Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Wartime

All Quiet on the Western Front Movie Review

milestone scenes war lewis

1930 – Lewis Milestone –

At the start of World War I, a German professor makes a zealous plea on behalf of the fatherland, and ten of his students enlist. The film follows them through their initial training into battle and charts how the brutality of the war first disillusions, then kills them all. Director Lewis Milestone offsets scenes of battle with those showing conversations among the recruits that fill the intervening lulls. Both types of scenes are consistently effective. We see the butchery of machine guns mowing down lines of advancing soldiers, rat-infested trenches, bayonet fighting, and hand-to-hand combat. The battlefield scenes, utilizing innovative crane shots for imposing panoramas and shot on a ranch in California, were filmed with silent equipment, and the sound effects were added later. As a result, the soundtrack in these moments is sometimes muffled and slightly out of sync with the images.

The stylized acting does not weaken the impact of scenes like the one in which Lew Ayres talks to the corpse of the French soldier he has just killed in a trench struggle. “If you jumped in here again, I wouldn't do it,” he says. He finds in the pocket of the dead man a photograph of his wife and daughter folded in his pay book, and starting to sob, he implores the staring eyes to forgive him. The connecting scenes between the battles further humanize the film. In one, the camera follows the boots of a hospitalized soldier with an amputated leg to their new owner, who brags that he could now march to the front; one or two bomb blasts later, he too lies dead. In another, Ayres obtains a furlough and returns to his home town where his realistic awareness of war clashes with the pampering of his mother and the false idealism of the local burgomaster discussing the war in a pub like a sports fan rehashing a big game. Surprisingly, the realism of the soldiers' night with a trio of French women is not compromised either. The women clearly want the bread and sausage the men bring but are perfectly willing to let them stay the night. The morning-after scene between Ayres and one of the girls is discreetly suggested by the shadow of the bedpost on the wall and the sounds of their conversation.

In creating this first masterful antiwar movie, Milestone adapted Erich Maria Remarque's famous novel. His final brilliant shot superimposes over an endless field of crosses the image of a line of troops marching off to war and one by one looking innocently back at the audience. This closing shot works on many levels: as a tribute to the soldiers' heroism, a glimpse of their lost innocence, and an epitaph to their ultimate sacrifice.

Cast: Louis Wolheim (Kat), Lew Ayres (Paul), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Arnold Lucy (Kantorek), Ben Alexander (Kemmerick), Scott Kolk (Leer), Owen Davis, Jr. (Peter), Walte Browne Rogers (Behn), William Bakewell (Albert), Russell Gleason (Mueller), Richard Alexander (Westhus), Harold Goodwon (Detering), Slim Summerville (Tjaden), Pat Collins (Bartinok), Beryl Mercer (Paul's Mother), Edmund Breese (Herr Meyer) Screenwriter: Lewis Milestone, Maxwell Anderson, Del Andrews, George Abbott Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson Composer: David Broekman Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr. for Universal Running Time: 130 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1930: Director (Lewis Milestone), Picture; Nominations: Cinematography (Arthur Edeson), Writing; National Board of Review Awards, 1930: 10 Best Films of the Year Budget: $1.2M.

Apocalypse Now Movie Review [next]

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or