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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) movie poster All Quiet on the Western Front

Theatrical Release: April 29, 1930 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Lewis Milestone / Writers: Maxwell Anderson (adaptation & dialogue); George Abbott (screenplay); Del Andrews (adaptation); C. Gardner Sullivan (supervising story chief); Erich Maria Remarque (novel Im Westen nichts Neus)

Cast: Louis Wolheim (Kat Katczinsky), Lewis Ayres (Paul Bäumer), John Wray (Himmelstoß), Arnold Lucy (Professor Kantorek), Ben Alexander (Franz Kemmerich), Scott Kolk (Leer), Owen Davis Jr. (Peter), Walter Browne Rogers (Behn), William Bakewell (Albert Kropp), Russell Gleason (Müller), Richard Alexander (Westhus), Harold Goodwin (Detering), 'Slim' Summerville (Tjaden), Pat Collins (Lieutenant Bertinck), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Bäumer), Edmund Breese (Herr Meyer)

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- Viewed February 3, 2010

The first Best Picture winner based on a book, All Quiet on the Western Front takes big strides in providing palpable drama. Adapted from Erich Maria Remarque's best-selling novel of the same name, this 1930 film follows a group of young men into the army and World War I.
Today, the story may seem standard, as the enthusiastically-enlisted soldiers become drained by hunger, fatigue, and hardship. This basically lays the groundwork for the anti-war film, but it's not repeating anything besides Remarque's still widely-read text.

The author is German and these characters are too, although only their uniforms (and names, if you catch them) identify them as such. Identifying characters is actually one of the film's biggest challenges to audiences. It takes a group approach to the story, and you're hard-pressed to distinguish one short/dark-haired young cadet from another. The unit meets a bold, experienced soldier (played by Louis Wolheim and his signature broken nose), who shows them some of the ropes of surviving combat.

The title card credit for "All Quiet on the Western Front", the Best Picture-winning 1930 World War I drama. Sergeant Kat Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim) explains to a frightened soldier there's no shame in pooping your pants on the western front.

Trench life is really no picnic, we see. Sure, there is the occasional pig feast and girl sighting. But there are also rats, nightmares, and a seemingly endless stream of enemy fire. Out of this privation, a soldier named Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres) emerges as our protagonist. We follow him home, where he tries to make sense of what he's seen and deflate patriotic illusions of grandeur possessed by those being recruited as he and his classmates were.

Large portions of All Quiet on the Western Front are unusually silent, with a noticeable scarcity of musical score. And yet, in addition to the explosions and gunfire heard throughout, the film makes its dialogue felt in a few key scenes.

All Quiet is still praised today as the first great war film and one of the few to center on the first World War. In 1998, it ranked 54th on the American Film Institute's much-cited 100 Years...100 Films list. While it didn't make the cut when AFI revoted in 2007 (being the fifth highest film to drop out), it did get recognized as the seventh best of ten epic films on the institute's most recent countdown, 2008's top 10s in ten genres.

Considered graphic and gory in its time, All Quiet definitely doesn't have the visceral impact of subsequent war films. But it remains rather stirring on a psychological level in its depiction of boys turned men who seem to lose their humanity in dealing with the brutal conditions of war. Unless you're able to adopt a 1930 mindset and keep reminding yourself that this was the first film of its kind, you might find this a little dull. Even so, you're still likely to be moved by certain stretches.

Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) shows signs of cracking after he talks to a solider he just killed. Following their first hearty meal in a long time, the German soldiers talk about what this Great War is all about.

ZaSu Pitts, the interesting-looking actress who bounced between comedy and drama in the silent age, originally played Paul's mother but the part was recast and reshot after Pitts' appearance reportedly drew unintended laughs from audiences.
Pitts can briefly be seen in the film's trailer, the one non-text based extra on the rough-looking 2003 Universal DVD I saw. It has since been replaced by a Cinema Classics-branded edition that adds an introduction by film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne. Both editions restore the film to its original form, from which it had strayed in heavily-trimmed, rescored 1940s reissues.

Although not the kind of thing you'd expect sequelized, All Quiet was followed in both print and film by The Road Back. Horror director James Whale directed that film, released in 1937. The original was also remade for television in 1979 with a cast including "The Waltons" star Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine. There were reports that a new theatrical filming was to occur in recent years, but there's nothing concrete on that being a groan-inducing reality.

If you're not impressed by All Quiet on the Western Front, you needn't feel alone. Remarque's book and its successor were both banned and burned in Nazi Germany. The Nazis went easier on the film, though, reportedly only interrupting screenings by releasing rats and shouting martial slogans. (The party was not yet in power.)

All Quiet on the Western Front rating: 7 out of 10 - Buy from

Previous: The Broadway Melody (1929) / Next: Cimarron (1931)

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Published April 14, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 Images copyright 1930 Universal Pictures and 2003 Universal Studios Home Entertainment.