Saturday, January 8, 2011

#155. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

DVD Synopsis: The plot follows a group of young German recruits in World War I through their passage from idealism to disillusionment. As the central character Paul Baumer (Lew Ayers) declares, "We live in the trenches and we fight. We try not to be killed - that's all." 

Produced in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front is still one of the most realistic depictions of World War I ever committed to film (the harrowing scenes depicting charges across no-mans-land under heavy enemy fire seem, at times, preferable to the slow death of life in the filthy, overcrowded trenches). Yet this impressive realism remains an after-thought in any discussion of the film, because All Quiet on the Western Front is, first and foremost, one of the most effective anti-war movies of all time. 

The early scenes, in which Paul Baumer (played by Lew Ayres) and his school friends are swayed to enlist by the patriotic words of their schoolmaster are sharply contrasted by the young men's arrival in the trenches, where they're greeted by veterans who have seen enough of war, and have grown (to say the least) cynical and stoic. It's an attitude the young recruits themselves will shortly adopt. After killing an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. then remaining trapped in a fox-hole with the dead soldier's body, Baumer himself has reached his breaking point. A trip home following an injury only serves to deepen his resentment of the war (punctuated in a great scene where Baumer revisits his old schoolmaster, who's still spewing his patriotic rhetoric to a new group of young men). Deeply affected by battle, and now a stranger to the society he left behind, Baumer grows increasingly despondent, a walking casualty of a war he no longer believes in. 

All Quiet on the Western Front is a rarity: a classic film depicting a war long forgotten, yet delivering a message that is, and will forever be, quite timely.

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theBeatnik said...

2,500 films is quite the undertaking. Do you have any kind of deadline that you're trying to finish by?

Dave Becker said...

@theBeatnik: Hello, and thanks for checking out my blog.

I agree that it is a huge undertaking, and while right now I've only committed to posting one new movie a day (which, at that pace, would take me somewhere around 7 years to finish!), I realize, at some point, I'll probably be posting multiple times daily.

It's still early, so I'm sticking with one per day for now.

Thanks again, and have a great day!

Klaus said...

All Quiet on the Western Front is my favorite war/anti-war film. I actually read Erich Maria Remarque's book before seeing the film - one of the few instances where i've done this.

I suppose what I like most about the story is that it doesn't focus on heroic stories, but simply (and very effectively) provides a very personal account of the conditions of the soldiers. Powerful stuff!

Dave Becker said...

@Klaus: Absolutely agree. There are several action scenes, but the real focus is the individual.

For me, the most poignant scene is when Ayres is trapped with the French soldier he just killed, and is forced to look on him not as an enemy, but a man. Very powerful.

Heather Omen said...

Great pick to watch even today it is a powerful and moving film