All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)


(director/writer: Lewis Milestone; screenwriters: Del Andrews/Maxwell Anderson/George Abbott/based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque; cinematographers: Arthur Edeson/Karl Freund/Tony Gaudio; editor: Edgar Adams; music: David Broekman; cast: Louis Wolheim (Katczinksy), Lew Ayres (Paul Bäumer), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Raymond Griffith (Gerard Duval), George “Slim” Summerville (Tjaden), Russell Gleason (Muller), William Bakewell (Albert), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Baumer), Arnold Lucy (Professor Kantorek); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.; Universal Pictures; 1930)

“The film made Ayres a star.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Director Lewis Milestone’s (“A Walk in the Sun”/”The Front Page”/”The Racket”) provocative classic anti-war drama is a gruesome and hard-hitting adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s pacifist novel about a group of young German college students who are convinced in 1914 to enlist in the Great War after their teacher, Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lucy), gives them an impassioned speech about the honor of dying for their Fatherland. It was written by Del Andrews, Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott and Milestone.

One of the students, Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres, at the time twenty years old; he became a conscientious objector in WW II and served honorably as a medic), is sent to the Western Front (shot at the studio’s California ranch with the use of 2,000 ex-servicemen as extras) to fight for the Kaiser. His illusions about war being all glory are soon ended when facing fierce combat. The disillusioned Paul is the sole survivor of his group and returns home to denounce the war and his professor, who is still urging the young to fight. Paul’s called out by the students as a coward. In the last scene, Paul has returned to the action and stretches out over the top of a trench to catch a butterfly and is killed by an enemy sniper. The German High Command coincidentally orders “all quiet on the Western Front.” In the final eerie scene, ghostly soldiers are marching toward a cemetery while looking back.

Despite its often shrill simplistic message, highly stylistic tone and being dated, this gripping World War I drama still retains its enormous power of war as butchery. Those morbid scenes in the trenches, the constant mortar shelling and the unforgettable scene of an enemy French soldier (Raymond Griffith, silent screen comedian) struggling over a barbed wire fence and in the next moment is hit by a grenade causing him to have two amputated hands left clinging to the fence. The $1.25 million budget was used effectively to visually capture the harsh realities of war better than any other pic previously did. Though sympathetic to the young German soldiers, it proved popular with the American viewer. The film made Ayres a star. It was banned in Germany until 1960 because of its anti-war message and some American military leaders called the film merely “anti-military propaganda” (it was boycotted by the American Legion).