A remarkably faithful adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic pacifist novel, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is perhaps the greatest antiwar film ever made, holding considerable power even now due to Lewis Milestone's inventive direction.
Set during WWI and told from the German point of view, the story centers on Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres). A sensitive youth, Baumer is recruited by a war-mongering professor (Arnold Lucy) advocating "glory for the Fatherland." Paul and his friends enlist and are trained by Himmelstoss (John Wray), a
kindly postmaster turned brutal corporal, then sent to the front lines to taste battle, blood, and death. Paul comes under the protective wing of an old veteran, Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), who teaches him how to survive the horrors of war.
The film is emotionally draining, and so realistic that it will be forever etched in the mind of any viewer. Milestone's direction is frequently inspired, most notably during the battle scenes. In one such scene, the camera serves as a kind of machine gun, shooting down the oncoming troops as it
glides along the trenches. Universal spared no expense during production, converting more than 20 acres of a large California ranch into battlefields occupied by more than 2,000 ex-servicemen extras. After its initial release, some foreign countries refused to run the film. Poland banned it for
being pro-German, while the Nazis labeled it anti-German. Joseph Goebbels, later propaganda minister, publicly denounced the film.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT received an Academy Award as Best Picture and Milestone was honored as Best Director. Originally released with a running time of 140 minutes, the film has suffered many cuts over the years with some prints running as short as 90 minutes. The most recent videotape
release restores the film to 130 minutes of running time. An interesting, but now-forgotten, sequel titled THE ROAD BACK, directed by James Whale (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), was made in 1937. The original was remade as a television movie in 1979, with Richard Thomas unsuccessfully trying to match
the timeless power of Ayres's performance. leave a comment