All Quiet on the Western Front is narrated by Paul Bäumer, a young man of nineteen who fights in the German army on the French front in World War I. Paul and several of his friends from school joined the army voluntarily after listening to the stirring patriotic speeches of their teacher, Kantorek. But after experiencing ten weeks of brutal training at the hands of the petty, cruel Corporal Himmelstoss and the unimaginable brutality of life on the front, Paul and his friends have realized that the ideals of nationalism and patriotism for which they enlisted are simply empty clichés. They no longer believe that war is glorious or honorable, and they live in constant physical terror.
When Paul’s company receives a short reprieve after two weeks of fighting, only eighty men of the original 150-man company return from the front. The cook doesn’t want to give the survivors the rations that were meant for the dead men but eventually agrees to do so; the men thus enjoy a large meal. Paul and his friends visit Kemmerich, a former classmate who has recently had a leg amputated after contracting gangrene. Kemmerich is slowly dying, and Müller, another former classmate, wants Kemmerich’s boots for himself. Paul doesn’t consider Müller insensitive; like the other soldiers, Müller simply realizes pragmatically that Kemmerich no longer needs his boots. Surviving the agony of war, Paul observes, forces one to learn to disconnect oneself from emotions like grief, sympathy, and fear. Not long after this encounter, Paul returns to Kemmerich’s bedside just as the young man dies. At Kemmerich’s request, Paul takes his boots to Müller.
A group of new recruits comes to reinforce the company, and Paul’s friend Kat produces a beef and bean stew that impresses them. Kat says that if all the men in an army, including the officers, were paid the same wage and given the same food, wars would be over immediately. Kropp, another of Paul’s former classmates, says that there should be no armies; he argues that a nation’s leaders should instead fight out their disagreements with clubs. They discuss the fact that petty, insignificant people become powerful and arrogant during war, and Tjaden, a member of Paul’s company, announces that the cruel Corporal Himmelstoss has come to fight at the front.
At night, the men go on a harrowing mission to lay barbed wire at the front. Pounded by artillery, they hide in a graveyard, where the force of the shelling causes the buried corpses to emerge from their graves, as groups of living men fall dead around them. After this gruesome event, the surviving soldiers return to their camp, where they kill lice and think about what they will do at the end of the war. Some of the men have tentative plans, but all of them seem to feel that the war will never end. Paul fears that if the war did end, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. Himmelstoss arrives at the front; when the men see him, Tjaden insults him. The men’s lieutenant gives them light punishment but also lectures Himmelstoss about the futility of saluting at the front. Paul and Kat find a house with a goose and roast the goose for supper, enjoying a rare good meal.
The company is caught in a bloody battle with a charging group of Allied infantrymen. Men are blown apart, limbs are severed from torsos, and giant rats pick at the dead and the wounded. Paul feels that he must become an animal in battle, trusting only his instincts to keep him alive. After the battle, only thirty-two of eighty men are still alive. The men are given a short reprieve at a field depot. Paul and some of his friends go for a swim, which ends in a rendezvous with a group of French girls. Paul desperately wishes to recapture his innocence with a girl, but he feels that it is impossible to do so.
Paul receives seventeen days of leave and goes home to see his family. He feels awkward and oppressed in his hometown, unable to discuss his traumatic experiences with anyone. He learns that his mother is dying of cancer and that Kantorek has been conscripted as a soldier, from which he derives a certain cold satisfaction. He visits Kemmerich’s mother and tells her, untruthfully, that her son’s death was instant and painless. At the end of his leave, Paul spends some time at a training camp near a group of Russian prisoners-of-war. Paul feels that the Russians are people just like him, not subhuman enemies, and wonders how war can make enemies of people who have no grudge against one another.
Paul is sent back to his company and is reunited with his friends. The kaiser, the German emperor, pays a visit to the front, and the men are disappointed to see that he is merely a short man with a weak voice. In battle, Paul is separated from his company and forced to hide in a shell hole. A French soldier jumps into the shell hole with him, and Paul instinctively stabs him. As the man dies a slow, painful death, Paul is overcome with remorse for having hurt him. He feels again that this enemy soldier is no enemy at all but rather a victim of war just like himself. Paul looks through the soldier’s things and finds that his name was Gérard Duval and learns that Duval had a wife and child at home. When he returns to his company, Paul recounts the incident to his friends, who try to console him.
