War movies help us understand a difficult part of history. It's sad when we think of the fact that, if there wasn't war, some great films wouldn't have been made. What is even better than war movies are anti-war movies and one of the best examples is All Quiet on the Western Front directed by Lewis Milestone in 1930. Based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel - Im Westen nichts Neues is its original title - the film stars Lew Ayres in one of his first roles, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander, Harold Goodwin, Slim Summerville and more.
All Quiet on the Western Front takes place during the First World War. Many movies about World War II and Vietnam have been made, but the Great War shouldn't be neglected either. Other great films portraying this conflict include Lawrence of Arabia, La Grande Illusion and A Farewell to Arms.
This film has the particularity to be an American film taking place in the German army. (The novel was written by a German author.) It more precisely tells the story of young boys who, as the war starts, decide to enroll in the army to defend their country. They have been convinced by a school teacher and are very motivated, courageous and ready to fight. But when the real action starts, they discover what war really is and wonder what's the real use of it. Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) is the central character and spirit of the film who perfectly embodies the anti-war aspects and eventually gains the courage to protest against it.
Before going further we have to point out the film's only real issue - this is an American film telling the story of German soldiers with American actors portraying Germans who speak English. We can choose not to think about it, but if we do it removes some credibility. However, IMDB informs us many German were used as extras and some were real soldiers.
But outside of that issue All Quiet proves the Hollywood film industry was ready to explore the enemy front with an anti-war spirit which is what makes the film so beautiful.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a beautiful war movie, visually and narratively, with a poetic side not to be overlooked. A great example is the final scene; I won't reveal it, all I can say is it involves a butterfly. The film's beauty also resides in its dialogue. In one of the best scenes, soldiers discuss and wonder what war's real use is. They understand they don't have personal problems against the French or English. So, why should they fight for their country? Aren't the leaders mature enough to solve their own problems without involving a bunch of innocent men?
With his kind face and angel eyes, I can't think of anyone better for the role of Paul Baumer, a boy of a great wisdom, then Lew Ayres. We immediately fall in love with him as soon as he is introduced to us. Slim Summerville and Louis Wolheim give some humor to the film. Without pointing them all out, one by one, all the other actors are very talented. We see them as an ensemble and it's by being a team that they create the film's real force; its sadness, its few moments of joy and high spirit and its beauty.
It's hard explaining why, but another great thing about All Quiet on the Western Front is its modernism. Even though All Quiet was made in 1930, at the beginning of the talkies, there's something very modern about it, possibly due to the impressive visual scenes. The explosions and editing are brilliant. It's also a timeless movie as its moral is good for any generation.
The focus on young soldiers who were once students should help teens who easily identify themselves with the characters. Though this is a predominately male picture, there are some female characters to show us the civilian side of events. One of the most touching roles is played by Beryl Mercer as Paul's mother.
All Quiet on the Western Front is still remembered as one of the best anti-war films ever made. During the 1931 Oscar ceremony the film was rewarded for Best Picture and Best Director, and was nominated for Best Writing and Best Cinematography.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a must see for everybody, leaving you filled with a variety of emotions and better understanding the real utility of cinema.
Virginie Pronovost is a young French-Canadian passionate for classic films since she was 15 years old. In October 2014, she created the blog, The Wonderful World of Cinema.