
Films to Go: 143
Have I seen it before? – No
IMDB rating: 8.1 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
My rating: 9.75 out of 10
Next films I’ll be watching:
American Graffiti (1973)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
The Apartment (1960)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
See THE LIST here.
Friendly reminder: These discussions of films in the ‘Year of Classic Films Challenge’ may contain some minor spoilers. I will still try to keep it to a minimum and hopefully only those who have seen the movie will know what I’m referring to. However, there may be some discussion of plot and such.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
All Quiet on the Western Front rates a 9.75 out of 10 on my scale. For 1930, this film is incredibly impressive. The battle sequences are massive, epic, detailed and full of explosions and interesting camera angles. The filmmakers, directed by Lewis Milestone, use wide angles to capture the whole battlefield, close-ups to capture emotions, trolley shots to follow action, point of view shots to see what the soldiers see in the trenches, and much, much more. ‘All Quiet’ was shot with a budget of $1.2 million. When adjusting for inflation, that’s still only a little over $15 million today. I dare someone to make a better WWI movie with $15 million.
First, the reasons I gave it a 9.75. As said above, ‘All Quiet’ is just downright impressive for the time it was made. The battle scenes are fantastic and the camera work is pretty much perfect. My experience with films from this era is still very limited, but this just blew me away with its production quality.
However, the true strength of the film is in the narrative and character development. ‘All Quiet’ goes well beyond your standard war film and shows all the details of what it means to dedicate your life to fighting for your country. The story follows a group of young German students who are persuaded to enlist and fight for the fatherland. It shows how they are trained, shipped to the front lines, fight in the trenches, use improvised weapons, wait out bombardments, search for food, try to get some sleep, and more. This shows the gritty side of war, the stuff that Hollywood often leaves out to show nothing but the glorious battle scenes. That’s a part of war. ‘All Quiet’ shows you all of war.
A perfect example of how great the narrative and character development is in this film is during a scene when the ‘main’ character (the one the story really follows) is trapped in a bomb hole on the battle field and is forced to kill an enemy solider in hand to hand combat. Unfortunately the enemy does not die right away and our main character, Paul, is stuck in this hole for what appeared to be about an entire day. Paul actually starts to lose it and starts talking to the soldier, apologizes, saying that he’ll write to his family for him and more. Some of this conversation occurs after the enemy finally dies. This and other great scenes like it show what happens to soldiers during war even when they aren’t fighting. It’s one of the most traumatic things a person can live through. Really puts the job in perspective for those of us who have never experienced it.
The only problems I have with this film are that it does move at a fairly slow pace and following one primary character is a little tricky. Again, this pace is a result of the heavy character drama that underlines the war action. That and the fact I am from the A.D.D. action junky generation and you get a pace that feels a little sluggish. It’s not that bad and pretty common in films from the period, so not much to complain about there. Following one character primarily does get a bit tricky when looking at those around him. At times it is hard to remember who a character is, who died, who was injured, who was sent home, etc. It’s a common and useful way to tell a story, but can make the other characters hard to follow.
These are some questions and observations meant to spark discussion about the film. If you have not seen it, you may want to stop reading if you don’t want to read any spoilers.
I have to be honest here. Does anyone else think that the trench warfare of WWI and the battles of that era were really pretty dumb? Then again, so were the British for marching in straight lines with bright red coats while the enemy would shoot from the trees and use ranged weapons against them. ‘All Quiet’ really shows what trench warfare was like. Once the guys made it to the trench (if they weren’t mowed down or got caught in the barbed wire), they would battle with bayonets, knives, shovels, fists, or whatever they could.
I really like a sequence in the film that followed a pair of fancy boots. One soldier who originally owned them died and let a friend have them. Then he was hurt and another soldier wore them. And so on. Can you think of any other films that used a similar point of view to show a linear sequence of events?
What’s your all-time favorite war movie? Why? Was it because of the story? The star power? The special effects?
Feel free to ask your own questions or leave your own thoughts beyond these talking points in the Comments Section below.
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