All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)


Genre: War Drama

Starring: Lew Ayres (HolidayDr. Kildare Serial), Louis Wolheim (Sherlock Holmes (1922)) • Orphans of the Storm)

Directed By: Lewis Milestone (Of Mice and Men (1939)) • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers)

Overview: This is the story of a young German soldier living in the trenches during the Great War.

I'd say that the age I really started associating myself with film fanaticism would be 19. I took advantage of a slow work-hour summer and partook in Blockbuster's now extinct '7 movies for $14 deal'. I fell in love with war films and saw a plethora of them in a matter of months. All Quiet On The Western Front was one of the titles they had, and I recall how impressed I was that a film of the 30s would be so powerfully moving without being naive, trite or too severe in its message. Recently, over at Invisible Cinema it was recommended that I read the book for its lonely and bleak message. Having read Remarque's novel I can honestly say it's vying for first place among my favorites. Needless to say, it was a perfect time to see the film again.

However, it's been over 10 years since last I saw this film and after having read Remarque's best known novel, I can tell you the film doesn't do it justice.

I've always been a strong proponent of films being judged by their own merit. Take David Lynch's Dune for example, or most versions of Richard Matheson's novella I Am Legend. These are some very liberal versions of the original source material. Often people see a film because they want to relive the novel, and so often they are disappointed. Film, being a completely different medium, will produce a completely different result, and I've always agreed with those who say they should be seen as a different entity.

Yet, when one follows so closely the storyline of a novel, as director Lewis Milestone did with this one, it's not surprising when pangs of 'not quite' accompany the occasional scene. In fairness, All Quiet On The Western Front is still indeed a strong film that delivers a strong message, but the expository way it does so makes all too many scenes, indeed, naive.  

The thing I found most disappointing was the scene that wasn't there. In the novel, my favorite scene is one where the men are given the very cushy assignment of guarding an officer's supply depot until the enemy rolls in. They cook up a feast as bullets whiz past them and ricochet around in the kitchen, lured by the house's chimney smoke. In 1930, I can see how such a scene would be basically unfilmable, but it still hurt to miss it.

In short, All Quiet On The Western Front might just be the sort of film that inspires you to read the book, rather than the other way around.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 9 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (Could Have Done With Some Bigger Bangs)

All Quiet On The Western Front, like Bridge Over The River Kwai, Is Paris Burning?, and A Bridge Too Far, will remain a good memory of those days when I was changing my film habits from the current to the classic and dabbling into the realm of serious film study, however, having read the book it's very easy to wish for something so poignant, bleak and poetic as that novel, and I certainly recommend it to anyone.

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