All Quiet on the Western Front is based on the book of the same name, written by German author Erich Maria Remarque. Directed by Lewis Milestone (Of Mice and Men (1939) and Ocean’s 11 (1960) fame), the film has won Academy Awards for Outstanding Production and Best Director. The film has also been listed in the American Film Institute’s as the seventh-best film in the epic genre.
The film begins just after the First World War has erupted, with an aggressive German nationalistic teacher Professor Kantorek enlisting students in his class to go to war. After a fiery speech, all the boys sign up, with surprisingly no girls in the class. The students, lead by Paul Baumer (Lewis Ayres) are lead by Himmelstoss (John Wray), a former postman in their town, who leads the 2nd Company. Barely out of their teens, and thrust into battle, Behn (Walter Rogers) loses his eyesight and ultimately, his life.
The film never has elongated fight sequences or capturing of forts which were features of World War 2 films. What makes this film special, is the way the director has depicted the agony of war on characters, be it on the veterans or the youngsters. Milestone focuses on friendship, relationships and death in the film, highlighting each emotion in the film. After being stranded for weeks in the barracks, Franz breaks down and runs onto the battlefield, instantly being gunned down. Paul is yet alive, due to his sheer presence of mind and guts.
Two scenes in the film stand out for their simplicity in the storyline, ubiquitous in convening the horrors of war. The soldiers question everything, even displaying sympathy for the French to providing them water when they are grievously injured. When the soldiers return home, they are misunderstood in many ways, with the elderly discussing strategies to teachers enlisting students without knowing the consequences. Editing of the film is kept to a minimum, with simple fade ins and fade outs used. The sets look real, complemented with great performances from Lewis Ayres and Louis Wolheim.
Why You Should Watch This Film:
Aided by stunning production, this film memorably presents jingoism and fervent nationalism in two separate frames, yet keeping the storyline intact. To quote Remarque ,” It will try simply to tell of a generation of men, who even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war”.
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