Paul and his friends are given an easy assignment: for three weeks, they are to guard a supply depot away from the fighting. When the next battle takes place, Paul and Kropp are wounded and forced to bribe a sergeant-major with cigars in order to be placed on the hospital train together. At the hospital, Paul undergoes surgery. Kropp’s leg is amputated, and he becomes extremely depressed. After his surgery, Paul has a short leave at home before he returns to his company.
As the German army begins to give in to the unrelenting pressure of the Allied forces, Paul’s friends are killed in combat one by one. Detering, one of Paul’s close friends, attempts to desert but is caught and court-martialed. Kat is killed when a piece of shrapnel slices his head open while Paul is carrying him to safety. By the fall of 1918, Paul is the only one of his circle of friends who is still alive. Soldiers everywhere whisper that the Germans will soon surrender and that peace will come. Paul is poisoned in a gas attack and given a short leave. He reflects that, when the war ends, he will be ruined for peacetime; all he knows is the war. In October 1918, on a day with very little fighting, Paul is killed. The army report for that day reads simply: “All quiet on the Western Front.” Paul’s corpse wears a calm expression, as though relieved that the end has come at last.
Paul Baumer and three of his classmates are in the German Army during World War I after being inspired by a patriotic teacher who fills their heads with dreams of glory. When they arrive for training, those fantasies are quickly dashed, first by a former postmaster from their village who is now their corporal and uses his status to get back at them for past slights. On the battlefield, they quickly discover the true horrors of modern war, only finding shelter with a protective veteran, Katczinsky and a few French girls who trade a night of love for some bread and meat. After losing most of his friends in battle, Baumer goes home on leave, but when he visits his school and confronts his former teacher about his lies, he's branded a traitor. Tiring of the false impression of war at home, he returns to the front to instruct his new comrades in warfare but has become a hardened, disillusioned man in the process.
Director: Lewis Milestone
Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay: Del Andrews, Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott
Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editing: Edgar Adams, Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall, William R. Schmidt
Music: Frank H. Booth
Cast: Louis Wolheim (Katczinsky), Lew Ayres (Paul Baumer), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Slim Summerville (Tjaden), Russell Gleason (Muller), William Bakewell (Albert), Ben Alexander (Kemmerich), Arnold Lucy (Prof. Kantorek), Heinie Conklin (Hammacher), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Baumer), Fred Zinnemann (Man), Raymond Griffith (Dying Soldier), Robert Parrish (Schoolboy)
Why ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is Essential
With its focus on the German Army during the final days of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front is widely considered to be one of the greatest anti-war films ever made. Its depiction of the horrors of war is so harrowing that for decades it was routinely banned outside the U.S. in nations gearing up for war, particularly Nazi Germany.
The film set the pattern for many of the plot elements that would recur in anti-war movies for decades to come, capturing the plight of men caught in the midst of a senseless battle with little access to the military leadership and no way to get supplies short of scrounging them from the dead. Images from the film, particularly the harsh cross-cutting between soldiers advancing in a senseless campaign and the weapons poised to cut them down, would turn up in such later films as Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) and Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981). Steven Spielberg would credit director Lewis Milestone's work on this and his other war films as an influence on his own Saving Private Ryan (1998).
All Quiet on the Western Front is generally considered Milestone's best movie. It is also the first of five pictures in which he examined the lives of men at war, followed by The Purple Heart (1944), A Walk in the Sun (1945), Halls of Montezuma (1950) and Pork Chop Hill (1959). Sadly, this early peak was something he would never be able to match. Only the newspaper comedy The Front Page (1931), A Walk in the Sun and the film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) have approached All Quiet on the Western Front in critical regard.
The film featured several innovations in sound technology, most notably the first use of a giant mobile crane in a talking picture. It also is one of the first sound films to use a mobile camera in an era when the camera was usually confined to a soundproof box so that the motor noise would not be heard on the soundtrack. At the time, Milestone achieved this by simply shooting his crane shots silent. Battle sounds were added in postproduction, with some of the best synching yet seen in a sound film.
