Best Picture Winners #3 – All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Two movies down, many more to go!

The third ever Best Picture winner takes us now into the 1930s, but back to World War I. All Quiet on the Western Front takes us into that war with a story that details the horrors experienced by a group of young German men fighting in the trenches.

I can now say that I’ve seen three total movies that took place during World War I!

This is also the first movie in our series to be adapted from a book. I’ll admit, I thought the title sounded like Hemingway. How wrong I was! Erich Maria Remarque was the author, and the original title in German literally means in English In The West Nothing New.

You learn something new everyday!

This movie tells the story of Paul Baumer and his male classmates who enlist in the German army right after the start of the war. They are inspired to join in the fight by an impassioned speech from their teacher about the importance of fighting for the fatherland. They quickly realize that being a part of the war is not as great as they thought it would be. Lulls between battles, finding food, enduring rigorous training, the threat of artillery fire, and the mental stress all of the men are put under, are just some of the many aspects of war that the boys endure. I read that the book was detailed in its explanations of the day-to-day life of the soldiers.  All of that is on display in this movie. Many of his compatriots go insane from the constant bombardment, even more, including Paul, lose limbs, some die tragically, and others are unable to adjust to civilian life before being called back to the front.

All of the scenes, whether they were of the men in the trenches trying to play card games but being driven mad by the constant bombs outside or the lulls between battles, were so evocative and well-done. Only a few times did I notice that the action was clearly sped up such that it looked strange. The parts where the men were sitting around between battles discussing war and its causes were some of the most modern scenes in the movie. I even chuckled when one of the men suggested that the leaders of their countries strip to their underwear and fight it out with clubs instead of fighting in a long, drawn-out war. Some of their speculations on war and its causes could hold up even today.

I was also struck by a war movie where the Germans were the heroes instead. It’s not often that I see that in a war movie. At least, in the few I’ve ever seen.

In all, this was a well-done movie, though not something I would watch everyday. I’ve never been an especially big fan of war movies. Even in my thirties, I’m still sensitive to horrifying deaths on screen and more than that, I come away feeling so angry when I watch a war movie. Call me naïve but to me, war is a waste of human lives. Toward the end of the movie, when Paul is returning home, one of the other boys in his village mentions that they are sending hundreds more fresh men to the front every day. It made me so sad and angry. Those young men were all being sent to their deaths. I thought of their families and the lives they would never get to lead. And it made me sadder than anything else in that movie.

All that said, I will rate this 4 out of 5, since it is such a well-done, horrifying and evocative movie, though I will certainly never watch it again.

Tune in next time for the fourth movie in our Best Picture Winners project, a turkey of a western called Cimarron.