I’d heard of All Quiet on the Western Front as one of the greatest war movies, and it completely lived up to my expectations. I haven’t read Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, so can’t make any comparisons. But, apart from being an adaptation, this is an astonishing film in its own right – especially since it was made only 12 years after the end of the First World War and gives a sympathetic portrayal of “the enemy”.
It’s hard to imagine anything as powerful as this being made after the code came in. I’d like to see more by director Lewis Milestone, after also being impressed by The Front Page, which he made the following year.
Lew Ayres is wonderful as young recruit Paul Baumer, but all the actors give fine performances. Two who particularly struck me were Arnold Lucy as the schoolmaster who hectors his pupils into volunteering for the frontline and Louis Wolheim as ‘Kat’, the older soldier adept at scavenging for food in a wasteland, who takes Paul under his wing. There are so many great scenes, but maybe the one which will stick in my mind the most is the group of young soldiers huddled in a dugout with dust falling down above them, wondering whether they are about to be buried alive.
Another very powerful scene is the one where Paul is stuck in the trench with the man he has just killed, and starts talking to him about how they could have been friends if they had met differently – this reminded me of Wilfred Owen’s poem, Strange Meeting.
As a big fan of The Public Enemy, I was interested to see that Beryl Mercer, who plays Ma Powers in that movie, also plays the hero’s mother in this film and gives a very similar performance, full of love for her boy.
I especially liked the fact that the actors don’t speak English with heavy fake German accents, something which mars so many war movies. The settings all look extremely realistic and the quality of the print on the budget price DVD I bought, which says it has been restored by the Library of Congress, was extremely sharp and clear.