All Quiet on the Western Front was the first of a string of critical and box office successes that established the talent of producer Carl Laemmle, Jr., son of Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle. Despite jokes about nepotism ("Mr. Carl Laemmle has a very large 'fem-ly'."), Laemmle, Jr. produced some of the studio's most noteworthy films of the '30s, including Waterloo Bridge (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Show Boat (1936).
This was one of George Cukor's first film credits and his influence is seen in the performances. As dialogue director, he rehearsed the actors and worked to eliminate regional accents so they would all sound as if they came from the same country.
by Frank Miller
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Universal spoofed All Quiet on the Western Front in the Oswald Rabbit cartoon "Not So Quiet" (1930). MGM also produced its own parody, "So Quiet on the Canine Front" (1931), one of its series of Dogville comic shorts featuring dogs walking on their hind legs.
When the Nazis took power in Germany, they hounded Erich Maria Remarque so relentlessly he left the country. They then confiscated the money in his bank accounts and burned his books at public rallies.
In 1937, Universal filmed Remarque's sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, about German veterans adjusting to civilian life. James Whale directed, with Slim Summerville returning to play Tjaden. The studio cut much of the anti-Nazi material from the finished film for fear of poor sales overseas. The result was a critical and box office disaster.
For the film's 1939 reissue of All Quiet on the Western Front, Universal added a voiceover narration comparing the German soldiers in the film with German soldiers of the day (World War II was just starting in Europe). At the film's climax, the narration delivered a stinging attack on Nazi Germany, underlined with new shots of the original novel being burned.
Lew Ayres was so moved by his role as Paul Baumer that it convinced him to become a pacifist. This might not have created a problem, but with the U.S.' entry into World War II he registered as a conscientious objector, creating a public outrage. MGM, where he had been starring in the Dr. Kildare movies, dropped his contract and focused the series on elderly Doctor Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Ayres came back into public favor when word spread of his heroic acts as a wartime medic.
The scene in which Ayres carries a wounded comrade from the battlefield not realizing he has died, was copied in 20th Century-Fox's 1956 drama The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Gregory Peck.
When All Quiet on the Western Front was sold to television in the '50s, it was cut by about 35 minutes and background music was added to the final scenes. Before his death, director Lewis Milestone begged Universal to restore the film to its original form. They finally did in 1998, with the help of the Library of Congress, though by then some of the cut footage was lost. The current running time is 133 minutes, seven minutes shorter than the version that first premiered in 1930.
The book and film's title has become a part of the language. In the years before the U.S. entered World War II, it was used by isolationists to minimize the threat of the war in Europe. More recently, it has been used to refer to any situation in which nothing is happening, be it sports, politics or the economy.
All Quiet on the Western Front was remade as a TV movie in 1979 with a $6 million budget. Richard Thomas starred as Paul Baumer, with Ernest Borgnine as Katczinsky, Donald Pleasence as Kantorek and Patricia Neal as Mrs. Baumer. Delbert Mann directed.
by Frank Miller
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Universal spent a then high $1.25 million on All Quiet on the Western Front and earned $3 million in rentals on its initial release.
Arthur Wesley's 1930 English translation gave the novel its most famous title, All Quiet on the Western Front. The phrase Remarque used, Im Westen nichts Neues, literally means "nothing new in the West," a common phrase in dispatches sent by the German Army. Although Brian Murdoch's 1993 translation renders that phrase more accurately within the text, he retained Wesley's translation of the title, which by that time had become world famous.
Future directors Fred Zinnemann and Robert Parrish have bit parts. Zinnemann was fired for not taking direction.
Universal sold All Quiet on the Western Front with a very simple tagline: "At lastthe motion picture!"
Major Frank Pease, head of the Hollywood Technical Directors Institute labeled All Quite on the Western Front anti-military propaganda and tried to have it banned in the U.S. He was joined by the American Legion, which threatened to picket screenings because of the film's sympathetic treatment of the Germans.
The film was banned in Poland on the grounds that it was pro-German, while the Nazis in Germany labeled it anti-German. Joseph Goebbels, later their propaganda minister, led pickets in front of theatres showing the film and sent party members to lead riots inside the theatres. Their tactics included releasing rats in the crowded theatres and setting off stink bombs. Producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. responded that the film had been made to create good will toward Germany and inspire people to keep future wars from happening.
