November 11th, 2014: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Cast and Crew: Lewis Milestone (Director); Erich Maria Remaque (Novel); Carl Laemmle Jr. (Producer); Karl Freund (Cinematography); Edward L. Cahn (Editor); George Cukor (Dialogue Director)

What It’s About:   At the start of the Great War, Herr Mueller (Russell Gleason) whips Paul (Lew Ayres) and the rest of his class into a frenzy promising them glory, quick victory, and the honor of serving their country if they join the Germany army.  Paul and his friends enlist en masse and find instead dirty, degrading, and ultimately useless training followed by miserable trench warfare and meaningless, horrible deaths as the war takes them one by one.  Only the tutelage of the veteran Kat (Louis Wolheim) and luck enables Paul and a few of his friends to survive for any length of time.  Will any of the men survive to see war’s end?

Why Watch it Today?:  The First World War ended today in 1918.  All Quiet on the Western Front famously ends on this date, known today in the United States as Veterans Day, but called Armistice Day and kept in honor of the end of the Great War until 1954.  All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the best anti-war films of all time, a powerful film marred only by the limitations imposed by early  sound technology.  All Quiet on the Western Front started life as a silent film and retained some amazing, and at times horrific, battle scenes which featured outdoor shooting and greater movement than was possible in the sound films of the times.  Gruesome sights, such as hands clutching barbed wire after an explosion destroyed their owner’s body, and a frank attitude towards the war, the relations between the men, and scenes involving the men trading food with civilians for sex would not be possible just a few years later thanks to the Hayes Code.  The greatest tribute to the film’s power comes from the many times it has been banned. 

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