All Quiet on the Western Front

AFI Rank: #54
Year Released: 1930
Director: Lewis Milestone
Actors: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim

We have countless movies about World War II and the Vietnam War, talking about how rough the wars were, how traumatized the soldiers were, and how they had challenges reintegrating into their home lives.

They all have their roots in All Quiet on the Western Front, based on World War I.

Released in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front earns its #54 ranking on the AFI top 100 for its groundbreaking achievement. It won an Oscar for Best Picture in an era where people were still getting used to talking pictures. The movie presents an epic storyline, beautiful cinematography, and great acting.

We begin with a group of young German students who are being exhorted by their teacher to drop their studies and head off into the German army. Soon they give in and join up. They have the "traditional" rough basic training, and then think they're destined for the glory of war. They realize quickly that war is anything but glorious. There is barely any food to eat. The shelling continues night and day. They are cold and exhausted. They watch their friends die.

This might all seem almost cliche to us in modern times, but for many in 1930 it was the first time it was presented on the big screen, and shown in such detail. The movie was considered amazingly powerful. And even in modern times it has the power to stir emotion. The way the "water torture" of bombardment got to the men. The way the sight of food became so intensely moving.

The movie is pretty much all about men. The soldiers run into three French women at one point, but the women are only interested in food, and one can guess what the soldiers are interested in. When one of the soldiers goes back home on break, he sees his mother and sister, but it's only briefly, and his primary thought is of getting back to help his friends.

What makes the movie even more moving is that it's based on a true story. Erich Maria Remarque wrote a novel about his experiences, and that was then turned into a movie.

Highly recommended as a fairly accurate look into what World War I was like, filmed in a time when it was fresh in the minds of those who took part in it.

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