Director Lewis Milestone deliberately had most scenes played without a musical score to reinforce the starkness of the drama. Even in 1930 that was unusual, and several theatre owners added music on their own.
All Quiet on the Western Front was the first film to win a Best Picture Oscar®. Before 1930, the Academy gave two awards for a film as a whole, Best Picture, Production and Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production.
All Quiet on the Western Front was banned in Italy until 1956. It was banned in Australia until 1941, in France from the war years through 1963 and in Austria until 1980.
Famous Quotes from ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
"This is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war" -- Opening prologue.
"You are the life of the Fatherland! You are the iron men of Germany!" -- Arnold Lucy, as Prof. Kantorek, to his students.
"What is this?"
"Volunteers for the future general's staff."
"Oh, sometime I'm gonna take one of you volunteers apart and find out what makes you leave school and join the army. At ease. This is no parade ground." -- Louis Wolheim, as Katczinsky, asking Slim Summerville, as Tjaden, about the new recruits.
"I'll tell you how it should all be done...Whenever there's a big war comin' on, you should rope off a big field...and on the big day, you should take all the kings and their cabinets and their generals, put 'em in the center dressed in their underpants, and let 'em fight it out with clubs. The best country wins." -- Wolheim, as Katczinsky.
"Me and the Kaiser, we are both fighting. The only difference is the Kaiser isn't here!" -- Summerville, as Tjaden.
"They tell me there's some people in this world take a bath every week." -- Summerville.
"Why did you risk your life bringin' him in?"
"But it's Behn! My friend!"
"He's a corpse -- no matter who it is...Now, don't any of you ever do that again." -- Wolheim, using Ben Alexander, as Kemmerich, as a teaching opportunity.
"What do you want?"
"Beans, you homely-looking son of a frog's leg! What do you think I want?"
"Shut up! I'll feed you when you're all here."
"We're all here now!"
"Only half the company's here. Get the rest! Wake 'em up!"
"I wish I could wake 'em up. There's 80 of us left. The rest is in dressin' stations or pushin' up daisies!" -- William Irving, as Ginger, the Cook, and Wolheim.
"They never taught us really useful things like how to light a cigarette in the wind, or make a fire out of wet wood, or bayonet a man in the belly instead of the ribs where it gets jammed." -- William Bakewell, as Albert Kropp.
"We live in the trenches out there. We fight. We try not to be killed, but sometimes we are. That's all." -- Lew Ayres, as Paul Baumer, explaining war to students at his former school.
"You still think it's beautiful to die for your country? We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better! When it comes to dying for your country, it's better not to die at all!" -- Ayres, as Paul Baumer, confronting Lucy, as Prof. Kantorek, whose patriotic fervor inspired him to enlist.
"I shouldn't have come on leave. Up at the front you're alive or you're dead, and that's all. You can't fool anybody about that very long. And up there we know we're lost and done for whether we're dead or alive. Three years we've had of it, four years! And every day a year, and every night a century! And our bodies are earth, and our thoughts are clay, and we sleep and eat with death! And we're done for because you can't live that way and keep anything inside you! I shouldn't have come on leave. I'll go back tomorrow. I've got four days more, but I can't stand it here!" -- Ayres, as Paul.
"War isn't the way it looks back here." -- Ayres.
Compiled by Frank Miller
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
German novelist Erich Maria Remarque had fought on the Western front during World War I and been wounded five times. He based All Quiet on the Western Front on his experiences there. The novel first appeared in Germany in 1928 in the newspaper Vossissche Zeitung, with the book coming out there in 1929. An English translation appeared in 1930. Within 18 months of its January 1929 publication, it had sold 2.5 million copies in 25 languages.
In 1929, Carl Laemmle had given the job of production head at Universal Studios, the film company he had founded in 1912, to his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr. as a 21st birthday present. Rather than just fill the executive office, however, Junior Laemmle announced that he was changing the studio's focus from low-budget family fare to prestige pictures. For his first big project, he optioned Remarque's novel.
