Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from S.G. Liput of Rhyme And Reason. Thanks for the review, S.G.! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about All Quiet On The Western Front, IMDB rank 231 out of 250…
There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.
A simple pair of boots am I,
Inanimate no more.
I’ve watched my many owners die
Engaging in this war.
I marched with them to battle,
Felt them proudly standing tall.
I sensed their spirits rattle,
And I felt their bodies fall.
I started out so polished
On the feet of fearless men,
But as nerves were demolished,
I was passed along again.
I’m now as bruised and battered
As the broken troops I wear.
They ask if all this mattered,
But the answer I can’t bear.
Rating: Not Rated (should be PG)
I’m very particular about old movies. Some are undeniably classics, like Gone with the Wind or It’s a Wonderful Life, but others are so highly acclaimed that, when I finally see them, I just don’t understand their appeal. “Classics” like The Philadelphia Story and The Third Man puzzle me because something prevents them from reaching the potential that supporters like the AFI claim they reach, whether it be the music or the stilted dialogue or the overacting that is given a pass simply because it’s a classic. It’s not often that I see an old black-and-white film that I can admire along with all the die-hard critics and pronounce a timeless work of art. All Quiet on the Western Front is such a film, and it won the 1930 equivalent of Best Picture and Best Director (the aptly named Lewis Milestone).
War has always been one of mankind’s most unfortunate trends, but World War I has always struck me as one of the worst, a conflict with no good or evil side, no goal, no motive except mounting European tension and entangling alliances. In addition, both sides were introducing new forms of warfare, and inventions like mustard gas and modern trench warfare made the battlefields a uniquely deplorable hell. All Quiet ably captures the horror and dread of a war no one really wanted to fight.
The film begins with a patriotic professor urging his students to join the war effort, filling their heads with dreams of heroism and duty, and despite initial hesitation, they take his advice and run with it. It doesn’t take long for their unrealistic bubbles to be popped, not by the enemy, but by the rigors of military life. A former friend promoted over them revels in his superiority and shows them all that war is no time for buddies. Then comes the real introduction to war, the hunger of poorly supplied countrymen, the unnerving wait as explosions around them tax their nerves, the terror and fury and guilt of killing and being killed, things that demagogue recruiter never told them about.
While most of the recruits lack enough character to be distinguishable, Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres) is the main character we follow. His are the goodbyes and the rude awakenings. His are the friendships made with his comrades, such as the food rustler “Kat” Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim). His are the moral struggles and the starkest disillusionment. Yet Paul serves not just as one character, but as the embodiment of an entire generation, “a generation of men, who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war,” as the opening title card knowingly states. By himself, Ayres sometimes drifts into that dated acting standard of old movies, but with others, he and all the actors perform their roles with earnest dedication and credibility.
Despite its age, this pre-Code film effectively recreates the intensity of battle, in both its morbid anticipation and its on-field brutality. While most of it is bloodless, there was at least one brief but rather shocking scene, in which an exploding bomb leaves only a man’s severed hands clinging to barbed wire. The traditional shooting and charging of war are contrasted with more artistic sequences, such as following a pair of unlucky boots from one ill-fated owner to the next. And though its black-and-white cinematography dates it somewhat, there are certain scenes, especially toward the end, that are just as effective as if they had been filmed with modern-day techniques.
All Quiet on the Western Front is among the best war films I’ve seen, though some scenes away from the front drag a bit, such as Paul’s tryst with a French woman. Not many English films focus on the losing side of the conflict; Joyeux Noel did in part, but All Quiet centers on the Germans exclusively, from the cynical veterans to the out-of-touch generals. In doing so, it presents a sweeping picture of World War I in all its futility and weariness, an indictment of both that struggle and all political excuses for bloodshed.
Best line: (Paul) “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!”
© 2015 S. G. Liput