Sunday, February 4, 2007

All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)


Plot Development: 2 stars
Character Development: 1 star
Cinematography: 3 stars
Costuming: 2 stars
Overall Rating: 3 stars


This film is based on Erich Maria Remarque's book of the same title. It follows the wartime experiences of Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres), a young German soldier in World War I. He and several of his classmates are led to enlist after their school teacher gives stirring speech praising the heroism and loyalty of soldiers. However, when Paul and his classmates embark upon their journey, it is not as they expected. They struggle to survive with little food, non-stop artillery fire and the continual monotony of battle. As Paul watches his friends die, he observes the randomness and pointlessness of war. We see him change from a naive young man to a jaded soldier. When he is wounded and goes home to visit his family, he has a hard time making sense of his hometown and the people at home. While he and his friends long for peace, everyone at home is talking about pushing on to Paris. Paul returns to the battle front to find only his mentor Kat and a few friends remain. The movie's ending is bleaker than the beginning, but I won't ruin it in case you decide to watch it.


All Quiet on the Western Front one of my husbands favorite books and I just read this book last year (as part of my 25 books goal) so I was eager to see it on the big screen (okay, so our tv has a 13" screen, but you know what I mean).

Unfortunately, this movie disappointed us both on several levels. First of all the character development was so weak I wasn't sure who Paul was until he had already enlisted and was fighting his first battle. It was hard to keep his classmates straight as their individual personalities were never fleshed out. Perhaps this was intentional, to make their deaths seem even more pointless, but it made me less interested in the film.

The acting in this film was also really poor. Paul's character was so melodramatic it felt like a badly done soap opera. Likewise, his teacher's speech was so overacted I couldn't truly believe that it would prompt anyone to go to war. The French women that the soldiers meet (and woo with food) were so giggly and girly it was just annoying. The only person that I did enjoy watching was
Louis Wolhelm, the actor who played Paul's mentor Kat. His acting was not overdone, but carefully crafted to portray a realistic, hardened and experienced veteran. I also liked his broken nose.

Not only was the acting bad, but the plot progression was incredibly slow. Again, the director (
Lewis Milestone) might have done this intentionally to capture the monotony of war, but there were many scenes (particularly the battle scenes and those where the soldiers were waiting out artillery fire in the trenches) that should have been edited down. They slowed the pace of the film and made me even less interested in what was happening to Paul and his friends -- I just wanted the film to be over!

The battle scenes went back and forth between good and bad. There were some incredibly realistic and freightening shots. But there were also many scenes where the soldiers' deaths can only be described as fake-looking. They reminded me of little boys on a playground pretending to die during a game of cops and robbers.

In conclusion, if you want to watch an interesting film about WWI, you should rent
WINGS. While I didn't think that film was a winner, at least I didn't fall asleep twice while watching it (okay, to be honest, I did fall asleep once while watching WINGS -- but I was really tired! And it's still a better film than this one). I have the feeling I will be saying this a lot in future posts, but if you want to enjoy your experience of All Quiet on the Western Front, read the book!


  • Between the period of 1928 to 1941 this was one of many films to be banned in Australia by the Chief Censor Creswell O'Reilly
  • The fanzine that singer/songwriter Pete Doherty was junior editor of as a boy, All's Quiet on the Western Avenue, is a pun on the title of this film.

Cimarron (not cinnamon), a movie about the Oklahoma land rush, is next!-- Critic Fix

1 comment:

Robert said...

I've never seen this version, but the TV version is really powerful. (It is not often that I say that, but trust me on this.) I strongly suggest viewing that version to cleanse your palate of what sounded like a real dust and ashes kind of experience. These older films were really playing for a different audience, a much less visualy inundated audience. There were different rules, different time-frames. Which explains it, but doesn't make it any less painful to watch today.