Laemmle offered the film to director Herbert Brenon, best known for such silent classics as Peter Pan (1924) and Beau Geste (1926). When Brenon asked for $125,000, a tenth of the projected budget, agent Myron Selznick suggested instead one of his clients, Lewis Milestone, who had won the only Oscar® ever given for Best Comedy Director for Two Arabian Knights (1927), a wartime comedy. All Quiet on the Western Front would be his second sound film. Milestone had asked Selznick to go after the film for him, and agreed to work for $5,000 a week on a ten-week guarantee. If the film went over schedule, he would continue at the same rate. With production delays, he would end up making $135,000 for directing the film.
Completing the screenplay to Milestone's satisfaction went over the ten-week guarantee in the director's contract. Laemmle had originally assigned the adaptation to Broadway playwright Maxwell Anderson, who had co-written the original What Price Glory?. Milestone felt his script strayed too far from the original, so he set to work with Del Andrews, a friend from whom he had learned how to edit film before he had started directing. They turned out a treatment, then had Anderson write the dialogue. Stage director George Abbott was then brought in to do a final polish.
Selznick suggested another of his clients, future director George Cukor, for a position on the film. Cukor was then under contract at Paramount as an apprentice director, assigned to coach actors. Laemmle borrowed him from Paramount to work as dialogue director on All Quiet on the Western Front and to film screen-tests.
Laemmle wanted to cast James Murray, the star of King Vidor's The Crowd (1928), as Katczinsky, the tough veteran who mentors the young soldiers on the battlefield. Milestone, however, insisted on casting his friend Louis Wolheim, who had starred for him in Two Arabian Knights and The Racket (1928).
John Wray was originally slated to play Paul Baumer, but Milestone wanted Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., whose home studio, United Artists, was dragging its heels about arranging a loan-out. Twenty-year-old Lew Ayres -- who was just starting his career at MGM and had worked opposite Greta Garbo in her last silent film, The Kiss (1929) -- had read the novel and was desperate for a role in the film. MGM producer Paul Bern tried to get Milestone to test him, but the director was too busy with the script to respond. Since Cukor had begun testing actors for the film's many roles, Ayres just showed up at an open call. He did the test but didn't think Cukor was that impressed. Timing worked out in his favor, however. Just a few days before filming started, Milestone finally learned that Fairbanks would not be available for the leading role. He screened Cukor's tests, starting with the most recent, which included Ayres' test. As soon as the actor showed up on screen, Milestone said, "I think this is our man." Wray was moved into a supporting role as the man who trains Ayres and his fellow enlistees.
by Frank Miller
George Cukor: A Double Life by Patrick McGilligan
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
The filming of All Quiet on the Western Front started at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1929, exactly 11 years after the end of World War I. The shoot took 17 weeks, partly because the film was shot in both sound and silent versions.
The battle scenes were shot on over 20 acres of Laguna Beach ranch land. To fill the trenches, Universal hired more than 2,000 extras, most of them World War I veterans. In a rare move for Hollywood, the battle scenes were shot in sequence.
Director Lewis Milestone put out a call for German Army veterans from World War I to check the authenticity of costumes and props. So many responded he cast them as extras and hired some to play officers and drill the cast in military maneuvers. For the scene in which the Germans lay communications wire, he cast veterans who had done just that during the war.
Raymond Griffith, who plays the dying French soldier with whom Lew Ayres spends a tense night in a foxhole, had lost his voice permanently while working on stage. He eventually became a silent screen comic who some critics thought would eventually rival Charles Chaplin, but the coming of sound ended his acting career. He begged Milestone for the role, since the character's wounds made it impossible for him to speak above a whisper. It was Griffith's last role, though he continued working in the production end of the business until his death in 1957.
Ayres' death was the last scene shot. Neither Carl Laemmle, Jr. nor Lewis Milestone thought the novel's ending, in which Paul is left in despair as the war draws to a close, would work on screen. Originally, they had written an ending in which he died heroically in battle, but neither was happy with that. Production had gone so far over schedule that cinematographer Arthur Edeson had been forced to leave for another picture. His replacement, pioneering German cameraman Karl Freund, suggested the ending they filmed, in which Paul is shot by a sniper while reaching for a butterfly he sees just beyond his trench. During editing, Milestone decided he needed a close-up of Paul's hand. With the actors gone to other projects, he served as Ayres' hand double for the iconic shot.
When All Quiet on the Western Front previewed, audiences roared at ZaSu Pitts' scenes as Lew Ayres' mother. Despite her harrowing performance in Greed (1924), which had led to a brief reign as a dramatic lead, she had returned to comedy by the coming of sound and was so recognizable that the moment she turned up on screen audiences expected a funny scene. Universal withdrew all domestic prints and reshot her scenes with Beryl Mercer, though Pitts remains in European prints and the trailer for the film's silent version.
by Frank Miller
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
A war film far ahead of its time, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) tells the story of a group of German schoolboys inspired by their nationalistic teacher to sign up for battle. But boyhood fantasies of crisply uniformed soldiers fighting for the glory of the Fatherland in WWIare soon dimmed by the bitter, grotesque reality of war. Led by the charismatic Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres, in an exceptionally nuanced, moving performance), the boys begin to see their ideals of valor challenged during basic training when their stamina and spirits are tested by their former village postman turned sadistic corporal.
Like other films focused on the grunt's perspective of war, from Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Platoon (1986) to Saving Private Ryan (1998), All Quiet on the Western Front is searing in depicting the harsh reality of battle, albeit decades ahead of these contemporary war tales. Several of the incidents in this definitive, unforgettable war film are lifted verbatim for use in later pictures, such as the scene where Paul carries a wounded comrade to medics, never realizing he has died long ago, a scene repeated years later in Nunnally Johnson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). The constant hail of bombs that drives some of Paul's more fragile friends mad, the sense of expendable troops who scavenge for food and leadership and struggle with the spiritual devastation of war as German resources are depleted - all of the notions that have since become the conventions of war films were innovated in Lewis Milestone's first sound feature. Unfortunately, he never lived up to the greatness of this film though many of his other works are accomplished films in their own right such as Rain (1932) and The Front Page (1931).
The young soldiers quickly learn to depend, not on the country's leaders, but on the pragmatic advice of career soldiers like Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), a salt-of-the-earth type who teaches them when to drop for cover and how to stay alive. While the war on the Western Front rages on, Paul finds himself somehow growing used to the cruelties of war and unable to tolerate the peace and complacency of civilian life. After watching friend after friend die and witnessing the countless degradations of war, he finds the real world banal and out-of-touch after visiting his mother and sister on leave.
All Quiet on the Western Front's tone of moral devastation as well as its frank treatment of the grisly reality of war make the film feel distinctly modern. In one shocking sequence that makes the film comparable to any contemporary war film, an enemy soldier is shown one moment struggling over a barbed wire fence and the next obliterated by a grenade; his two amputated hands are all that are left clinging to the fence.
With a $1.25 million budget, All Quiet on the Western Front was, for its time, an enormously expensive production - part of new studio production head Carl Laemmle, Jr.'s effort to move Universal away from family entertainments into epic films with challenging themes. Laemmle's new policy was enacted on the set of All Quiet on the Western Front, whose epic production used over 20 acres of a California ranch to stage the film's devastating battle scenes and employed more than 2,000 ex-servicemen as extras.
Director Milestone shows a talent for conveying the unrelenting nature of battle, and how maddening the seemingly endless volley of bombs and bullets from an unseen enemy can become. His was also the first sound film director to use a large mobile crane in order to expertly choreograph battle scenes and to move away from the static staginess of early sound movies. In one bleak scene Paul is trapped by overhead fire in a trench where he begins to converse with the French soldier (played by silent film comedian Raymond Griffith) whom he has mortally stabbed and who is slowly dying before his eyes. Ayres shows the emotional toll in not only watching one's comrades fall, but the spiritual agony of taking another life in a film that shows Paul's growing recognition of his commonality with the enemy soldiers.
The 20-year-old Ayres, a relative newcomer to the acting trade who had appeared previously with Greta Garbo in The Kiss (1929), delivers a wrenching performance in All Quiet on the Western Front as a weary, hardened man whose once vital boyhood has been obliterated by cruel experience. The film, which made Ayres a star, was said to have deeply influence the actor's own pacifist ideals, though he served bravely in WWII as a medic.
A film that turned out to be immensely popular with American audiences (who enjoyed the film despite its sympathetic focus on German soldiers), All Quiet on the Western Front inspired bitter divisiveness in other viewers. An American military leader called the film "anti-military propaganda." It was termed "anti-German" by the Nazi government (who publicly burned copies of Erich Maria Remarque's best-selling novel) and called "pro-German" by the Poles for its sympathetic portrait of their soldiers. But All Quiet on the Western Front's cinematic achievements remain unassailable. The film and Milestone won Oscars that year and All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the American cinema's most durable, unforgettable testaments to the cruelty of war.
Director: Lewis Milestone
Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay: Del Andrews, Maxwell Anderson and George Abbott based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson, Karl Freund and Tony Gaudio
Production Design: Charles D. Hall and William R. Schmidt
Music: David Broekman
Cast: Louis Wolheim (Katczinksy), Lew Ayres (Paul Baumer), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Raymond Griffith (Gerard Duval), George "Slim" Summerville (Tjaden), Russell Gleason (Muller), William Bakewell (Albert), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Baumer)
by Felicia Feaster
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Awards & Honors
All Quiet on the Western Front was nominated for four Academy Awards®, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay. It won the first two, the first Oscars® ever for a Universal picture. In presenting Carl Laemmle with the film's Best Picture Oscar®, MGM president Louis B. Mayer said, "I hear there's talk that the motion picture we honor tonight may win a Nobel Peace Prize."
The film was voted a place in the National Film Registry in 1990.
Critic Reviews: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
"The League of Nations could make no better investment than to buy the master print, reproduce it in every nation to show every year until the word 'war' is taken out of the dictionary."
"Often the scenes are of such excellence that if they were not audible one might believe that they were actual motion pictures of activities behind the lines, in the trenches and in No Man's Land. It is an expansive production with views that never appear to be cramped. In looking at a dugout one readily imagines a long line of such earthy abodes. When shells demolish these underground quarters, the shrieks of fear, coupled with the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, the bang-ziz of the trench mortars and the whining of shells, it tells the story of the terrors of fighting better than anything so far has done in animated photography coupled with the microphone."
- Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times.
"The movie follows the book, aimlessly but sincerely, and as a result it has little direction or point...It takes in so much territory and loses itself so often in the trenches that you never do get any feeling of relationship with the hero...There are so many detached scenes, so many repetitious tragedies in the movie, the death of the hero comes as an anti-climax."
- Pare Lorentz, Lorentz on Film
"...an anti-war declaration of power and realism which has scarcely diminished with the passage of time...It is also remarkably effective in the staging of grimly impressive sequences of trench-warfare: this was probably the first time that the general public had been made vividly aware of the conditions under which men lived and fought in the trenches."
- The Oxford Companion to Film
"A magnificent cinematic equivalent of the book...The sound and image mediums blend as one, as a form of artistic expression that only the motion screen can give."
- National Board of Review
....it's a tough experience these days, in great part because the audience has to face its own defiant appetite for "war scenes" no matter the logic of pacifism. The single temptation of war on film is to make it look easy. Sooner or later, most war films become recruiting material."
- David Thomson, Have You Seen....?
"the film's strength now derives less from its admittedly powerful but highly simplistic utterances about war as waste, than from a generally excellent set of performances (Ayres especially) and an almost total reluctance to follow normal plot structure. It is in fact the often relentless depiction of unflagging warfare and suffering that eventually pummels one into feeling, rather than understanding, the film's message."
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out
"Over a hundred million people have gone to theatres to see it and have -- perhaps -- responded to its pacifist message. One could be cynical about the results, but the film itself does not invite cynical reactions, and the fact that it has frequently been banned in countries preparing for war suggests that it makes militarists uncomfortableExcept for Louis Wolheim, who is capable of creating a character with a minimum of material, the actorsare often awkward, uncertain, and overemphatic, but this doesn't seem to matter very much. The point of the film gets to you, and though you may wince at the lines Maxwell Anderson wrote (every time he opens his heart, he sticks his poetic foot in it), you know what he means."
- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies
"Without diluting or denying any...criticisms, it should be said that from World War I to Korea, Milestone could put the viewer into the middle of a battlefield, and make the hellish confusion of it seem all too real to the viewer. Steven Spielberg noted as much when he credited Milestone's work as partial inspiration for Saving Private Ryan  ...Lewis Milestone made significant contributions to [the genre of] the war film."
Mike Mayo, War Movies: Classic Conflict on Film
Compiled by Frank Miller